Get rich by playing snooker. You had to call O’Sullivan or Hendry or Higgins to make it happen. But after his sensational title at Sheffield, Luca Precel, 28, looks set to become snooker’s next millionaire. He comes from far away, his father also knows. We were made welcome, but left to our own devices at the same time.
We go back to January 10, 2011. In the Belgian newspaper latest news A cry for help appeared from Carlo Precel, the father of the then 15-year-old snooker talent. At the end of 2010, the shy boy in Ostend was awarded the title of “Promise Public”. He took the prize from cyclist Sven Nys, and left the letter to his father. “We are looking for 100,000 euros, otherwise my son’s career will be over before it starts,” said Father Carlo Precel.
The emergence of Belgium’s greatest snooker talent coincided with the globalization of snooker – hitherto known in Great Britain. At the start of 2010 sports promoter Barry Hearn, since 2001 with Matchroom Sport Limited and also the senior man for the Professional Darts Corporation, has successfully expanded the boundaries of the green cloth. It enters commercial markets outside the UK and also hosts tournaments in China, Brazil and Australia.
The Professional Tour, which had consisted of six major tournaments with a total prize pool of €3 million, will be expanded to 20 event tournaments worldwide with a total prize pool of nearly €15 million. In the meantime, that has been increased to 28 official ranking tournaments and the prize money is heading towards 20 million.
beer and women
Snooker caps are instantly part of the story of Hearne, who was manager of the legendary Steve Davis in the 1970s. Many world champions Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins travel the world in search of their seriousness while short on cash. But for the snooker player from Dilsen-Stokkem, Belgium, the worldwide magic of snooker is a poisoned gift.
The talent made the 28-year-old Brissel hopeful. Former world champion Graeme Dott once said that “only beer and women can prevent this boy from becoming the best in the world.” But talent alone is not enough to take snooker heaven by storm. To turn talent into performance, you have to put in many hours of practice, and that was lacking at the start with the Brecels.
“Luca was about to enter the international arena,” Father Carlo recalls. “You have to play semi-finals or finals to earn good money. Win the tournament or go in the first round: you still have to take on the expenses. Transport costs, accommodation costs, food … all three times. In addition to Luca, I traveled as a supervisor and he was with us as a coach.” This is how we quickly came to €100,000. We were welcomed from all sides, but at the same time we were also left to our own devices.”
Luca Brecel used to rely on outside financial support to pay for his snooker trips. He saw, as it is so beautifully called in Belgium, the black snow (Poverty, ed.). Little has changed in this regard in more than ten years. The Flemish Snooker Association remains a sporting association recognized, but not subsidized, by Sport Vlaanderen and the Flemish government. This puts snooker on the same level as darts, jeu de boules, and three cushions.
Fight for the crumbs
For Brissel, the first few years were plodding, toiling and making sure he could make ends meet. Only three years ago – Brecel had been active in the professional circuit for nearly ten years by then – had the reigning world champion reached the magic limit of €1 million in prize money. Only the absolute top of the world can make a small fortune in snooker. The vast majority of the 128 active World Snooker Tour players are fighting for crumbs at the table.
According to a British study published last year, the top 16 people in the world earned an average of €275,000 on the green leaf. All other costs are not taken into account. For comparison: the average annual salary in the NBA is 7.5 million euros. This does not include personal guarantee contracts.
Since snooker is mainly a niche sport, sponsorship deals with multinational companies do not materialize either. Unlike football, basketball and baseball, snooker is played in small arenas. The Crucible Theater in Sheffield can seat less than 1,000 spectators, so not much income is generated from ticket sales. It ensures that the trading income is relatively low.
Real snooker millionaires can be counted on one hand. Seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan – who was knocked out in the quarter-finals by Precel – has raked in nearly €14 million in three decades. Stephen Hendry and John Higgins also combined a net worth of more than 10 million euros. Precel is a far cry from hitting that jackpot. But the time the Belgian didn’t have a chalk to scratch his braid happily is behind him.
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