The Snooker Legends phenomenon

00:07:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

It was the year 2009 when Jason Francis and his team started what soon has proved to be a tremendous idea - the Snooker Legends tour - an hymn dedicated to snooker as we know it:  honest, funny, classy, full of drama, emotional.

I remember doing an interview with Jason at the end of the Snooker Legends Tour's first season, back in 2010, actually one of my first interviews for my blog, and although it was done by e-mail I couldn't but feel the excitement of a person who managed to put together, along with his team, such an amazing project.

Through the years the Snooker Legends tour has developed beautifully and now, five years later, more and more people are standing in line to see the snooker legends in action. 

I caught up with Jason and asked him to tell me more about breaking the boundaries and reaching the continent with the Snooker Legends tour, adding new members to the team, developing the on-line communication with fans all over the world and much more.

Last time we’ve spoken it was 2010. Four years later “Snooker Legends Tour” has become a phenomenon. What do you think that has drawn people into coming over and over to these events?
Jason Francis: "We tried to list and adapt to what the fans have said, so the tour in 2014 is quite different form the first one in 2010 -  it’s bigger, more technical and hopefully more fun. We’ve tried to change certain elements each year to keep it fresh but at the same time never messing about with the rules of snooker or introducing time clocks."

You’ve started the events series with most of the players that don’t activate at a professional level anymore, but along the way you and your team have managed to bring some of the players that are still active on the Main Tour (O’Sullivan, Robertson, Davis, Hendry etc). Why did you choose to bring them in too and how was the reaction of the public?

The 2012 Snooker Legends Cup team
JF: "When we started Jimmy was still on the tour and John Parrott was too, although between the show on the 8th April and the 2010 World Championship he decided to retire and announced it on BBC – perhaps it was my fault! 

Jimmy played a big part in getting Ronnie to do a show, we had a great time, Ronnie and I became friends and then all the other legends joined in. I’m very lucky that they are all so loyal to the legends tour. "

You’ve mentioned Ronnie O’Sullivan who has become a constant apparition on the SL tour. This must have thrilled the fans. How is the atmosphere when he’s part of the show?

JF: "We refer to them in the team as ‘Ronnie nights’. Everything about them is a little bit larger and we all raise our game to deal with the atmosphere he brings to an event. 

At our events he is a pleasure to be around, he realizes that we are all part of a team and we can’t put on the show without each other. 

Of all the players I think people build their perception of him from the way he has to focus at a professional event, he is there to do a job and sometimes people perceive that he can be grumpy or arrogant whereas he is actually very funny and relaxed, if a little shy, when he is ‘not at work’ so to speak."

The living legend - Ronnie O'Sullivan
But this beautiful madness has reached places outside the UK too. Germany, as we all know it, is a huge market for snooker and the positive obsession with this colourful cue sport has created the perfect opportunity for the Snooker Legends caravan to travel.

JF: "It was the fans pressure to take our events overseas. It’s actually easier to fill arenas outside of the UK then inside as here fans realize they may get 4 or 5 chances to see Ronnie & Co play whereas in European countries they don’t know when they’ll next get the chance to meet these guys and see them play live. 

Germany is a very important market for me and one I’ll be staging a lot more events in with Ronnie, Jimmy etc.  in the future. I’m also in discussion with 4 other European countries."
The very special “Legends Cup” is an event some of my UK friends can’t stop talking about. Can you tell me more of how did you come up with the idea of teaming snooker players and why do you think the public reaction is so positive regarding this event?

JF: "I came up with in on an internal flight in Ireland while talking with Dennis, Cliff and John Parrott. There hasn’t been a team event for so long in snooker and the players enjoy the camaraderie of working together for a change. 

It’s the event everyone wants now which gives me a problem as they are incredibly difficult, and indeed expensive, to organize."

Kirk Stevens and the SL team
Since we are on this subject, if I’m not mistaken, at our last interview you told me that beside Riley’s who supplied the tables, you had no other sponsors. Has that changed?

JF: "We’re now part of the ROK group so the events are used to promote our brands, the ones you see on Ronnie’s waistcoats (Oval vodka, Abk beer, ROK, Visa) and of course the snooker legends app."

OK and now so let's take a trip down to memory lane: If you had to recall just three SL tour events for which you hold a special soft spot in your heart, which ones would there be?

JF: "Wow, good question…. I’ll need 4! I guess the first one, taking Alex Higgins back to the Crucible at the very start. That holds good and bad memories as he sadly passed away only 3 months later but he got to play there one last time. 

Secondly I think taking Kirk Stevens back there as well in 2011. Kirk has had his problems, which are well documented, but he had been clean for two years and when he played at the Crucible again it was incredibly emotional. Both Cliff and Dennis had tears in their eyes and Kirk cried too. 

Does anyone find this familiar?
I guess Jimmy making a 147 from the break off shot in 2011 created snooker history so that’s special and of course seeing my Legends Cup idea being broadcast on EuroSport made me incredibly proud… especially as 4 years earlier before I had done a show Barry Hearn told me he liked the idea but it would never work and I’d never make any money – he was right about the second bit!"

How would you characterize the last four years of SL tour? If you were to be given the chance to start all over again, would you do it differently and why?

JF: "Forgetting the snooker itself I think that I’ve provided employment for many retired snooker players and given them the chance to relive the greatest moments of their careers, especially inside the Crucible. 

It really has become one big family and I’m pretty proud of that. Could I change anything, well I wish Alex had been able to get well enough to participate for longer as he deserved the platform to perform on."

And since we are living in a high-tech era, it was only normal to introduce technology into this wonderful project, the Snooker Legends tour having its own special mobile app, that may I add, has had very good reviews.

The 2014 Snooker Legends Cup team
"This was part of the ROK acquisition of Snooker Legends as they developed the technology for streaming into mobile devices. The Snooker Legends app means fans from all over the world can enjoy our shows – we have amazing feedback and the potential for this for markets like china are enormous.” says Jason.

And now to wrap things up, what surprises and plans do you have for SL tour in the future? I bet there is still a lot of magic left in the magician’s hat, right?

JF: "Aha! Now that would be telling…. Watch this space! And download the app!"