A new sponsor will be unveiled for the Masters today. I understand it will be a major bookmaker [now confirmed as Ladbrokes Mobile].
I dare say some will be critical that snooker is leaning so heavily on the betting industry for financial support, just as it once depended on the tobacco firms, but I won’t be one of them.
Bearing in mind the John Higgins affair and other high profile negative stories of recent times the fact that betting companies want to put money into the sport is a vote of confidence in snooker, its integrity and the integrity of those running it.
Look around. We are not in the position we were in 25 years ago where obtaining sponsorship for snooker was easy.
In fact, it was so easy that the WPBSA could afford to behave in a manner so unprofessional it made you wonder how they got any sponsors at all.
The following is a true story, passed on by someone who would know: there was a tournament in the 1980s sponsored by a particular firm who wished to renew the deal.
The person charged with negotiating this invited the chief executive of said company to his hotel room to sign. For reasons best known to himself he decided to have his wife wait naked in a wardrobe. Shortly after the chief exec arrived she jumped out to surprise him.
It was supposed to be a moment of great hilarity but the chief exec was appalled and immediately scrapped any plan to continue in snooker.
But it didn’t matter. Someone else gladly stepped in and the good times continued to roll.
Except the sun eventually set on the boom years and then snooker sponsorship became tough.
Barry Hearn will always get sponsors because of his contacts and the professional way he does business.
But what snooker needs is to snare these companies for the long haul. A sponsor adds value to a tournament, and not just financial. Over time, it becomes synonymous with the event (for years people would talk of ‘the Bensons’ in relation to the Masters and, indeed, some still do).
The Masters deserves a sponsor who will help maintain its prestige, just as Betfred have for the World Championship. And if major companies are seen to be supporting the game, others may follow.
Reasons, then, to be cheerful as we head into 2011.