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Hearn hopes for Hopton lift-off

PUBLISHED: 08:00 30 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:30 05 July 2010

Wildcard Ceri-Ann Davies. Picture: Nick Butcher

Wildcard Ceri-Ann Davies. Picture: Nick Butcher

Jonathan Redhead

"Take underexposed sport, turn players into superstars, create massive event following, disappear into sunset with massive bag of money!"

He may have been joking but in reality that is the simplistic plan for leading sports promoter Barry Hearn when his latest venture lands at Potter Leisure Resort in Hopton next week.

“Take underexposed sport, turn players into superstars, create massive event following, disappear into sunset with massive bag of money!”

He may have been joking but in reality that is the simplistic plan for leading sports promoter Barry Hearn when his latest venture lands at Potter Leisure Resort in Hopton next week.

Six of the world's top players will battle it out in Matchroom Sport's first ever PartyCasino.com Premier League Bowls at Potters from Friday to Sunday, June 6 to 8. Already home to the World Indoor Bowls Championships every January, the venue will see the likes of world number one Alex Marshall and top ranked woman Ceri-Ann Davies compete in a round robin tournament with a few twists.

The matches will consist of two sets of five ends, with two points for a win and one for a draw, while there will also be a 'power play' where players can nominate one end to double the shots they score, with all the action televised for Sky Sports.

The top four players will contest semi-finals and a final with the winner picking up a cool £20,000 first prize.

And Hearn is hoping Matchroom can do for bowls what his company has already done for other sports in the form of Premier League Darts, Premier League Snooker and Premier League Poker.

“We've been looking at bowls for some time because it's quite a unique sport in terms of a tremendous number of players and clubs and a couple of decent events on the BBC to be fair, but what I see at the top of the game is younger people being watched by older people,” Hearn said.

“I looked in my portfolio of events and I'm aiming at younger people all the time in the 20-25 age group to balance a little bit. I thought there are a few things we can do differently, which always gives me that little buzz, and we already do Premier League Snooker, Premier League Darts and Premier League Poker. It's a sexy title and people all around the world recognise us so why not Premier League Bowls?”

A former accountant, Hearn began his sports promotion career back in the 1970s when he became manager of six-times world snooker champion Steve Davis.

He then went on to manage other top names in the sport, before turning his attention to boxing - promoting the likes of Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed and Lennox Lewis - and darts, where he is the chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation. He's also been the chairman of League One side Leyton Orient since 1995. Now he's turning his attention to bowls.

“Everything takes time,” Hearn said. “You never really know for sure. We started off Premier League Darts in little leisure centres and sold 800 tickets. Four years later we're looking at which venue is going to be the first to break 10,000. It's quite astonishing. It's the biggest success story in British sport in a decade or more.

“Who's to say what will happen with bowls?”

One extra element to Premier League Bowls is the addition of Davies among the world's top men.

Hearn admitted she was in the field to add the “wow” factor, but insisted she would be able to hold her own against her opponents.

“It's a game played by anybody, old, young, white, black, yellow, green, male, female - it doesn't matter,” he said.

“Yes, it's a nice balanced field. It's clearly the top players in the world. There's a criteria, there's a wildcard to give that little wow factor and Ceri-Ann will do that. But let's see how she does. She's a good player and she will upset a few of them. I'm interested in doing entertaining sports. It's got to be competitive and it's got to be good, but it's got to be entertaining as well.”

Hearn said he picked Potters as the ideal venue after paying a visit earlier this year for the world finals.

“We went up to Potters, where they are absolutely so enthusiastic about anything to do with bowls,” he said. “They are fantastic people and I absolutely loved it when I went up there the first time. They are so welcoming and nothing was impossible and I like that in venues. And we put together this little idea between us and lo and behold we're off and running.”

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