World Snooker: Barry Hearn's replacement Steve Dawson ponders filling big shoes and dealing with Judd Trump

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Steve Dawson has worked with fellow Londoner Barry Hearn for 35 years
Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 17 April-3 May
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four and Red Button, with uninterrupted coverage on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app.

“How do you follow someone like Barry Hearn?”

Incoming World Snooker Tour (WST) chairman Steve Dawson has strong views on how not to follow someone like Hearn.

It’s a smart start and could be key to successfully filling the snooker supremo’s considerable shoes.

“I certainly won’t be trying to copy his style at all because I think that would look terrible,” Dawson tells BBC Sport.

“He is inimitable and a legend in the sports promotion world.”

He’s also loud, supremely confident, outspoken and never afraid to court controversy – and that’s probably massively underplaying Hearn.

But his approach, charisma, drive and inspirational leadership is widely acknowledged to have brought snooker back from the brink of oblivion.

The snooker business is booming, with 30 tournaments per year and £15m in prize money up for grabs.

Eleven years ago, there were just six ranking events, plus the Masters and £3.5m on offer.

Players have never been happier, but one of Dawson’s first tasks will be to deal with a bit of disquiet about the direction the sport is going in.

World number one Judd Trump started the ball rolling, saying snooker desperately needs to modernise, stop living in the past and appeal to younger audiences. And many other players have backed the Bristolian.

Trumpeting snooker

Trump says the sport “is stuck in a rut”external-link and must look at dress code and freshening up its television coverage to attract new fans.

Dawson is happy to chew things over and the pair have arranged to meet once the World Championship is over.

“The door is always open,” Dawson said, well aware of Trump’s profile, stature and the 31-year-old’s appeal to the younger generation.

“It will be good fun to talk. There are formal channels which players should go through but there is no reason why we shouldn’t listen to players and groups of players and their ideas.

“There is a chance for education both ways: they need to understand the structure of our broadcast contracts, changes in presenters and how it is portrayed. It is a little bit out of our control but we can have an influence.

“In terms of dress code, at certain events it will work but the major events are where we sell our products to the international markets and we if were to suddenly stop players wearing waistcoats and formal wear, it could damage things.

“There are things we haven’t thought of and things we have thought of but have discarded, but I am looking forward to speaking to Judd.”

Hearn, of course, has his views. And Dawson won’t be afraid to seek them. He won’t have to look too far, with the 72-year-old having his say during the 2021 World Championship – his last in charge.

Dawson says Hearn’s advisory role will be a huge asset to snooker’s operation and the Matchroom empire, enabling his predecessor at WST to have an overview and look at the other sports in the portfolio.

A numbers game

Barry Hearn
Hearn says it is the right time to take a back seat in his Matchroom empire and play more golf and cricket

“The television and streaming market are changing so fast,” Dawson said. “We need someone who has their fingers right on the pulse of the latest developments and that will be a huge benefit to the snooker industry and snooker world.”

Hearn feels “a lot of what Judd says is right”, highlighting a casual dress code for certain tournaments as an example of what is being done.

“But where I think he is wrong is that we must never forget the history of each sport,” Hearn added.

“The World Championship has been at the Crucible for over 40 years and the World Championship goes back to 1927.

“You have to take into account the target audience and the people you are trying to entertain. I listen to Judd and welcome his input as world number one, but I also have to listen to my customers, broadcasters and sponsors.

“At the same time we have to move forward; we are living in a digital age, living with so many commercial opportunities that never existed before. We need a younger audience.

“It’s balance, common sense and – with me – it’s about numbers It’s always about numbers.

“History has put us where we are and we have a very strong global audience. Over 500 million people will watch the World Championship. In China, snooker is considered a very upmarket sport and part of that is the dress code and the way players handle themselves.”

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