World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn believes that Ronnie O’Sullivan may be pressing the self-destruct button with his “car-boot sport” outburst – and that he is making the commercial arm’s job that much harder.
The Rocket claimed snooker has a poor image, represents cheap TV, needs bigger top prizes and is treated with little respect despite strong viewing figures.
While at least some of that is undeniably true Hearn, 68, hit back by pointing out total prize money on the tour has trebled to £10million in five years – with an informal target of £20m by 2021.
O’Sullivan’s comments did sting to the extent that Hearn and others are continually attempting to bring in new sponsors, with arguably an overreliance on bookmaking backers currently.
At the Betway UK Championship on Tuesday Hearn said: “The problem with the top players using words like “car boot sale”, it reinforces perceptions and makes my job selling it much harder.
“People can quote lines from the most famous player. I am showing we are creative, exciting, innovative and global - and my top player says that.
“It’s self-destruct button time – the only good thing is that people don’t take it too seriously because it is another one of Ronnie’s ramblings.
“Ronnie lives on another planet as we know, maybe he is bored and starts ranting and raving.
“We’d all love to win £1million for a week’s work, I’m sure any reader of this would. But this is the real world, not a fantasy world.
“Ronnie must have a short memory if he can’t recall five or six tournaments a season, and prize money that has trebled in five years.
“The image of a sport is a factor when you are looking for sponsors. I have always thought and said snooker is a classless sport.
“But we have strong working-class roots and I am proud of that. We have great bookmaker sponsors and no event until 2018 for sponsorship.
“Would I like to have banks? Yes, but only when they open their arms and want to be a partner, join what we are trying to achieve.
“We have a long way to go after 10 years in the wilderness, now we have growth in China - and Europe through Eurosport.
“We are still redressing 10-15 years of self-inflicted damage, that falls on the players who were in charge at the time.
“The sport is in the strongest place it has been since 1927, with bigger audiences than most other sports and ready to kick on again.”