Healthy State of World Snooker Highlighted by Surge in Money for Ronnie O'Sullivan SPOTY
The Sports Personality of the Year 2019 does not take place until December, yet that has not stopped a surge of money for Ronnie O’Sullivan to become the first snooker player to win the accolade since 1988. ‘The Rocket’, has been backed from 25/1 at the start of the year into the 8/1 favourite and now heads the market ahead of Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Joshua and Dina Asher-Smith.
The gathering social media storm for Ronnie to win the award indicates snooker in the UK and around the world is in a better place than ever. O’Sullivan’s recent victory at the Coral Tour Championship saw him level Stephen Hendry’s record of 36 ranking event wins. It also saw him regain his World No. 1 status for the first time since 2010.
"To get to Number One probably playing half the events some other guys do is probably one of the best achievements across sports," said O'Sullivan.
While O’Sullivan doesn’t mince his words, his sentiment is correct and he has now plied his trade at the top of World Snooker for over a quarter of a century. He won his first ranking event 26 years ago at the UK Championship in 1993, when his main rival this season Judd Trump was just three years old. Since then he has been in 51 ranking finals, winning 36 of them at an astonishing 71% strike rate. O’Sullivan recently also became the first player to surpass 1,000 century breaks and on top of this ‘The Rocket’ has hit 15 147’s and would have hit 16 had he not purposely turned down a maximum in 2016 citing the £10,000 prize money on offer as ‘too cheap’ for the feat.
Statistically the move for O’Sullivan to win SPOTY is a strange one with no snooker player reaching the frame in the ceremony since 1990. Yet the feeling around snooker now seems more positive than ever as the sport continues to modernise and attract a younger, more global audience. O’Sullivan in 2017 stated ‘The future’s so bright I should be wearing sunglasses’ and in 2019 that continues to look the case. With the dynamic Barry Hearn at the helm and innovations like The Shoot-out pushing the game to a new level and audience, the sport looks to be ushering a new era of popularity.
This year also sees the first ever snooker game to be released on all major consoles and platforms. The release of ‘Snooker 19’ highlights that the game has now reached a fresh audience and one that engages with the game in a different way. All 128 players from the World Snooker Tour will be represented by incredibly lifelike 3D graphics. The fact this game has come to fruition shows a demand among a younger audience that in previous years the sport has failed to captivate.
Barry Hearn continues to re-angle the game towards a modern audience and this has already been successful. Jason Ferguson head of the WPBSA hopes to see snooker as an Olympic event by 2024 having just failed in a bid for inclusion in 2020. Our streaming figures would support this view too. Over 215,000 unique people streamed the Dafabet Masters in January with 168,000 total views for the final. Similar figures have been seen again this week with nearly 250,000 views for Trump and O’Sullivan’s semi-final at the Coral Tour Championship. The final attracted at its peak an audience of 1,240,000 people, a phenomenal number for the inaugural tournament. These numbers show that as well as terrestrial support for the game, the sport is also being engaged with on different platforms and for different reasons.
For the last ¼ of a century O’Sullivan has pushed the boundaries of what people have thought possible in snooker. The move for him in the SPOTY market highlights a fresh public perception of the game and victory in the World Championships would see him pass Stephen Hendry’s number of ranking wins and move into a league of his own. Should the current social media storm for O’Sullivan to win SPOTY rumble on, than he could easily see his considerable personality and talent recognised at the prestigious awards ceremony.
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