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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 12:16 GMT
Snooker's biggest break
TSN plan to braodcast snooker on the internet
TSN plan to braodcast snooker on the internet
BBC Sport's Clive Everton examines the background surrounding the biggest breakaway in snooker history.

Tobacco is the issue which divides the professional governing body, the World Professional Billards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), from The Sportsmasters Network (TSN).

The internet firm's rival 10-event global tour threatens to split the snooker world after next spring's Embassy World Championship.

Of the eight events which comprise the WPBSA's world ranking circuit, three have tobacco sponsors, the Regal Welsh and Scottish Opens and, the jewel in its crown, the Embassy World Championship.

Last week, the Liverpool Victoria reached the end of its three-year deal to sponsor the UK Championship and no continuation has yet been announced.

The other four events have no title sponsors.

TSN has an initial 10m funding from Warburg Pincus, the city finance house, last May.

Tobacco problems

Jeremy Young and Dominic Shorthouse of Warburg's are on TSN's five-man board of which Ian Doyle, snooker's leading manager, is chairman.

Without the tobacco issue, there is no apparent obstacle to WPBSA and TSN getting together
  Clive Everton

The other two TSN board members are its managing director, Gerry Sinclair, a Glasgow lawyer and its chief executive George Smith, a data systems expert with top level managerial experience.

Initially, TSN's instinct was to integrate with the WPBSA circuit.

But the sponsors which they wished to bring did not want to be involved with a sport which has a significant tobacco sponsorship presence, let alone a dominant one.

The WPBSA's problem is that it has contracts with tobacco interests that it must honour, although the sport's long-term future cannot lie in this direction.

Tobacco sponsorship must cease by Government edict in 2003 and even the special extension for the Embassy World Championship to 2006 carries a condition; a 20% year-on-year reduction of financial input from Embassy from 2003-6.

Commitment issues

In the middle of all this is snooker's key broadcaster, the BBC, which recently concluded a six-year contract with WPBSA reported to be worth 23m to cover four events each season; the Grand Prix, the UK, the Benson and Hedges masters (the game's most prestigious invitation event) and the Embassy World Championship.

The BBC has a long history of loyalty to established governing bodies through thick and thin.

But next season is certainly going to be thin if WPBSA's events do not contain the 40 players, headed by the world champion Mark Williams, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan, who have already signed to TSN.

Without the tobacco issue, there is no apparent obstacle to WPBSA and TSN getting together.

But TSN were disappointed and bemused in September when its offer of a three-year, 3.3m deal to sponsor four events - the Champions Cup (ITV), British Open (Sky) Grand Prix (BBC) and Nations Cup (ITV) - was turned down by a governing body which for the last five years or more, has found it notoriously difficult to secure sponsors at all.

Stephen Hendry
Stephen Hendry has already signed up with TSN
Under this deal, TSN would also have borne the costs of setting up and running a WPBSA website and transmitting on the internet live pictures of WPBSA events.

Internet broadcasts

TSN would have paid host broadcasters for a feed of their television pictures, but the WPBSA would have received 45% of the profits.

All last summer, TSN believed the deal was acceptable but the WPBSA at first rejected it and then, after it had been resurrected, protracted negotiations to a point at which TSN walked away.

For venture capitalists like Warburgs, a return on investment is seldom far from their minds.

Allowing WPBSA's tobacco contracts simply to run down was deemed too much of a delay.

A more direct - even confrontational - approach has thus emanated from TSN, who in a seven-figure but unspecific deal, yesterday acquired Cuemasters, the sportsman management company which Doyle started from scratch when he signed Hendry 15 years ago.

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See also:

06 Dec 00 |  Other Sports
Snooker set for new power battle
03 Dec 00 |  UK Championship Snooker
Higgins too hot for Williams
04 Dec 00 |  UK Championship Snooker
Snooker's new elite
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