Professional snooker owes its rise to the TV big time to the BBC above anything else.

It was the BBC who showed black and white matches, usually featuring Joe Davis, as fillers between racing and other sports on Saturday afternoons in the 1950s.

It was the BBC that brought the viewing public Pot Black in colour, which made household names of the players of the 1970s.

And it was the BBC who took the decision to televise the 1978 World Championship at the Crucible from first ball to last, which led to the explosion of interest in the 1980s and the creation of the professional circuit as we know it today.

But what is the future for the sport on a BBC that now finds itself in a crowded broadcasting marketplace having to defend its use of the licence fee?

This week, it's director general, Mark Thompson, pledged to cut services to plough more money into programme making but also to cap the BBC's spend on sports rights to 9% of the licence fee.

Today's Daily Mirror newspaper claims Thompson "wants snooker and darts off BBC2."

They do not quote him directly but the BBC's Strategy Review document proposes to 'reduce the volume of sport on BBC2.' As snooker is currently broadcast for many hours on this channel there must be fears that it is one of the sports that will be shifted elsewhere - or even scrapped altogether.

This would seriously threaten snooker's future as a top level TV sport.

Of its sports rights strategy, the BBC document states: "[we will] Continue to provide a home for major sporting events, free-to-air, as well as a broad range of other sport. The strategy for sports rights will, however, prioritise the list of the most important events for free-to-air coverage followed by sports with particular public service potential (such as Olympic sports and the Commonwealth Games) and others that deliver significant value to licence fee payers, recognising that the BBC needs to set a clear limit on how much it can invest."

Snooker is, of course, not an Olympic or Commonwealth sport.

The current BBC contract runs out at the end of next season. Barry Hearn, the WPBSA chairman, has been to see the corporation but no new contract has yet been announced.

It would be a surprise to everyone if it wasn't agreed but snooker has few options if the worst did happen.

Sky has shown little interest in snooker in recent years. ITV hasn't screened a tournament for the best part of a decade.

I would expect the BBC to sign another contract but for a reduced fee and possibly for three rather than four tournaments.

Make no mistake, though: if they decide their love affair with the green baize game can no longer be justified in the current economic climate, or that it simply doesn't fit in with their view of what the BBC should be, snooker is going to find itself in very serious trouble.


Anonymous said...

Everyone thought Test cricket would never leave the BBC but it did eventually happen.
Should the unthinkable happen then Sky would envelop it as sole providers and make it sexy again.
With the aid of Barry Hearn of course.

MMMBop said...

Mark Thompson "pledged to cut services to plough more money into programme making but also to cap the BBC's spend on sports right to 9% of the licence fee"

Alan Hanson has just been given a new 4 year contract at a cost of £1.4 million a season, so much for cutting back..

Anonymous said...

I think they'll probably ditch the Grand Prix and the Masters may not be safe in the long term. This could be Hearn's biggest challenge.

jamie brannon said...

Some of the payments the BBC are making to top stars is silly, but I still defend the licence fee as it beats having adverts.

I feared a post like this might crop up as it had not been mentioned what had happened between the BBC and Hearn.

I think it would be catastrophic to lose the beeb, as to me that's what keeps interest high in the game.

I have thought the viewing figures would justify keeping it though as they compete favourably with sports like athletics and golf.

How about Five getting involved?

Anonymous said...



Greg P said...

"Broad range of other sport"? With an obscene £200 million going to Bernard Ecclestone, I very much doubt the "broadness" of the range of sports they will be offering if they do decide to cap the sports budget.

The Mirror article talks about the "right wing critics"... I really can't see how cancelling snooker, a once-a-year showing of darts, and one of the more distinctive radio stations, just so you can divert the funds to produce a couple more ham-fisted, cliché-riddled, navel-gazing dramas that faintly mimic superior US shows, will please anyone.

Anonymous said...

Jamie "but I still defend the licence fee" your're the only person i know that does, just about sums you up.

trophymad said...

sounds to me like Hearn isn't offering enough money for the new contract and now the BBC starts to rise the preasure...

NewsBrain said...

unreal. 6 music and snooker going, i think i might go and torch the bbc myself!

surely sky would pick it up as the viewing figures - according to this very blog - remain strong.

Time for real protest and a refusal to pay the license fee poll tax style.

finn said...

I for one think we should scrap snooker and get more of these programs on the air:
1. Celebrity flower arranging.
2. The Weakest Link twice a day ( with a highlights program at 11.35pm)
3. High brow arts programs , maybe a phone -in vote for the best piece of art in history.
What a joke, and I see the Tories want to cut the BBC back further. Well thats my vote decided then.
In fairness at least the Mirror article seemed to be defending snooker and darts

Dave H said...

