Barry Hearn dismisses threat of breakaway tour but sends message to players

Barry Hearn seems unfazed by a possible breakaway tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Barry Hearn says players are welcome to leave the World Snooker Tour for what he considers to be ‘not commercially-viable’ events elsewhere, but they will be missing out on considerable opportunities on the main circuit.

Rumours of a ‘breakaway tour’ have been circling, with players believed to have been approached to play in a number of events, with offers of around £300,000 guaranteed.

WST have come to a new agreement with players that allows them to compete in events outside of the tour, but they must not clash with WST tournaments.

Hearn told the BBC: ‘The players under the new agreement have freedom to do what they want to do when there isn’t a World Snooker Tour event and that will open up 10-12 weeks of the year.’

He added: ‘The World Snooker Tour have conceded that the monopolistic position that we have is not right for the current market that we’re in. We want to be the best and we think we are the best. But you can’t have the benefits of World Snooker and then do something that clashes with World Snooker, but there’s 12 weeks of a year that’s free.

‘And what we’re saying is do what you like. Personally as someone who’s got a little bit of experience in the sports world, those type of one-off exhibitions are not really commercially viable in the long run.

‘I think we’re going to be up to somewhere around 30 events next year. And if you want to work outside of those events and you feel you’re fit enough to do it and competitive, you’re free to do so.’

2024 Cazoo World Snooker Championship - Day 4

Mark Williams has been hinting at playing snooker away from the main tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Hearn says that any players considering leaving the tour as a whole to play in events that clash will be leaving behind ever-increasing opportunities, including growing prize funds and a new event in Qatar.

‘What’s important is to build tournaments with history and obviously really big prize money, we are going to again increase prize money across the board,’ he said.

‘In particular things like the Masters, which has been stuck on £725,000-a-year [prize money]. That will go to a £1m next year. The long-term plan, of course, is to get the World Championship first prize past a million. And I think that’s very achievable.

‘There’ll be an event in Qatar sometime after January, but before the end of June next year.

‘I’ve heard figures of £200,000-£300,000 guaranteed [to play elsewhere]. Well if you’re in the top 16 next year, you’re going to be guaranteed £200,000 before you take your cue out. And if you win them all, you’re going to take £5-£6m home.’

MrQ Masters Snooker 2024 - Day Eight

Ronnie O’Sullivan won £250,000 as Masters champion this year (Picture: Getty Images)

Hearn has encouraged players on the World Snooker Tour to remain part of the ‘strong collective’, although says he understands why players nearing the end of their career could be tempted by guaranteed money elsewhere.

‘Collectively we are very strong, but every other little thing that happens outside of the strong body weakens the collective bargaining power that the main tour has to the detriment of the 128,’ he said.

‘It may well please a certain few players who are perhaps coming towards the end of their career and they’ve got to do what’s right for their family.

‘But frankly, commercially, I know the market, those sort of breakaway thoughts don’t really have a great deal of commercial value. So I’m quite comfortable letting people do what they want because I believe in the brand of World Snooker and what we’ve built up over the years.’

On whether players taking part in rival events would be allowed to return to World Snooker Tour competition, Hearn said: ‘No, of course not. That’s not spiteful. These are the rules.

‘Of course they would be allowed back instantly at Q School.’


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