△ Jason Ferguson (R) and Miles Pearce (L)
The 2016 Snooker China Open was held in Beijing from 28th March to 3rd April. During the event, we were able to interview Jason Ferguson, the chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), and Miles Pearce, Commercial Director of World Snooker.
The UK-based WPBSA is the governing body of men's professional snooker and English billiards. It has been trying hard to increase the expansion of the sport worldwide.
As the executives of the association, Ferguson and Pearce have been sharing their insights about the rapidly-growing sport.
Five-year globalisation plan
As Jason Ferguson stated, they began a five-year plan five years ago. Under this plan, the most extraordinary change has been the increase in prize money. In 2010 the total prize money for the professional snooker tour was £3.5 million, with just eight events on the circuit. Now the prize money has grown to £8 million, with nearly 30 events.
“We looked at increasing the prize money, from £3.5 million to over £10 million next season, so we’ve basically tripled the prize money over that period of time, which has been great for the sport.” Said Miles Pearce.
The other part of the five-year plan was to globalise the sport. In the UK, Snooker is a very old sport. Besides the development in China, World Snooker has also been present in Thailand for a few years. Up to now, they have expanded into all the mainland of the Europe, Australia, and are working on some new events in new territories. For example, India is going to be a key market.
“That globalisation can give us a truly international audience which snooker can use to capitalise commercially.” Jason Ferguson added.
Embracing the Internet Era
In the Information Era, the Internet has been gradually making its way into every area throughout the world. In the past years, the WPBSA has found itself growing its online presence.
In terms of the overall plan, the focus is on the sport itself as well as major events including the China Open, the Shanghai Masters and the Snooker International Championship.
Despite the fact that World Snooker started with nothing three years ago, they have now established a popular digital world on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. In China, things are quite different. So with the help of their partner here in China, they have set up a great fan base on Weibo, WeChat and YouKu.
△ World Snooker on WeChat
“They are taking some of the content we’re developing in the UK, but at the same time, they are doing the bespoke content, which is being used for the Chinese market.” Pearce said of their social media in China.
In addition to this, they are actively looking for online broadcasters, to enable the young generation watch the matches via their smart phones, tablets or laptops. As of now, they already have an audience on TV platforms like LeTV and Ali TV.
“We want to make sure that everybody, all of them, know that we are in this for the long term, that we are not here to just take money,” Pearce stated, “but we actually want to integrate additional partnerships, such as holistic partnerships, rather than just broadcasting on the Internet.”
Snooker New City
The WPBSA is aiming to build up more Snooker Cities like Sheffield, the first snooker city of the world.
Sheffield is synonymous with snooker: A World Snooker Academy was opened there early in 2006; every school there has snooker tables; the sport is quite popular among children; more and more coaches and crews are entering the market to create the local economy.
Following this success, they are looking to open more academies all over the world. In 2013, together with the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association (CBSA), the WPBSA founded a coaching academy in Beijing, which has been a huge success.
Ferguson believes that the academy process is the future of the sport. By working closely with local partners, the academy will provide opportunities for players, coaches and referees to start their snooker careers. All these practitioners, as a result, will contribute to the local development of the sport.
△ The opening ceremony of CBSA World Snooker Academy
It is worth noting that Snooker’s governing body has its eyes on large cities as well as smaller cities. For example, Daqing, a city in the north-east of China, hosted the 2015 International Championship, which proved to be a great success.
That said, in the secondary cities, what you find is that locals do not have tens of sports events, which means they do not have a lot of choices. That’s one of the reasons why the event comes to Daqing.
“This is a sound business model, which has proven to be successful and we are very pleased where we are today,” Ferguson said, “So snooker is not a once-a-year visit…What we want to create is a model, to say, the Hermes’ New City.”
Ambitious Olympic Project
The WPBSA have been trying to make Snooker an Olympic Sport. It has worked as part of the World Confederation of Billiards Sports (WCBS).
The WCBS is an international umbrella organisation encompassing the major cue sports, including carom billiards, pool games of several varieties, and snooker. It is working towards the ultimate goal of getting all three disciplines into the Olympics and Paralympics games.
“It’s an exciting plan, and a long-term plan. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight“ claimed Ferguson who is patient as well as optimistic.
According to the WPBSA chairman, they have already been successful in getting the sport into the international World Games, which will be held in Poland in 2017. These are the second most important Games in the world next to the Olympic Games.
Now the WPBSA are becoming even more focused on achieving the status of an Olympic Sport, as they prepare to start their bid for the 2024 Olympics.
Please note that this article has been confirmed by Jason Ferguson and Miles Pearce; Proofread by John Devlin.