With the global interest in snooker growing, how long can ‘Steel City’ Sheffield hold onto the sport’s World Championship? Elisha Chauhan finds out.
In 2012, two-time snooker world champion Mark Williams took to Twitter to say Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre, which has hosted snooker’s World Championship since 1977, was a “s***hole”, adding he would like the event to be held in China, a country that accounts for four-fifths of the event’s global broadcast audience.
At a time when snooker is courting ever-increasing interest in Asia – and an ambition to enter the Olympic fold – is it just a matter of time until the event is moved away from the UK to fully reflect its status as a flagship world event?
Miles Pearce, commercial director of Matchroom, the commercial arm of global governing body World Snooker, says it is something that has been discussed, although the 980-seater Crucible venue has a hosting agreement that still runs for another two years, expiring after the 2015 event.
“For us the Crucible is such an iconic venue…so we’re having discussions with the city and hope it will lead to an extension of the current agreement,” he told SportBusiness International.
“We’re hoping a deal with the Crucible will be finalised by the end of this year’s World Championship [beginning April 19], or at least we will know where we stand by the end of the tournament. Otherwise we have a year to prepare a different location if we can’t come to an agreement.
“The Crucible had a £15-million upgrade a few years ago which has made it a lot better than it used to be. That said, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t evaluate taking the World Championship outside of the UK. We’ve also been approached by a few cities – both in the UK and overseas – who would like to host the World Championship, and we will continue to evaluate those options.”
With UK public-service broadcaster the BBC committed to televising the World Championship until 2018 – and having done so since 1976 – moving the event outside of the UK could also encroach the hosting deal and affect viewership figures, depending on the timezone of a new host country.
“We have to keep timing in mind for a potential new World Championship location but, in actual fact, we are already broadcasting the event in the middle of the night to our majority fanbase, China,” says Pearce.
“We are thinking about rotating the World Championship [to different global locations], and that might be the way forward…it’s a big event to hold and finding cities may be difficult, but anything is on the cards for the future.”
Pearce also says staying at the Crucible will not impact the global – and indeed Olympic – ambitions of the traditionally UK-centric sport, adding that the joint efforts by the billiards, snooker and pool governing bodies in developing international grassroots participation is a priority over touring snooker’s major event around the world.
“The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is not just looking at where our events are held, they’re looking at developing grassroots events. From our point of view, it’s not simply a matter of taking the World Championship elsewhere, it’s about growing in new markets and eventually creating their own big events there.”