Snooker on tour as Hearn breaks down the boundaries

Sheffield may be snooker’s spiritual home but now a galaxy of overseas tournaments are set to be launched as the sport goes global.

Contracts are currently being thrashed out for an Australian ranking event in Melbourne – the home of current world champion Neil Robertson – in July, while plans are already in the pipeline for new tournaments in South America, Scandinavia, India, Japan and the United States.

For a game which has traditionally been a UK-based sport there are now more tournaments overseas than on home soil and that trend looks set to continue.

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World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has been the driving force behind breaking new boundaries on the snooker circuit, introducing new tournaments, attracting sponsorship and boosting prize money from £3.5 last year to over £6m next season.

Already players have been clocking up airmiles with the Shanghai Masters, China Open and the German Open.

Already on the calendar next season is the Wuxi Classic in China, a snooker World Cup in Thailand, the Brazilian Masters plus the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.

“We are taking the sport into countries and areas that are not renowned for staging snooker events,” said Hearn, pictured.

“Eastern Europe is looking very interesting to us, as is Scandinavia. But I have to take my hat off to the fans who turned up to support us in Germany for the German Open, which was just sensational. The television figures for the German Masters surpassed even the Masters, that’s a sign of where the sport is going to go.

“This is the first year in the history of snooker where there are more events outside of the United Kingdom, than within, and that’s a trend which will continue in our global expansion.

“When we took over 12 months ago the prize money was £3.5m. We undertook to increase that to £4.5m, and in the year we are just finishing now, that will be surpassed as we hit roughly £5m.

“Because of the plans we now have, the prize money for the forthcoming season will be in excess of £6m. World Snooker is a profitable company, but we will not be complacent.

“We have at least half a dozen major interested territories around the world who will be joining us over and above what we are currently doing now.

“South America looks great, China is a massive market to us, we should shortly be announcing Australia – as soon as the ink is dry – we have serious interest from Scandinavia, India, Japan, even people in the casino-world in America quite like the idea of Ding Junhui going out there and entertaining punters.”

Hearn has overseen massive changes to the game in his 12 months in charge of World Snooker.

It started amid controversy with the John Higgins betting scandal, but Hearn has revamped the calendar with the likes of Twenty20-style shoot-outs and helped revitalise the sport. “The last 12 months, for me personally, has been a hugely motivational period,” he said.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have gone. We started off with the Higgins case, and the problems that caused, and we were thrust into the deep end straight away when it came to questions of integrity and how it affected our sport.

“It wasn’t the nicest start, but something we had to deal with. But more importantly, we were dealing with a sport which had made virtually no progress, was dormant, and the players were becoming dissatisfied with the lack of match activity and prize money levels.

“The past 12 months has seen an enormous increase in the number of events, and while we haven’t got every decision right – I don’t think we ever will – we have got most of them right.

“We are building a sport based entirely on ability, reputation counts for nothing, it’s all about results.”