Roughly ten years ago the game of snooker was in a very different place indeed as it is currently. There were about 6 ranking events in total, plus the Masters, which is of course invitational, then there was a qualifying event for the Masters and that was it. No more main tour tournaments in existence. There was also a secondary tour called the Challenge Tour, and later the PIOS, but this was far less glamorous and mostly intended for the very lowest ranked and the top-level amateurs. There were 96 professionals at that time, who all had to try and earn a livelihood out of the roughly 3.5 million pounds on offer as prize money at that time. Of course, if you divide 3,5 million pounds up between 96 pro’s you get the rather lovely sum of 36,458.33 each, which is a fairly decent salary. This is however, unfortunately for the lower end of the ranking list (read everyone outside the top 20-ish), not the case. The majority of the cash goes to the game’s top players, and deservedy so.
This was not to be considered a proper professional sport. In professional tennis, at any given time, there are 2-3 professional events in different categories going on somewhere around the globe, and professional sportsmen can be expected to be able to support themselves in both time and money off their sport. Thankfully, Barry Hearn took over (essentially bought) the game, and took it as a personal challenge to whip it back into shape. There are many angles to discuss regarding his methods, the changes he made, and the results of these, but one of the big changes have been the PTC events, which primarily gave players a change to play and earn, but also started growing the game in mainland Europe and repairing some of the shards of snooker and it’s governing body’s shattered reputation (If you want to know why, I’d recommend commentator/journalist/legend Clive Everton’s book Black Farce and Cue Ball Wizards).
The first season was simple, there were 12 events, 6 in the UK and 6 in Europe, followed by a Grand Final in Dublin, Ireland. There was a lot of criticism and moaning as players slowly adjusted to the amount of matches they were expected to play in 3 days, the amount of travelling, the best-of 7 format and Barry Hearn’s cut-throat style of management. Over the next few seasons up to today the amount of tournaments has changed, as have the locations, but the main format has generally stayed the same. An important local dimension is also present in that any amateur player can also enter, starting in one or (usually) several pre-qualifying round(s), to try and earn one of the spots in the main draw, where they are rewarded with a match against a professional. This may even, if they’re lucky, be on TV, as Eurosport provides 3 days of wall-to-wall coverage, giving you a snooker overdose which I personally cherish!
There are many upsides to these events, and also a few downsides. I’ve personally played in 6 of them, and whilst I’m not good enough to win a match there, have always hugely enjoyed the experience of playing in a proper arena on professional equipment, making one feel for just a little while like a professional player. In the early seasons there was always the risk of having to play your match in the local club, as venues can only cover so many matches, but luckily this practice has been ceased in favour of an additional qualifying day. You get to hang out backstage, mingle with players, journalists, referees, commentators and the like, and watch all the snooker you want. I absolutely love it!
Now, from a professional players’ perspective, and to a certain extent from the amateur player’s as well, the main downside is money. These events are short and tightly packed, and prize money is not very high, with the first prize starting out at 10.000 pounds, and over time growing to around 20.000 pounds per event. That is of course nice, but the further down the list you go, the less you earn of course. If you count a flight there, a hotel for 3 or 4 nights, food and drink and the 100 pound entry fee, you very quickly start hovering around the 800-pound mark. People tend to think of professional snooker players as very glamorous and wealthy, but for the vast majority playing professionally is, at least, a financial struggle. Last season, less than 40% of the main tour players earned more than 40.000 pounds a year, yet it costs around 20.000 pounds to pay professionally, on top of that you have your rent or mortgage, your food & drink, insurance, electricity etc. Not that huge a bank account then!
Next season World Snooker will be doing less of these events, and will be taking some of the importance away from them. Right now, the top 8 of the Order of Merit who have not already qualified for next season’s main tour get a 2-year tour card. This usually goes to professionals who have dropped down the rankings rather than amateurs though, something I think is being a bit mis-advertised by World Snooker, who plug it as a viable way to join the main tour, which in practice is very difficult indeed. Next season, that Order of Merit will not count. Also, there will be less events, with only Latvia and the new event in Gibraltar guaranteed. Since the Paul Hunter Classic in Fürth, Germany is the only one of these events actually making money for the promotors and World Snooker, I would assume it will continue.
I think these events added a huge amount to snooker’s calendar, and they will be sorely missed if and when they ever are completely dropped. If you want to see or play snooker in professional conditions, this is the closest you’ll get without shelling out a 600-pound entry fee for Q School. Give them a try!
Written for Snooker Magasinet