Just as Barry Hearn’s plans for the future of snooker looked set to receive the green light from players at next Wednesday’s EGM a rival bid has been tabled to take control of the sport.
John Davison, who was behind the Altium bid in 2002, which wanted control of the game’s commercial rights in return for a large investment, is heading a team promising ten world ranking events
In fact, I understand Davison and Hearn met last week and came close to agreeing a joint deal but could not conclude terms.
So, once again, battle lines are being drawn and the players have to decide who to back as various parties tug at their waistcoats, asking for support.
Davison was treated disgracefully by the snooker world when he originally attempted to breathe much needed investment into the game eight years ago.
All manner of misinformation was spread, chiefly that he was some kind of patsy for Ian Doyle, the then 110sport chairman, to “take over the game.”
The players’ vote was tied at 36-36. In the days that followed, Davison formed the view that the WPBSA board members – who would have had their power significantly eroded were he successful – were doing their best to prevent him getting anywhere near the sport and withdrew his offer.
Davison is a serious figure from the business world. He was a partner in a leading private equity firm and thus has access not only to financial resources but also other contacts in the City.
He has named Karl Bistany, a leading sports rights agent, and Joylon Armstrong, a well established PR expert, as two other members of his team.
What is Davison proposing?
His plan is for ten ranking events, two invitation events, six Players Tour events and prize money for next season guaranteed at £5m, rising by £200,000 for each of the next three years.
What does he want in return?
Davison is asking to secure the commercial rights of the game for the next 15 years, acquiring a 63% stake in World Snooker Limited, the WPBSA’s subsidiary company.
He intends to pay £315,000 for this, which will be redistributed as a dividend of around £5,000 to each of the world’s top 64 (i.e. the voting membership). Hearn has questioned whether this is legal.
Davison also states that the WPBSA, which will remain the rules and regulatory body, will have “a strong team of new independent directors.”
What are the pitfalls?
Davison is not some con-artist trying to scoop up snooker’s commercial rights in a big swag bag but there is a lack of clarity in parts of his proposal.
These ten ranking events: where will they be? When will they be? Who will broadcast them? Is there a provisional calendar?
Crucially, who will be the new directors?
Snooker’s problems are not just related to finances but also personnel. Will Davison invite back any members of the previous WPBSA board?
If he does, the game will lose credibility with broadcasters, sponsors and other potential partners. These people were after all rejected by the players less than six months ago.
So what happens now?
Well, Hearn has invited Davison to the EGM to address the players directly and debate the issues surrounding his bid.
This will give Davison the chance to himself answer some of the questions in this post and the many others the players will have.
It will also give Hearn the opportunity to point out the dangers – as he would see them – of abandoning his plan and taking a chance on this last minute proposal.
However, the vote won’t be for Hearn or Davison. If the players want to take a chance on the Davison proposal they will have to vote down Hearn and then vote for Davison at a subsequent EGM.
And knowing the snooker world, it is entirely conceivable that they could reject Hearn, then conspire to reject Davison and end up back where we started.
Davison, and of course his money, would be a valuable asset to snooker. Had he launched this bid a year ago he would probably now be running the sport.
But many will argue that Hearn has started a job and should be allowed to continue it. He is known and liked by the various broadcasters snooker will need to increase its reach (Sky Sports have said they will not work with anyone else) and has a very clear set of plans in place – whether you agree with all of them or not.
With his directness and enthusiasm, he has established a media profile for himself that has seen a thaw in sports editors’ generally negative attitudes towards the game.
These same people would have a field-day at snooker’s expense if he was kicked out so soon after becoming chairman.
It’s a shame he and Davison could not reach an agreement because they would have made a formidable team.
As ever, though, it is up to the players. They will vote according to such a multitude of reasons, and because of various pressures they are put under from those who surround them, that I couldn’t predict the EGM outcome with any degree of confidence.
What I can say, though, is that it will be the most important vote snooker has faced since, er, the last one...