THE 2015/16 SEASON, which resumes this week after a three week break since the Australian Goldfields Open, seems certain to be the last to feature a full slate of European Tour events.
These were previously known as Players Tour Championship tournaments or PTCs and grew into the European and Asian Tours. The Riga Open in Latvia kicks off the new campaign’s European Tour events but it is effectively being replaced with a new European Championship, although some tournaments will remain.
Back before 2010, the snooker calendar was sparsely populated. The PTCs were Barry Hearn’s way of getting players back playing. It was hoped to build them up to grow into bigger events but despite its popularity on television in Europe, sponsorship for snooker remains hard to come by.
In China, TV figures remain very strong and sponsorship is substantial but the boom has come and gone and the future cannot be taken for granted. World Snooker has had some problems with Asian Tour events being postponed.
According to Hearn, the European Tour loses World Snooker roughly £70,000 per event, losses which cannot continue to be sustained. The Riga Open will remain on the calendar next season and the Paul Hunter Classic, an event established long before PTCs came into being, may well too but Hearn has stated that these tournaments will have to be self-sustaining from now on.
For some players, ‘PTC’ became a term of abuse, used to describe an event they thought beneath them. Certainly some of the early ones in Sheffield were not the greatest fun, with not enough tables for the field and matches starting after midnight and finishing in the early hours.
For all the derision they have attracted, they will still be missed by many, particularly those players who have gained valuable experience through competing in them.
They have given amateurs the chance to play top professionals, sometimes on television, and for lower ranked players it has meant experience of playing the game’s stars and spending time with them, reducing the fear factor and demystifying their status.
Let us not forget that, for several players, these events were also a way of getting on or staying on the tour.
PTC prize money has increased but is still lower than in the bigger tournaments and there are also travelling and hotel costs for players, although there is the chance to earn bigger money in the grand finals tournament.
There have been 58 ‘PTC’ events since 2010, staged in the UK, Europe and China. Mark Selby has won the most with six titles. Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham and Neil Robertson have each won four. John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui and Stephen Maguire have each won three.
In other words, the same players who dominate the major tournaments have found the most success in these smaller ones. There may be less prize money and prestige but it is the same game and, especially when televised, it brings the same pressures.
What these tournaments have done is taken snooker to places where the sport is still relatively new – Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia and Poland included. For fans of the game in these countries it has been a rare chance to watch the best players in the world close up, something taken for granted by supporters in the UK where tournaments are long established.
All sports must renew themselves. If these events are losing money then it is not surprising they are being culled, but they served several purposes and played a role in creating some momentum to the calendar, which is now much fuller than it was before the first PTC five years ago.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.