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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 09:50 GMT
Snooker's battle for survival
Stephen Lee in action at the LG Cup
Snooker needs to attract more hi-tech sponsors like LG

The 2003/2004 season will be one of the most important in the history of professional snooker

Tobacco sponsorship, worth an estimated 2m a year, will cease next year under EU regulations, and it will be up to the sport's governing body to find a way to replace the loss.

World Snooker Ltd, the commerical arm of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), has to find new sponsors for the Benson and Hedges Masters, along with the Regal Welsh and Regal Scottish Open.

Snooker's most prestigious tournament, the Embassy World Championship, has been granted an exemption until 2005.

But it is finding a new sponsor for the Masters which will cause the WPBSA the biggest headache.

If they are unable to stage the Masters next year, the organisation will miss out on a substantial fee from television.

And that could ultimately mean reducing the number of events on the circuit and reducing the prize money on offer.


How serious is the shortfall?

Currently the game only has two ranking events which do not rely on tobacco backing - the LG Cup and the PowerHouse UK Championship.

It threatens not just the players but the future of everyone who makes a living from snooker

Clive Everton
PowerHouse agreed a one-year deal to sponsor the UK Championship only at the 11th hour while LG are also in the final year of their contract.

This year's calendar has already been cut from nine rankings event to eight and for the first time in almost 20 years there will be no overseas ranking event.

The WPBSA boast that snooker is second only to football in terms of television popularity with viewers in the UK.

But if the game is to survive and prosper it will have to translate impressive viewing figures into commercial revenue.


Why can't snooker attract new sponsors?

Last November, snooker's governing body overcame an attempted coup that divided the game.

The failed bid by Altium followed years of internal wrangling that many feel has scared potential investors away from snooker.

Ivan Hirschowitz, spokesman for World Snooker.com, admits the game has had an image problem in the past.

"Political in-fighting has been a hindering factor in bringing in new sponsors.

Former UK champion Terry Griffiths
Terry Griffiths headed the unsuccessful takeover bid
"It's time to bring peace to the game - political stability will be beneficial to everyone and help bring new sponsors in."

BBC snooker commentator Clive Everton agrees that boardroom disputes have damaged snooker but remains concerned at the hole left by tobacco sponsorship.

"It threatens not just the players but the future of everyone else who makes a living from snooker.

"It's frustrating, but snooker is paying the price for 20 years of incompetence, mismanagement and worse.

"It seems the board's unwelcoming approach to the takeover will be shown to be foolish because Altium were prepared to guarantee the future of the circuit with a massive investment.

"And there's no sign yet of an alternative source of such investment.

"If we are not careful, snooker won't be where it deserves to be - amongst the nation's best loved televised sports."


Williams takes title

Masters history

Sport Academy

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