Tuesday 17 January 2017

Snooker and the smoking ban

Back in 2009, the BBC's Mark Easton tried to spin the mass closure of pubs in the wake of the smoking ban with an article titled 'Pubs aren't dying - they are evolving'. And so they were - evolving into flats, coffee shops and derelict ruins.

Britain has seen the biggest collapse in pub numbers for a century since it went 'smoke-free', but this can never be admitted by the BBC. Easton blamed 'publicans who are unable or unwilling to adapt to the 21st Century trading environment'. This is a common refrain from apologists for the ban. They portray landlords as being at fault for not turning their pubs into sandwich bars, crèches and community centres when all their customers really want is to drink, smoke and socialise.

Today, the BBC has published a story about the decline of town centre pubs which, as usual, ignores the elephant in the room.

Local Data Company figures, analysed by the BBC, show between 2011-16, the number of town centre bars, pubs and night clubs fell by about 2,000.

As is customary, an academic is wheeled out to blame the publicans...

"To halt the decline, pubs needs to develop their daytime offer."

But it not just pubs that are closing down:

Comedy clubs (-33%), snooker halls (-34%), internet cafes (-41%) and bingo halls (-22%) saw some of the biggest falls.

With the exception of internet cafes, which have become obsolete, these are all places people used to go for a drink and a smoke. Snooker clubs are of particular interest to me and they are in a bad way, as the BBC says:

Snooker clubs have seen a drop of about 35%. According to Sport England, the number of people who say they have played the game each week has dropped 43% from 64,400 in 2011, to 36,800 in 2016.

Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, said the clubs were a victim of the decline in the licence trade, and were fighting - like most sports - to get people away from mobile phones and laptops.

"We're dealing with a completely different world now and there is an argument to say that a reinvention is required," he said.

"The traditional snooker club, which the sport had in the 1970s and 80s, is not working now but there are many that are thriving. The snooker clubs that are closing down are probably not inviting; there's a little doorway on a street where people don't go in."

I don't think it's the doorways that are the problem. If you want a better explanation, you need to ask Ronnie O'Sullivan who explained things more candidly in an interview last week:

“The grass-roots and amateur scene has almost disappeared, it started when the tobacco ban came in and clubs started folding."

And the truth shall set you free.

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