Ever wondered how Barry Hearn rose from a Dagenham council estate to be the boss of a £158 million empire?
In April 2021, after nearly 40 years at the helm of the company he founded in 1982, Barry Hearn stepped down as chairman of his sporting event promotions company Matchroom Sports.
Stepping into his shoes as chairman was his son Eddie Hearn, who has become a familiar face on British TV over the past decade working as a boxing promoter for Matchroom.
Matchroom started with snooker and boxing but today is equally well known for its involvement with darts, in which Hearn senior is the chairman of the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation).
Today the firm also has interests in pool, bowling, golf, fishing, darts, table tennis, poker and gymnastics.
In a typical tale of East Ender made good, the company is based in Brentwood, Essex not far from Leyton, East London where Barry has yet another sporting financial interest, his pride and joy Football League Two’s Leyton Orient FC.
But where did it all begin?
Early Years In The East End
Hearn was born in 1948 in Dagenham where Essex begins its merger with the East End.
Educated at Buckhurst Hill County High School, Hearn was raised on a council estate but would soon outgrow his humble beginnings.
Showing the original fledgling entrepreneurial spirit that would later serve him so well, a teenage Hearn began running a series of small businesses from washing cars to picking fruit and vegetables.
Barry Hearn was before long studying to be a Chartered Accountant and once he was qualified in 1970 he took over as finance director at Deryck Healey Associates (DHA) who were a design company based in Kensal Green.
He would go on to spend a number of years working in this field before becoming the finance director of the same firm under its new name, Kensal House Investments.
So far, so very boring. But here’s where the sport comes in.
In 1974, Hearn, having spent a period of time in the fashion industry and property development, changed gear entirely and, looking for a sporting property investment, purchased the Lucania Billiard and snooker hall in Romford, Greater London with his business partner Deryck John Healey which was later named the Matchroom Club.
Here, in this smoky snooker hall in Romford, it would turn out, was the beginning of a sporting empire built off the back of those most working class of sports the snooker, darts and boxing.
It all started to get interesting after Hearn began entering his then humble snooker hall into amateur tournaments and by 1976 he would have one regular that, together, they would go on to change the future of sport.
Something else happened to snooker in the mid 70’s though, when the BBC began promoting snooker on BBC2 in colour which, naturally, along with the sensational Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, suited snooker perfectly.
The main show on the BBC was Pot Black which is a kind of forerunner to the modern day Snooker Shoot Out, a unique tourney on the modern day WST schedule that takes place each year in January.
In Pot Black, like the modern day Snooker Shoot Out, for which you can expect betting tips nearer the time, is a tournament where every single match was/is contested over one solitary frame.
Pot Black was the first time people had seen snooker on the TV and, what’s more, it was broadcast internationally rocketing snooker into homes everywhere.
This all combined to light the spark of the snooker boom which resulted in people up and down the land queuing up to play snooker.
From here, Hearn began promoting the game via colour television from 1974 onwards, signing up the likes of amateur snooker players Vic Harris and Geoff Foulds, father of Neal Foulds.
The game changer though came in 1976 when one of the greatest snooker players of all time, six times World Champion Steve Davis, walked into the Luciana and became both a regular and a friend.
In 1982, the chain Rileys, purchased the Luciana off of Hearn for £3.1 million.
From here, Hearn took his first fortune and created the Matchroom brand and began to up the ante when it came to promoting the sport.
With the formation of Matchroom Sport in 1982, Hearn set about recruiting a stable of top snooker talent as well as producing epic televised events.
Tony Meo would later join Hearn and the game’s biggest star Davis at Matchroom Sports.
As the years went on, Matchroom would go on to sign up the likes of Terry Griffiths, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, Jimmy White, Cliff Thorburn and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Snooker boomed so massively that they even made a cult record with East End pop and rock duo Chas & Dave called Snooker Loopy, the video of which Hearn even makes an appearance in.
By 2009, Hearn had been elected as the new World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) Chairman following in the footsteps of Sir Rodney Walker.
Inside a year, following a vote by the members, Hearn took over a 51% controlling interest in the WPBSA’s commercial arm World Snooker Limited with the intention of bringing back the sports’ glory days, something never he never quite achieved.
Make no mistake, this not a sign of failure. Far from it.
