Three years ago the Championship League was conceived by Matchroom Sport as a qualifying event for the already well-established Premier League competition, at a time when snooker tournaments were somewhat thin on the ground. Now however with the additional tournaments brought in by the new regime at World Snooker, is there still a place for the event on the calendar?
In December 2007 Matchroom Sport announced that there would be a new tournament staged betwen February and May 2008 which would be known as the Championship League and offer as top prize the chance to compete in the Premier League during the following season.Events would be streamed online by three leading bookmakers and matches would be played at Crondon Park in Essex.
There were initially some concerns raised by critics as to the format, as well as whether or not the players would take it seriously, but at a time when snooker tournaments were all too few and far between (feels like a while ago now doesn’t it?), the event proved to be a major success. Not only did the players involved take it seriously, but those such as eventual winner Joe Perry and regular group finalist Ali Carter were able to play their way into such a rich vein of form thanks to the additional match practice that they were able to both go on career best runs at the following World Championship.
As well as the match practice, what was also appealing for the players was the money on offer, indeed to take the example of Ali Carter again, he earned a total of £22,600 during the 2008 event, more than I imagine many professionals would have earned during the course of the season at that point.
Following its success, it was noticeable the following year that all of the players wanted to be involved and fast forward to 2011, this is still very much the case with even the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, already qualified for the Premier League of course, entering the tournament. John Higgins spoke after his 2009 world title triumph of the advantage that he gained from playing the event and whilst I do not know the answer to this either way but I can only imagine that the players do enjoy the event.
But are there other cracks beginning to show? As highlighted by SnookerBacker over at his blog, bookmakers such as Betfair (one of the initial sites to offer streaming for the competition), are now not offering odds on the competition, citing integrity issues, while Bet365 are not allowing people to watch without first depositing money into their accounts. As SB has alluded to, the events were very much set up with the bookmakers in mind and if they are stepping back from the tournament in any way, that cannot be a good thing.
Another point is also the composition of the now rapidly expanding main tour calendar which this season saw each of the 12 regular PTC events take place prior to Christmas. Does the Championship League get in the way of these? Would it be beneficial to the tour as a whole if the Championship League were to be replaced by more PTC events? As ever there are pros and cons either way.
Finally, is the Championship League all that appealing to watch, given the lack of atmosphere and overall lower key nature of the event? I must admit that coming in from work each say at 5:30pm, I do not particularly have the inclination to rush on and catch the last few matches. Also I do find it hard to really get into such short matches which come thick and fast throughout the day.
That being said however, the coverage is impressive and for me a blueprint as to how the qualifiers for regular tour events should be covered during upcoming seasons. Furthermore, it is hard to argue with the quality of play on offer (see Shaun Murphy’s breaks today), and at the end of the day as a snooker fan, snooker is snooker and refreshingly the format of the game has not been altered in any way!
On balance therefore I do feel that at present there is still a place for a competition which provides the players involved with both a good way of earning money and some valuable match practice ahead of the biggest period on the snooker calendar. With the demand for dates on the calendar increasing all the time however, one would presume that the support from bookmakers will remain important and hopefully the event will remain financially viable…
What do you make of the competition?