Barry Hearn: European golf tour the template to follow

Barry Hearn is the man who had everyone going snooker loopy in the eighties as television coverage of the sport boomed on the back of his stable of star players such as Steve Davis.

There was never a colourful character or a big match far from mainstream screens as Alex Higgins was the pantomime villain to Davis’ Prince Charming, along with courtiers such as Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, Terry Griffiths, and a whole host of entertainers in bow ties and frilly shirts.

After a dip in fortunes, snooker is back in the big time and Hearn now runs all the commercial operations for World Snooker. This year the World Championship marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘black ball’ final between Essex lad Davis and genial Irishman Taylor, which was watched by 18.5m viewers on BBC Two even though the match finished well past midnight.

Taylor scooped £60,000 for his efforts in 1985 and Mark Selby will walk away with £300,000 if he retains the trophy this year.

Even that sum is not enough according to the game’s most talented player Ronnie O’Sullivan. Hearn says the former World Champion must be “away with the fairies” to moan at such figures, but can only see the sport and the rewards growing in the next five years.

Hearn said snooker can follow the example of the European golf tour and take on the world.

He explained: “The European Tour has done a great job in spreading themselves not just in Europe, as the European Tour plays all over the world now. I think we’ve got to take a leaf out of their book and look at broadening our frontiers. We’ve got to widen our horizons and grab the opportunities that exist in this new age of television.

“Snooker is a great television sport and we have to maximise the commercial exploitation of that advantage we have. I think the movement in the number of events we’ve created, the additional events over the last five years will be accelerated in the next five. ”

Hearn also predicted changes to the qualification format for the World Championship will put the top seeds under more pressure and create “fiercer” competition when the finals proper begin at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre on Saturday.

“The system has changed this year, where instead of it being a series of matches where the winners go on and play and play and play, the whole thing now is 128 players, straight knockout.

“So everyone below the top 16 comes in at round one of the qualifiers and that’s produced quite a lot of shocks.

“With the tournament taking on a new format there is the opportunity for new players to make a name for themselves and produce some shocks.

“That’s the time when we find out whether the top 16 really are the top 16 and whether these youngsters coming through have got the game and ability to cope with the additional pressure in the Crucible. There will always be one or two big shocks at the Crucible and this year will be no exception.”

Irishmen Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien and Joe Swail won’t be among the finalists after they bowed out in the third qualifying round yesterday.

Englishman Mark Davis finished off a 10-3 defeat of former champion Doherty, while Swail lost out 10-5 to two-time finalist Matthew Stevens.

O’Brien suffered an agonising final frame defeat against Kurt Maflin last night, losing 10-9.

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