Hearn's big break shows how bookies can corner the market
Bookmakers have begun to branch out, running their
own tournaments and streaming them live over the internet. It is a development
that will send shockwaves through traditional broadcasters and sports
federations. The promoter Barry Hearn
has signed a deal with William Hill, Bet365 and Betfair to set up Championship
League Snooker, paying 25 of the world's top players to compete. "The worlds of
media and gambling are converging," said Betfair's managing director Mark
Davies. "Consolidation of bookmakers with media companies is under way; it is a
question of whether the gambling industry becomes a predator or a prey."
The implications for the future of sports media rights are enormous.
"This is a very early shot across the bows of the sports and the media
companies," said Hearn. "The interesting thing is that you can bypass the
broadcasters and it can happen in any sport."
Analysts say sports have already cottoned on to
the developments and that the rise in the value of overseas television rights
for the Premier League is directly related to the hunger for betting on English
matches. The Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 tournament set up by the Board
of Control for Cricket in India in response to the rebel Indian Cricket League,
has similarly become a lucrative proposition.
However, if betting
companies were to run such competitions, sports and media bodies might find it
hard to compete.