I should make it clear that the BBC hasn't actually said it's getting rid of snooker...just that there are obvious concerns in the light of this week's announcement.

Ultimately, the World Championship remains a popular TV atttraction for them and I'd be very surprised if they decided to no longer show it.

Anonymous said...

The word "domicile" springs to mind.

IanW said...

Dave...i think you're right; the W/Champs should be safe for a few more years yet but i wouldn't be suprised to see one of the 'lessers' go. It's not exactly a secret that the Tories have been desperately sucking up to Murdoch for the last few years in order to win the Sun's & News of the World's backing, plus the contstant pushing for the 'live debates' on Sky 'cause they have a more 'media friendly' leader. As a result of this 'I-Sky love-in' the Tories have been making numerous speeches about 'curbing the excess of the Beeb' and debating cutting their budgets. When the Tories finally find themselves in office it'll be 'payback time' for all of Murdoch's help and that is when we'll see the true nature of their intentions. It'll only be then that we'll see the knock on effect this'll have for the game we all love. I'm not holding out much hope and it's going to be around two years time when Hearn is really gonna have to start earning his corn.

Anonymous said...

The WCs will stay, but maybe only for the second week/QFs onwards. The Masters may stay as well, but that's about it. This was always going to happen when the BBC's spending is scrutinised - there's no way that they can continue to pay what they do just to fund a sport on its own.

Anonymous said...

For me the Worlds and the Masters are far superior to the others and the BBC should keep these.

Anonymous said...

The possibility that snooker may be axed or severely cut back by the BBC is very real.

The sport remains very popular and continues to attract sizeable audiences. While that will count in its favour, I strongly suspect it will not be the biggest factor, because of the way the BBC has gone, particularly since the Hutton Report.

This is the world we've lived in since Labour came to power - the BBC gets rapped over the knuckles because the government doesn't like what's being said about the Iraq War, so it engages in years and years of vanity-fuelled navel-gazing, and one of the many conclusaions it reaches may prove to be that it should get rid of snooker.

This week's report itself is laughable, talking about focussing more on quality. Isn't that what they've told us they've always focussed on? And who will decide what quality is? Some detached academic in the Media Guardian?

Apparently they're going to spend more on British comedy, as if that's going to suddenly unearth lots of talented comedy writers, which they haven't been able to do in trying to fill the amount of comedy they already produce. For every "The Office", there are ten "Gimme Gimme Gimme"s. But this is what we'll get more of in the new, snooker-less BBC.

But here's the big question - would snooker now be better off without the BBC?

There are three key elements which make for good snooker coverage - good presentation, good commentary and good scheduling.

The presentation just gets worse and worse, with the tedious chuckling and facial contortions of Hazel Irvine, and the nervous, unconvincing efforts of Rishi Persad. Neither of them has a clue about the game either, but that barely registers as a factor in comparison to the need to live up to some skewed version of equal opportunities. Again, this is the price you pay for electing a Labour government.

The commentary also continues to deteriorate rapidly, as anyone who heard Willie Thorne's ramblings at the end of last year's World Championship final can testify. The whole thing is smothered with a cloak of forced joviality, and the ridiculousness of it all is highlighted by the sidelining of the best commentator the game has ever had, purely because he has the intelligence and the principles not to buy into it all.

As for the scheduling, it's OK in the afternoons, but much of the night-time scheduling is absurd. And why have morning broadcasts from Sheffield disappeared over the last ten years or so? It's understandable not wanting to disrupt the children's programmes on BBC2, but why not put it on the other side? Can we not have two weeks without "Homes Under The Hammer", the likes of which they're talking about scrapping under the new proposals anyway?

So all things considered, maybe it's time for snooker to look at moving on anyway. Sky's interest has waned, but as far as I recall that process began because they couldn't get the World Championship. If they now could, that might well change everything. ESPN is trying to get itself established in the British market, and ITV4 seems to want as much sport as it can reasonably get.

All would almost certainly do much better-presented coverage, with better commentators and production values, and show it in greater volume at better times.

The BBC could then concentrate on its core business of showing as much women's football, as many vehicles for Graham Norton and as many episodes of "Lunch Monkeys" as it feels necessary, to appease the opinion columnists and backbench MPs in London, rather than the millions of people who are forced to fund the BBC gravy train.

kildare cueman said...

With regard to the BBC's history of screening snooker throughout the 70's and 80's, it has to be remembered that that the relationship was mutually beneficial to both parties in that the beeb were initially seeking programmes that showcased colour.

Hence Pot Black, [which they would probably have discarded had it not been for the attractive viewing figures] and the realisation that snooker was made for television.

As it happens the Beeb had already discarded snooker after the joe davis showcases in the 50's, leaving Itv to screen World Series style events featuring amateurs playing pros in the first round.

