The Championship League was established in 2008 quite by chance. World Snooker had failed to agree terms to stream the qualifiers with Perform, the world leaders in such things, and so Perform went to Barry Hearn, the Matchroom chairman, who within an hour or so had come up with the format for an entirely new event.
The idea was to create a tournament aimed squarely at the betting market. That first event was streamed on the websites of three bookmakers. It’s a sign of the success of the League that this year it will be shown on 31 betting websites.
For the players it’s a no-brainer: they get top quality match practice and are well paid in the process. They could also secure a place in the Premier League if they prevail in the winners’ group in March.
For many snooker fans the Championship League is the most mysterious event on the calendar because it is played behind closed doors. One of the reasons for this is that the venue, the Baronial Hall at Crondon Park in Essex, is too small to accommodate spectators, but they aren’t encouraged because the betting element could lead to jiggery and, indeed, pokery if punters were ahead of the stream.
Graeme Dott is the only top 16 player to turn down an invite this season. Players can request which group they are put into. Group one today is brimming with quality: Judd Trump, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Mark Davis, Martin Gould and Matthew Stevens.
Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and Stuart Bingham join group 2 on Wednesday.
Not everyone is a fan of this event but let’s nail one canard well and truly: if it were scrapped it wouldn’t be replaced by any other events. It doesn’t work like that.
The Championship League pays for itself. It makes money for all involved. It isn’t diverting funds from other events, which would need their own sponsorship funds to operate.
The commentators, of which I am one, also get the most delicious breakfasts, which outranks any other considerations.
Full details of the tournament can be found on the official website.