Every year, 40,000 people are drawn to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for an event that is neither a play nor a musical. Bookey Oshin reports on an unusual partnership.
Sheffield Theatres produces a diverse programme of classic and contemporary drama, new work and large-scale musicals, but for 17 days every year the eyes of the world are on the Crucible Theatre for the World Snooker Championship. Over 40,000 people come through our doors and a further half a billion people watch the tournament on TV.
From 2007 to 2010 the theatre was subject to a £15.3m redevelopment, designed to modernise the Grade II listed building. It remained closed over the two and a half year project except for two occasions – when work was scheduled to allow the World Championships to return to its home.
Through the association, the Crucible has become a familiar and trusted brand to many people who might not normally come to the theatre
Many aspects of the redevelopment were influenced by the ongoing relationship with World Snooker. The theatre’s rehearsal room was equipped with all the infrastructure to make it double up as the press room, where reporters from around the globe write articles and commentate live on the snooker, and the understage structures were changed from timber to steel to provide maximum stability for the tables on stage.
The relationship between the Crucible and World Snooker goes back to the 1970s, when television exposure led promoter Mike Watterson to look for a new home for the event. One night, Mike’s wife Carol returned from seeing a play at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, saying she had found a place that fitted the bill. The Crucible is both intimate and epic; the perfect space for drama of any kind – conventional or sporting.
The partnership has an impact on the brand, audience development and the finances of the Crucible. From a brand perspective, many people ask if it is of concern that so many people think of the Crucible as merely the place where snooker takes place, and that they don’t understand it’s also a theatre. For us, the benefits far outweigh the concerns. Through the association, the Crucible has become a familiar and trusted brand to many people who might not normally come to the theatre. So it helps with our audience development initiatives, in that it brings a high percentage of people through the doors that would not normally come to the theatre.
The snooker contract provides the opportunity for us to generate additional income from commercial activity, something that is increasingly important to subsidised theatres as grant funding is more and more limited. The financial contribution from the tournament during the three weeks is equivalent to the cost of producing one main house play. Hosting this event therefore supports us in making bold and ambitious artistic decisions across the year.
The World Snooker Championship also offers our team a completely different experience. From the technicians to the box office to the catering staff, everyone has the opportunity to develop and exercise a different range of skills and experience to make the tournament a success. Partnership working of this kind requires a commitment from both parties to create a model that works for everyone. We enjoy a positive relationship with World Snooker because we’ve developed together over the last forty years. Together we’ve introduced online sales and package experiences, we’ve learned more about our current and potential customers and we’ve benefited from World Snooker’s expertise in using social media and new technology to promote its event.
This year, the two worlds of theatre and snooker will really come together when we stage ‘The Nap’, a new comedy about snooker by Richard Bean, just before the real tournament gets started in April.
Bookey Oshin is Finance and Resources Director at Sheffield Theatres.