IT WAS revealed on Wednesday that Philippines-based online gaming company Dafabet have stepped in to sponsor the 2014 World Championships, which starts on April 19.
Dafabet, who also sponsored this year’s prestige invitation Masters tournament at Alexandra Palace, will succeed Betfair, who had a similar one-year deal 12 months ago.
And they will now receive global exposure from the hugely-anticipated annual 17-day extravaganza featuring the world’s top players, and where defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will go for a hat-trick attempting to equal Steve Davis’s overall tally of six world titles.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said: “We are thrilled to bring Dafabet on board for our blue-riband tournament. This is truly one of the great events on the sporting calendar.
“Dafabet sponsored the Masters this season so they are well aware of snooker’s massive global appeal and the tremendous exposure they will receive during an event which receives hundreds of hours of television coverage. We look forward to working with their team.
“We have increased the prize money this year to £1,214,000 with the winner to receive the biggest cheque in the history of snooker. With so many top players in form and in contention, it’s going to be an incredible 17 days.”
Dafabet managing director of online betting and gaming, Dimitris Karatzas, said: "We are very proud to be title sponsor of snooker's flagship event as the World Championship is rightfully recognised globally. We look forward to the excellent exposure we will receive over the duration of the tournament and of course seeing Dafabet at the iconic Crucible. Roll on April 19th and the start of the tournament, where no doubt further history will be made."
Clearly the fact that there is now a sponsor for the blue-riband event is a good thing, not least with a record £300,000 top prize being awarded this year to the winner. O’Sullivan is the red-hot favourite to lift the trophy once again this year.
And it is to be hoped Dafabet throw their weight behind the tournament in all respects, not be happy solely with putting their banners in front of the TV cameras.
Understandably the news was trumpeted both by World Snooker chairman Hearn, and senior representatives from a company with - like snooker - a very strong presence throughout Asia.
In that sense, it looks a good sponsorship and marketing fit although given the likely fee you would have to say this looks a better deal for Dafabet than for World Snooker.
It is a commercial reality that when those you are negotiating with effectively have you at a disadvantage, they can drive the price down. With barely a month to go, World Snooker no longer had the whip hand in negotiations despite their excellent property to sell.
And while no figure was released, the deal is thought to be in the region of £400,000, slightly above the figure paid by Betfair 12 months ago, but significantly below what Betfred, the last sponsor to take the event on a multi-year deal, were paying.
What does this all tell us? It tells us that the sponsorship market, with the exception of certain very high-profile sports and events, remains a very tough environment and a buyer’s market.
It tells us that for the all the many successes Hearn has enjoyed since he took the reins of the sport, securing a long-term sponsor paying what the tournament is worth is probably the one major area where he and his team have come up short so far.
There have supposedly been some near misses with banks and car manufacturers in the past two years, but they have not landed the big one.
It also highlights the continued reliance of snooker on online gambling and bookmaking companies, in a way that is not so different to that relationship with the tobacco companies 30 years ago.
And though there is no evidence that any such action is imminent, if there was ever a move to legislate against gambling advertising and sponsorship for social reasons in the UK, snooker would again be vulnerable.
Hearn knows this, and it is just one of the many reasons he has tried to both broaden the sponsorship base and obtain what he believes the property to be rightfully worth.
And it should be worth more. Snooker attracts vast worldwide viewing audiences for the World Championships, into the hundreds of millions, and it seems strange that some international brand cannot see the obvious opportunity and decided to grasp it.
Hearn’s high-profile World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace is in possession of a far better and more lucrative deal with Ladbrokes despite viewing figures that presumably, on Sky rather than the BBC, are far less.
So while this deal has at least come along, it is also perhaps not a cause for wild celebration in purely sponsorship terms, and hopefully for the 2015 event a big-name backer will be tied up for the right money on a long-term deal months before the curtain is due to go up.