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Hearn's big break shows how bookies can corner the market 28/3/2008
Matt Scott

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.
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