Mark Selby and Mark Allen are two 20-somethings who play exciting snooker and today served up a thrilling, high quality contest at the Masters.
It’s a shame, then, that they attracted only 282 spectators to the Wembley Arena.
I’m not an expert in marketing but it seems to me that a lot more can be done to promote these tournaments and also make visiting the events a better experience.
When you walk through the doors at Wembley Arena, what is there other than the actual snooker? There’s a table to receive some coaching but no betting stand as in days gone by or proper merchandise stand as run previously by Dave Johnston-Allen.
In the past, these have been little hubs where communities of snooker fans have gathered.
A sporting event has to offer far more than just the sport.
When people go to darts, the actual matches are only a part of the experience.
I agree with Stephen Hendry that snooker should not follow darts by allowing the audience to get drunk and rowdy but we can learn a lot from the way Barry Hearn’s PDC make the audience feel like an important part of the occasion.
Indeed, the crowd at darts often make the occasion.
Snooker is more limited in what it can do because it demands silence while play is going on but Selby, on his Eurosport blog, suggests playing music as the players come in, which is a minor innovation but would at least help to create some sort of atmosphere.
All this has already been grasped by the people who run the Premier League and World Series. I realise flashing lights and pop music at the Crucible would appal many traditionalists but that's one venue where you wouldn't need it because it's usually full from day one.
In terms of getting people along to start with, the tournament organisers should target all snooker clubs within a 10-15 mile radius of the venue.
The people who play there are, after all, already interested in snooker and ticket offers may well bring along several dozen spectators at a time.
The Premier League organisers supply pull-out supplements to local newspapers where their matches are staged. which seems to me to make resolute common sense. The more media coverage the better, particularly in the town where the event is on.
The other problem, of course, is in making the players attractive and well known enough to draw people in.
World Snooker has taken a step towards this with their ‘Hotshots’ campaign but, as Selby and Allen are both part of the scheme, it doesn’t seem to have worked so far.
In fairness, these things take time but a PR campaign will not work if at the same time players are threatened with disciplinary action for making controversial – or often not even remotely controversial – statements.
Snooker actually needs more controversy. It needs rivalries and grudge matches and characters and all the stuff that the media looks for when covering a sport.
The players need more freedom to express themselves. I promise you, if they did the interest would increase but chiding them for even the merest deviation from the norm is preventing the public from getting to know them.
One well known player was even rung up because someone at the World Snooker office in Bristol didn’t approve of the colour of his shoes.
Let the players be themselves. That is the best way for their personalities to come across. Moulding them to some corporate model is a sure fire way to make people lose interest and proclaim that they are ‘all the same.’
The quality of snooker being produced at Wembley is very high, not least by Selby and Allen.
But a crowd of less than 300 is poor for a quarter-final and it’s time for action.