Such was the success of snooker in colour that the championship was fully covered in 1978 and grew from strength to strength, peaking in 1985, dipping and levelling off thereafter.

The point im making is that BBC's decision to increase coverage was based on market demand and not some kind of broadcasting altruism.

Up until the early 80's there were only 3 channels, and yes one of them twigged that snooker was a great game and milked its popularity vigorously.

Had televised snooker been discovered in the multi-channel age, the Beeb would probably have been outbid from the outset, and would probably be looking enviously at Sky or Itv now.

Indeed one of the reasons Sky left snooker was that the BBC were awarded the best tournaments, leaving sky with "welsh open" type events.

Similarly, a far greater remuneration package than The BBC were prepared to offer for the World Championship was rejected [from ITV i think].

Sky have most of the soccer and golf and Eurosport have most of the tennis. Someone else probably has most of the boxing and none of those sports have suffered.

We regularly lament the fact that snooker is seen as being "too british" to become truly global, and yet when theres an assumption that the British national broadcaster might not want to cover the four biggest tournaments in the world, everybody panics.

As sport evolves globally, other companies will become involved and there will be no shortage of potential suitors to take up where the comfort blanket of BBC snooker leaves off.

The few million Brits who, until now, were fortunate enough to have a virtual monopoly on a game that is now starting to boom in foreign shores, will just have to accept that the UK will just be a very big arm and not the whole octopus.

I cant see this happening just yet though. I agree that they might want to lose the Grand Prix and the Welsh, and probably pay less for the rest, but theres a recession on and everyone is looking to pay less for everything.

Thats where negotiation comes in. Theres no way they are going to roll over and let Sky take the World or the Masters, whatever about Chinese or German tv.

As for the darts, well we all know where the real world championship lies, and although Im a darts fan, I would consider dropping the BBC version were I in control.

Janie (ex BBC) Watkins said...

How the BBC has changed since I earned the princely sum of £19 a week with them!!
Admittedly that did rise to £23 a week after decimalisation!

If the BBC cuts back sports "pro rata" then I would expect them to cut the Grand Prix out of their schedule with maybe the UK under threat.
I would expect them to keep the World and The Masters.
Of course part of the cuts are designated to their web pages so the 0.01% coverage by bbc of snooker on the web may disappear! (would we notice!)

On the other hand Barry might come up with a totally new format that BBC think would appear to viewers - Could always bring in "Night Flyers" so snooker could hog the airwaves all night and not interfere with live politics (dead politics), 24 house moving shows a days and other non-essential viewing!

IanW said...

Maybe the Beeb could commission a 'Snooker Coaching' series before the cuts take place...i suggest 'The Fine Fart Method' although the Beeb would have to cough up a lot of money as i believe it's copyrighted.

I think it could be as successful as Eldorado.

Anonymous said...

Important to remember that the reasons snooker became such a popular tv sport to televise are still in place, its bloody cheap to televise. ITV and/or Five will step in if the BBC decide they want out.

Anonymous said...

The Hutton Report?!

Do me a favour. This BBC move is because they are scared of an incoming Tory government who will try and carve up the BBC to give the Murdoch empire a commercial advantage, so they are trying to pre-empt the cultural vandalism that will doubtless take place

The BBc is the only player in town for snooker. Without them the whol sport is down the plughole

Anonymous said...

Janie earning £19 a week in the 1930's was a very good wage ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't yet see a need for panic, yes the Grand Prix will go because it gets the lowest viewing figures and the Welsh is in danger of being axed anyway, so long as the World, UK and Masters stays, then i'm happy.

Greg P said...

I guess you guys talking about a Tory government haven't read the polls lately because a Cameron victory is not exactly guaranteed like everyone seems to have thought it was for the last couple of years. If anything it seems to be sliding away and my guess is that we will get 5 more years of Mr. Charisma.

Anyway, I think blaming Murdoch or any other "right wing" boogeyman is misguided. The BBC has been on the wane ever since the early 2000s when a certain Mr. Greg Dyke suddenly decided that the BBC's role was to ape commercial TV and get into ratings battles with ITV... and the beeb has been facing criticism and accusations of poor quality from all sides since then, not just Murdoch.

My head's still spinning at the moment, I just can't get my head around this report. The BBC really thinks they're going to impress anyone by cancelling snooker just so they can put the money into a few more episodes of Saxondale?

Well, whatever.... I think the best thing the players can do is just ignore this talk and concentrate on putting on a great show at the WC.

jamie brannon said...

I don't understand why everyone sings the commercial broadcasters praises. Generally on the commercial channels they are too scared to give forthright opinion in case they worry the advertisers. For example football on Sky and Itv they keep telling you it is a great game when quite clearly it has not been.

If BBC started using adverts then people would miss how it was before, as adverts ruin the flow of programmes. To me the licence fee is justifiable.

