Why World Snooker Tour took a gamble on digital displays.
Snooker is a game of intense concentration…so much so that the official rules stipulate how referees should respond to external distractions and go into detail about how players should behave to avoid interrupting the concentration of the striker. It’s understandable, therefore, that snooker tournaments don’t traditionally feature the flashing lights and dazzling video walls that modern sporting events have adopted.
But, hot on the heels of their rebrand, and as part of their mission to appeal to a wider demographic, World Snooker Tour (WST) recognised how adding digital displays could modernise the sport, improve the audience experience and provide additional advertising opportunities. They took a gamble and decided to incorporate digital displays throughout the WST Dafabet Masters event, including choosing LED panels instead of the usual foamex boards to create the advertising signage surrounding the snooker table – putting these video screens directly into the players’ line of sight during play.
The Dafabet Masters 2020 was the ideal event to showcase the WST’s new approach to snooker, “With snooker, generally there’s more than one table in play so you have to be respectful of other matches, but the Masters only has one table so it’s the perfect event to make a big impact,” explains event director, Donna Beresford. “After our rebrand, the time was right to modernise and we wanted to embrace and harness new technology – it all culminated in this event being the right choice to make this kind of statement.”
The Masters is an invitation-only competition that dates back to 1975 and is one of the sport’s Triple Crown events, along with the UK Championship and the World Championship. Since 2012, the competition has been staged at “Ally Pally,” London’s iconic Alexandra Palace, where it attracts sell-out crowds every year. WST first experimented with using digital displays at the 2019 Masters, introducing a “walk-on” screen and increasing the size of the two additional screens showing the live broadcast to the event attendees.
For the 2020 event, in addition to providing the 5mx3m flown “walk-on” screen, they also installed six, 2.5mx1.5m IMAG screens showing the live scoreboard information with player statistics and illustrations to accompany the live broadcast. Furthermore, WST commissioned Anna Valley to build a two-meter-high boundary made from 120 panels of high-resolution LED to surround the match table, which became the real star of the show.
While the scoreboard and IMAG screens were designed to enhance the experience for the 2200 live event spectators that flocked to Alexandra Palace from the 12th to the 19th of January 2020, the LED boundary would also feature heavily in the live broadcast to 75 countries and a total of over 76 million viewers. It was up to Anna Valley to ensure that the displays looked good both at the event and on camera, without breaking the players’ concentration. To this end, the Anna Valley team conducted tests with players at matches in the run-up to the Masters competition and worked with the event graphic artists to agree on a palette that would fit in with the colour scheme without being distracting. The content displayed on the 4K+ boundary was also carefully co-ordinated with gameplay so that dynamic animations created excitement in between frames and during intervals while static branding was shown during play.
The 2020 Dafabet Masters event was an enormous success, the LED screens were extremely well received by spectators, competitors and viewers and WST is planning on using a similar approach for upcoming events – including a new competition in Saudi Arabia.
“It was a gamble as to which way this was going to go, but the players, broadcasters and spectators have fully embraced the screens and, now that we’ve had success with them, we can explore ways to use them even more effectively for existing and new sponsors. As for the Anna Valley team, I couldn’t endorse them enough, they’re professional, thorough, well-mannered and were a perfect complement to the product.”
Donna Beresford, WST event director.