The colourful world of snooker is another string to Barry Hearn’s bow and although the peak of its popularity was back in the 1980s as the likes of Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor were scooping up World Championships, it is failed to hit the same heights since.
Admittedly the sporting world is far different than what it was 40 years prior, and at the same time, so is the UK’s media landscape. Football was certainly not loved by the BBC or ITV back then and with three or maybe four channels to show any sport, snooker won the race for eyeballs.
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However, by the time the beautiful game can back in from the cold and SKY pumped millions of pounds into the Premier League, events on the green baize had started to wane by the time Big Break had potted the black for the final time.
With that said, snooker still has an ardent fanbase and is far from being considered as a niche event. Especially when you look at the crowds that flock to the World Championships each year – even if that does include the odd pesky protester.
It may have an ardent fanbase that cheers on Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump but is the sport financially viable for these two and many others who look to be the kings of snooker on an annual basis?
Of course, it is not just the World Championships that is snooker’s sole event, there are plenty of tour events that take place across the season and with it being a tour that is much more global than regional, there are considerable travel expenses to also deal with.
Which begs the question: is a career as a snooker player viable? Obviously, for the likes of O’Sullivan and Trump, it certainly is. Simply put, failure to make the sport viable for them would not see them have played for so long.
But like in many other cases when it comes to sport and finance, you have to scratch beneath the surface to understand whether player earnings are in rather rude health or actually approaching life support instead.
Before we dig deep into what a player can make on an annual basis, we will take a quick snapshot of the highest all-time earners:
This has certainly been a fruitful career path for Ronnie O’Sullivan. At the time of writing, the seven-time World Champion has made more than £13m in career earnings and with this, he is the only player to make more than £10m in their lifetime.
Not even fellow seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry saw earnings as plentiful. By comparison, the Scottish star has only earned £8.7m for his efforts and has to make do with sitting third, as John Higgins has pipped him to second with earnings of £9.4m.
Even if we go down to 10th place on the list, Jimmy White has undoubtedly done well for himself. £4.8m has been earned thanks to the beautiful world of snooker, and who can ignore Steve Davis’ earnings of £5.6m.
Then again, we must consider that all-time earnings will not give us an overall snapshot when it comes to viability on an annual basis. The 10 names above are part of snooker royalty, if they are kings or at least princes, then who are the paupers by comparison?
If we now take a look at the earnings from the 2021/22 season as a whole (the last completed snooker season at the time of writing), we can begin to get a better idea of what the competitors are earning:
Once again, Ronnie O’Sullivan tops the table after winning £821,000 worth of prize money across the 2021/22 season. While Australia’s Neil Robertson is not all that far behind after earning £708,000 during the same period.
Judd Trump can also count his riches after picking up £647,000. While the top five are rounded out by both John Higgins in third and Zhao Xintong in fourth, who earned £418,000 and £386,000, respectively.
Even If we look at the 10th entry on the 2021/22 earnings list, Kyren Wilson’s £221,000 is not a figure that the man in the street would be turning his nose at. However, the lower the list, the less tempting a career snooker may be.
If we take the latest published figures that say the UK’s average salary for a full-time worker is £33,000, we now have a standard benchmark to work with and perhaps more importantly, we know where the cut-off point for viability is.
If we go further down the list, we can see that a top 50 player from last season, would have enough in earnings on the snooker table to beat the UK’s average full-time salary. If you make this bracket, things may be stressful, but you can still call this a viable career.
But what if we were to move down another 20 places?
The 64th highest earner Robbie Williams may be wishing that he had his namesakes earning power, but he just beats the average salary benchmark by £1,000. For both David Grace and Gao Yang in joint 66th, they are on the figurative breadline.
This means that every player who took the table and finished 68th or lower in the rankings list for 2021/22, they would have earned less than the UK average wage. To provide further context, the 100th highest earner only picked up £17,250 for his troubles.
Lee Walker has this accolade and may also be wondering whether such a pursuit of sporting glory will be worth it in the long term. Because the figures quoted are just earnings, so this does not consider travel expenses or other costs.
Of course, expenses can be offset by sponsorship deals and if you are a top 10, 20, or even 30 player, then the benefits will outweigh any unforeseen expenditure along the way. At the same time, the lower down the totem pole, the harder to earn endorsements.
Although it is not necessarily doom and gloom as the World Snooker Tour (WST) have announced that for the 2022/23 season, all 130 professional players will earn a guaranteed minimum payment of £20,000.
Something that comes in the shape of two £10,000 payments across the season and if you are Lee Walker this would constitute an increase of £2,750 on the previous year – not only that but these payments are not dependent on performance.
Should a player earn more than £20,000 in prize money, the additional inducements will be removed from their end-of-season total. Therefore, locking in some degree of earnings and affording snooker players something of a financial cushion.
If we were to use £20,000 as a benchmark for earnings, it means the top 92 players earned more than that figure last year. Anyone below that line will have gladfully welcomed the announcement from the WST.
Life would be far easier for any snooker player if the guaranteed payment were £33,000. If that were the case, then it would not necessarily have to be a choice between playing the sport that you love and trying to make a living.
At the same time, it is certainly a positive step all the same. Especially as all players currently ranked below 70 have earned less than £40,000 in prize money over a two-year period. Two years of the average salary equals £66,000 and the earning gap only gets wider.
Because you have to remember that this is not a career that is played over a single year. A snooker player can play for years if not decades and if they are outside the top 50, they are going to need rather deep pockets or a trusting bank manager to follow their dream.
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Snooker Earnings Q&A
How much do professional snooker players earn?
Earnings in prize money for snooker players can range from under £20,000 per year for a player ranked 100 to upper six-figure sums for those at the top like Ronnie O'Sullivan who earned over £800,000 in 2020/2021 including a World Championship title and prize money
How do Professional Snooker player earnings compare to the UK average salary?
Taking the average UK salary in 2022, of just over £33,000 per year, only the top 64 professional snooker players in the world earned more in prize money in the 2021/22 season
Who are the highest earning snooker players?
Each season, the player that wins the most ranking titles and the World Champion will be the biggest earners, but in the history of snooker, the top 5 earners are:
- Ronnie O'Sullivan £13,031,234
- John Higgins £9,402,769
- Stephen Hendry £8,793,581
- Mark Selby £7,266,479
- Mark Williams £7,215,654
How have snooker player earnings changed over time?
Prize money in snooker has risen from a £30,000 cheque for the World Champion winner Steve Davis in 1983 to £500,000 for the 2023 champion, and there are far more tournaments today than there were 20 years ago. Taking three points in history into account,
2023 - ???? - £500,00
2003 - Mark Williams £270,000
1983 - Steve Davis £30,000
What factors influence a snooker player's earnings?
The obvious influencing factor of the potential earning power of a snooker player is success on the table and in tournaments. The higher the finish in a tournament, the more prize money can be earned. This is intrinsically linked to third-party earnings through sponsorship and endorsements, which are more available in line with the level of success in the sport.
Are there any gender disparities in snooker player earnings?
While women can and do enter and compete in the World Snooker Championship, there is also a dedicated women's World Championship - The disparity in prize money might be described as a Gulf with £8,000 for the women's world champion against £500,00 for the Snooker World Champion.
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