I would be disgusted if the BBC do drop the snooker as I can't see the justification for it, but overall the broadcaster is still producing the best programmes and has a better sports portfolio than most care to admit.

Anonymous said...

So Jamie do you think it's justifiable for Alan Hansen to sit on match of the day, make a few comments between games, and be paid £1.4 million a season by the licence paying people??

jamie brannon said...

I said that is a silly salary. But so is what footballers get, and we still pay our Sky subscriptions and go to the matches. The entire licence fee doesn't not go on salaries.

If anyone can name me a broadcaster down the years that has produced better homegrown comedy, drama and documentary than the BBC then I would like to know. If you don't want to pay for your licence you don't have too.

One point about ITV 4 is they are free to air, but no accessible to everyone and don't carry the same gravitas as the BBC, not forgetting the nuisance of adverts. Despite that, obviously if the BBC pull the plug it would be a safety net.

Does anyone now where you can read this BBC strategy review?

Anonymous said...

Jamie are you on drugs or someting saying "If you don't want to pay for your licence you don't have too" YES YOU DO OR FACE A FINE !!

As for the Sky subscriptions thats a matter of choice if you don't pay you get cut off simples...

Anonymous said...

Jamie - why are you so obsessed with the BBC and them not showing adverts? Would you prefer to watch snooker with adverts or not watch it? And if the BBC have such a fantastic sports portfolio - why don't they have a sports channel which could extend/enhance coverage of their sporting events? There is, of course, 1 major benefit to the BBC not showing snooker. No Dennis Taylor.

jamie brannon said...

You can also not have a TV, especially now with all the online coverage. I hate captialism and don't like it shoved in my face every 10 minutes, it is refreshing to watch TV without the flow being interfered with.

I'm not obsessed, I will criticise the BBC when it is required, I tend to agree with Dave, their Winter Olympic coverage was not the best.

If the snooker goes to ITV 4 then I would be disappointed but of course that is miles bettter than no coverage at all, which would be a death knell for the game.

Anonymous said...

Online coverage still require's a licence Jamie..

Anonymous said...

Dear mister12:54 am

Attention Sir!
You are a bounder Sir and a mitigated coward. Please be present Sir with your “Attendants”
at dawn tomorrow morning’. dm

Greg P said...

Jamie if they got rid of the BBC, what's stopping you and others like you from starting a company of your own, like some British equivalent of HBO perhaps? The "quality broadcasting" can continue there, and all of you with the super sized bladders can continue to bask in your ad-free world.

Anonymous said...

Dear MR 7:44PM aka mr hey you please answer question's please..

a)Are you 87 years old?
b)A wind up merchant?

jamie brannon said...

You can watch online in libraries, also you don't have to watch TV there are some that don't. I think I might still need to some money for that, the BBC have faults I am not denying that, but when they are at their best they are above the rest.

Fancied Ford and Doherty to do well, ashame I didnt get to the bookies in time.

jamie brannon said...

Plus you can go to the toilet when you watch the BBC snooker, there are intervals and there is punditry you can miss and when Ebdon is playing you have time to relieve yourself before he has even played the shot!

Anonymous said...

So Jamie you relieve yourself while watching Ebdon whatever next :0

jamie brannon said...

Dave, I apologise for the comment above as I realise that may be a bit crude, I genuinely was referring to what we normally do in the toilet. It is amazing where a topic about BBC snooker can go!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

ITV4 generates around 300,000 for early rounds of darts tournament. The last night of the last tournament featured on the channel hit around 700,000 viewers.

Do the BBC generate that many or more?

If the game does leave the channel, they would have to keep the same broadcasting and production facilities. They are first class. It is a superb production. Regardless of presenters/commentators, it is smooth and excellent.

Would you get it elsewhere? Probably not. Don't let Eurosport try. They fudged it ever so badly with the British Open 2004.

Thanks, Joe

jamie brannon said...

The BBC got a peak of over 3 million for the Masters. I have seen their afternoon broadcast around the 1 million mark, higher on a sunday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

"Professional snooker owes its rise to the TV big time"

and you think Football, Darts, Rugby and various other sports dont??

Dave H said...

You've only quoted half the sentence. I said it owes its rise to the TV big time to the BBC above all else.

Unknown said...

In the 2014 UK Masters Tournament, the BBC has shown at 2 two incidents of a coloured ball being potted without a red, the red being blanked out with an uneventful replay banner. With such poor presentation, the contract should be pulled away from the BBC. Eurosport or others might well be interested in snooker. How much time will the BBC devote to AELTC Wimbledon ? Snooker does have an international following so there is income potential in selling snooker to overseas companies. Snooker will not fade away, but the BBC might, based on it's current poor presentation.