BETFRED are to return as sponsors for the World Championships at the Crucible in a three-year deal starting with next month’s blue-riband event in Sheffield.
Talks had been going on for some time behind the scenes, and recent discussions had been more about agreeing the finer operational details than the deal itself.
Many in the game will be delighted at the confirmed news, with the bookmaking firm having made a huge contribution and shown a real passion for the sport and the event with their earlier backing from 2009 to 2012.
Betfred and their chairman Fred Done then put forward a proposal for a long-term deal for more money than they were already paying – around £650,000-£700,000 a year - that was knocked back by World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn. If only temporarily, this created tension in a previously good relationship.
Hearn perhaps reasonably believed that with snooker’s global appeal the World Championship might be worth a lot more to a large global brand, and also perhaps had one eye on any possible future interference from Europe over gambling sponsorship.
As it turned out no non-bookmaking financial institution or other organisation stepped forward at the price Hearn was looking for - and for the last two years there have been cut-price, single-year deals with first Betfair and then Dafabet, neither of whom invested quite as much time and effort as Betfred had in the sponsorship.
It also appears that if there is to be regulation on gambling sponsorship, it will not be for some considerable time. The UK government are in no hurry to give up the tax yield from that industry.
For this deal there will have had to have been some bridge-building, and it is unlikely given the negotiating position that Betfred are paying a whole lot more than they were at the time of their last deal.
Hearn said: “We are thrilled to welcome back Betfred as title sponsor of our blue riband tournament and we look forward to working closely with their team on delivering another top class event.
“We recently announced that we are staying at the Crucible until 2017, so this agreement with Betfred fits perfectly and gives us a firm foundation to keep growing the event in the coming years.
“The World Championship has a rich history dating back to 1927 and the international audience we are now reaching is extraordinary. Last year’s figure of over 330 million, in our key markets in the UK, Europe and China alone, was up 30 per cent on the previous year. That shows the extent to which we are developing as a global sport.
“It is building up to be a sensational tournament, with so many of the top players in form, and an array of young talents coming through. The whole event is virtually sold out, and those lucky enough to have a seat inside the Crucible are going to see something special.”
Betfred boss Done said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be once again sponsoring the World Snooker Championship. It’s the pinnacle of the game and one of the key sporting events of the year. I’m really looking forward to be back at the Crucible which I regard as the home of snooker.”