The sporting landscape has changed, particularly in regards to broadcasting and snooker’s captive TV audience in the 80’s that these days now have huge amounts of sports channels to choose from.
And while snooker’s talent is still at a phenomenal level, there is a lack of characters that doesn’t compare to the likes of Jimmy White and, of course, Alex Higgins.
One Hundred And Eighty
At a slightly lesser degree, darts, another Hearn staple, has gone the other way as snooker and is arguably bigger today than ever before.
Today’s darters are playing at such a standard that its own TV deal, struck with Sky Sports after Hearn led the darting breakaway, has elevated the game into a space unthinkable in the 1980s.
And of course, darting characters don’t come much more colourful than Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright.
Hearn’s stranglehold on darts really came about after he became chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation and convinced many of the sport’s top players, which crucially included the greatest darter of all time, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, to join from the now defunct BDO in 1992.
Although Hearn made numerous unsuccessful attempts to buy the BDO and reunify darts, he can be credited with playing a pivotal role in significantly raising the attraction of darts around the world including the success of major PDC ranking events, not least of all that staple of British Christmas time TV, the PDC World Championships.
Packing A Punch
In 1987, before darts even, Barry decided to branch out into boxing.
His first promotion was the famous Frank Bruno versus Joe Bugner fight at White Hart Lane in October of the same year.
As a promoter, he managed several British and Irish fighters over the years, including the likes of Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Lennox Lewis, Naseem Hamed, Steve Collins and Herbie Hide.
Furthermore, it is Barry Hearn that is responsible for the introduction of boxing’s Prizefighter Series.
For those that don’t know, the Prizefighter Series was an extremely popular knockout tournament that ran from 2008 through to 2015 were eight boxers slugged it out for glory.
Today, the boxing arm of Matchroom Sports is mainly run by son Eddie who has the likes of Anthony Joshua under his belt.
Come On You O’s
For 19 years, Barry Hearn served as chairman of his beloved East London minnows football team, Leyton Orient, whom he helped to save from financial disaster.
After buying the club with his accumulated snooker, darts and boxing wealth in 1995, Hearn finally sold the club in 2014.
While Hearn was documented to be disappointed to see Leyton Orient overlooked as potential tenants of the nearby L
ondon Stadium, used in 2012 London Olympics, in favour of West Ham United, he admits today that he would never have sold had he foreseen what the new owners would do next.
Selling after his team had been denied promotion to the EFL Championship following a penalty shoot out defeat in the EFL League One play off final, Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti took up the reigns in July 2014 but drove the club back into near financial ruin.
Hearn would stay on as president of the club until 2018, but cited issues with the club’s new owner as the reason behind his resignation.
Casting A Line
Although not a particularly popular sport in the UK, fishing does have its loyal fan base.
One of the more successful TV formats for British fishermen, it was Hearn who pitched the idea of Fish O Mania to Sky Sports in 1994.
Elsewhere, even Barry’s wife and Eddie’s mum, Susan, has got involved with the family business.
A keen fan of horse racing, Susan runs the Mascalls Stud which again operates out of Essex.
While small in comparison to some of the bigger breeding operations in the UK, she has enjoyed plenty of success, not least with Subjectivist, winner of the 2021 Royal Ascot Gold Cup.
The family home, you guessed it is also in Essex, and was purchased for an estimated £200,000 around 30 years ago but today the property has evolved into the HQ for Matchroom Sports.
The property is large enough that during the lockdown of 2020 they held regular boxing bouts on the site, organised by Eddie.
Hearn Family Empire Wealth Of Mind
In late 2020, Barry Hearn was honoured with an OBE for services to sport in the New Year’s Honours List.
The most conservative of online estimates seem to agree that Barry Hearn’s net worth is around $65 million which is about £55 million to us.
Of course, there is also Eddie Hearn’s wealth, said to around a further £45 million, to be factored in to the family bank roll.
Now Hearn senior passes control over to his son, Eddie who is currently the main man at Matchroom, inheriting from his father’s uncanny knack of knowing which sport is going to boom next and acquiring from the family business whose incredible success has seen them accrue monster wealth through this company which focuses primarily on boxing, darts and, of course the one that started it all, snooker.
No wonder he’s snooker loopy.
It’s alright for some.