So I’ve spent the day in London where I attended the announcement of the worst kept secret in snooker – that Betfred are to sponsor the World Championship.
I thought World Snooker staged the press conference in a very professional manner and that their chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, spoke well, although I think it’s fair to say he’s not a man who suffers from low self esteem.
“We live in difficult economic times. Many sports are finding it hard to find new sponsors or keep existing ones so the fact that a company such as Betfred has the confidence to invest in World Snooker is something about which we’re enormously pleased,” he said.
Walker also said that he could not reveal the amount being invested but that it was a “four year, multi million pound deal.”
Betfred’s boss is Fred Done, a personable sports enthusiast who joked that his company could only afford the sponsorship because of all the money it took on the Grand National, which was won by a 100/1 outsider.
“We’ve paid a lot of money for this sponsorship but I like to be associated with the best. We’re sponsors at Manchester United and Wembley and now we’ve made up the trio,” he said.
The press conference was attended by reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, the man he beat in last year’s final, Ali Carter, losing semi-finalist Joe Perry, 2002 winner Peter Ebdon and world no.15 Mark King.
“Betfred’s events feel like events whereas some of the other tournaments lack that enthusiasm and dynamism and personality. It will be a pleasure to be there,” O’Sullivan said.
Certainly Betfred seem very enthusiastic and I think they will be good for the tournament. They have previously sponsored the Premier League and are keen to support the World Championship not just with money but also through activities around it.
Everyone in the sport must be pleased to see a company coming forward to invest in snooker.
“I’ve often wondered in the last few years why major companies have not had the vision and foresight to see that snooker is the best value for money sport and I’m very pleased that the people at Betfred have seen the huge opportunity to sponsor it,” Ebdon said.
The players then went off to pose for pictures and journalists were informed they would return for interviews.
They all came back except for O’Sullivan, who decided to leave.
Given the choice of spending the afternoon talking to snooker journalists or going home I can see his point but he’s the world champion and as such should fulfil his duties.
Of course, O’Sullivan claimed snooker was ‘dying’ during the Masters and Walker seems to have taken the point.
“There are many things that we can be doing and will be doing to make the sport more attractive to a younger audience. There will be a lot of exciting developments going on in the next 12 months and beyond,” he said.
Details are sketchy as to what this will involve but I understand there are plans for more tournaments (good news) but that existing prize money levels will be spread more thinly and the ranking points allocation will also be altered.
Will this be a version of what I suggested back in January? Time will tell.
I also learned that making the sport ‘more attractive to a younger audience’ will involve a tournament played with only seven reds.
I must admit my heart sank when I heard this, although I will await more details before commenting fully.
One point I would make: if you really want to get kids interested in snooker, don’t dumb it down but play the major finals at a time when they can watch them, as opposed to these ridiculous post-midnight finishes.
Six – or seven – red versions of the game possibly have their place in countries where snooker isn’t popular or has declined in popularity. Hence, in Thailand in July a big 6-reds event won last year by Ricky Walden will be staged for a second time.
Anyway, we will see what World Snooker’s proposals are in due course.
Walker also revealed that the BBC are keen to open negotiations for their new TV contract later this year and that he is having discussions in Sheffield next week that are likely to conclude with the Crucible keeping the World Championship.
A very interesting day all in all.