It’s no secret that becoming a professional player in any cue sport requires a substantial amount of dedication, investment and a true passion for the game, even if you showcase a prodigious level of talent in your performance. Snooker and billiards require players to develop a high level of mastery in order to compete with the best, and earning a living while doing so is no easy matter. While the top 20 players in each sport category earn a sizable wage, the returns are far less rewarding for those unable to attain such heights, especially when compared to far more lucrative sports like football and golf. Unless they have a generous sponsor, players shoulder all of their own expenses while on tour and they only earn a decent pay-out if they win matches. The more tournaments a player wins, the higher the likelihood that they will be approached for sponsorship and endorsement deals; these make up a significant portion of top players’ income, so competition is fierce.
As in most sports, securing a suitable sponsor to help cover basic costs while on tour is almost essential for most aspiring professionals. In certain tournaments, a bonus will also be up for grabs if certain conditions are met, like a single player winning an entire series. Like a jackpot of sorts, these bonuses have the potential to be even larger than the standard first place cash prize.
In 2017, for example, 128 of the most skilled snooker players in the world competed for a £1,000,000 bonus attached to the Home Nations series. In comparison, Ronnie O’Sullivan stands to gain £50,000 in prize money if he wins this year’s Snooker Shoot Out.
In regard to sponsorships, players need to increase their exposure and exhibit good performance in order to be approached by companies looking to make potential offers. Benefits like paying for travel and tournament fees or providing free equipment usually come with these arrangements, and in exchange the sponsored player wears the company’s brand logo on their clothes.
Of course, players that are featured in televised events or covered in sports headlines will have a much wider pool of opportunities to select from – another incentive for placing well in as many tournaments as possible.
There is a disparity of income between the various cue sports, as well. Billiards/pool tournaments tend to offer smaller prize pools when held alongside comparable snooker events, though English pool suffers especially from this issue due to receiving less television and online coverage when compared to the American version of the game.
While the top players in the world are fortunate enough to receive a steady income, individuals in the lower ranks aren’t quite so lucky. Although cue sports are increasingly popular, players who don’t win tournaments will often need to supplement their earnings with additional endeavours.
Pool players, for example, have in recent years been altering their approach and thinking outside the box when attempting to make a living off their chosen sport; offering cheap lessons to aspiring players, writing an eBook on the development of their technique, managing a pool room or volunteering to work alongside a venue’s league players and customers in exchange for a sponsorship or salary – with an open mind, players can express their passion for the game while earning themselves some cash on the side.
The appreciation for cue sports isn’t limited to any one country, however. Over the past few years, snooker in particular has seen its popularity expand to an international audience, notably in the Far East where the sport is currently massive. As a result, it’s no surprise that the top 10 of snooker’s best players features China’s Ding Junhui and Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, both representing a fresh new generation of talented and driven players that are eager to show the world what they can do in the sport they love. And if that’s not a recipe for optimism in the cue sports scene, nothing is.