At £1 million a year, Hong Kong can regain its status on the world snooker tour
Chairman Barry Hearn hopes July’s one-off Masters tournament can help spark interest among potential sponsors
World Snooker chief Barry Hearn hopes July’s one-off event in Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover will convince a potential sponsor to put the city back on global map after almost three decades – but it would need someone to spend more than HK$9.86 million a year.
The Hong Kong Masters will be held from July 20-23 at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium featuring top players such as Ronnie O’Sullivan, world champion Mark Selby and Hong Kong’s world number six Marco Fu Ka-chun.
It is the first world-class snooker tournament to be held in the city since the early 90s and Hearn is hoping it can reignite interest in the sport in Hong Kong.
“We hope that we are in a new era for snooker in Hong Kong and that this event is super successful,” said Hearn, who was a pioneer in taking snooker out of the United Kingdom to places such as Hong Kong with his Matchroom stable of star players that included multiple world champions Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis and the hugely popular Jimmy White.
“After the event I’m hoping the next call I get is from someone who wants to get involved. In my mind, I want the organisers to enjoy it, the sponsors to get value for money and the TV likes it.
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“From that stage, get the Hong Kong governing body involved and an entrepreneur of sufficient strength to say we want to put Hong Kong on the snooker map and want to be seen in 500 millions homes.
“We want them to say, ‘Bazza, we had a great time and snooker’s back. We have the funds’. The money is substantial, more than £1 million , but sport at the top level is expensive. I just need one phone call and despite my ongoing years, I’m on a plane the next day to sign up,” added the 69-year-old Hearn, whose sporting resume includes high-profile boxing bouts and darts.
Hong Kong has staged just one world-ranking event, the 1989 Hong Kong Open, but Hearn’s annual visits to the city with his Matchroom stars was probably more popular than any sanctioned tournament.
However, he eventually stopped coming to concentrate on his other ventures and in the meantime China has emerged as a regular stop on the world tour.
“In those days – and weren’t they the greatest days of all time? – we had the feeling of being explorers into Asia and it is something I will never forget,” said Hearn, who is chairman of World Snooker – the commercial arm of governing body World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.
“It really was an adventure, but adventures eventually turned to reality.”
Hearn reserved special praise for Hong Kong player Fu, who last year won the Scottish Open for his third professional title.
Fu will play Barry Hawkins in the first round of the Hong Kong Masters.
“Marco Fu has been one of the great ambassadors of Hong Kong, forget just snooker, but in sports overall,” said Hearn.
“Not only his talent but how he carries himself, his professionalism and attitude.
“But for every flagbearer, and he is definitely one, behind them is an army. That’s what we are trying to do, to develop the sport and extend opportunities to other Marco Fu’s.”