Just three weeks ago, the shortlist for this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award (SBOTY) was announced. The annual award is dedicated to rewarding excellence in sports writing.
Now in its 28th year, the winning author will receive £28,000, a free £2,000 bet, a specially commissioned hand-bound copy of the winning title and a day at the races. The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception in central London on 24 November.
We caught up with Graham Sharpe, co-creator of the award alongside the late John Gaustad, to discuss the origins of SBOTY and its ongoing importance to William Hill.
SBC: Hi Graham, can you detail to SBC readers why you created the SBOTY award?
GS: Thirty years ago, I was already creating betting books on the Booker Prize, Whitbread Prize and Sunday Express Book of Year. At press conferences, I used to ask journalists what the equivalent award was for sports books; I was told there wasn’t one and that sporting books were usually rubbish.
I didn’t agree with that so decided to try to create an award for them. I knew of John Gaustad’s popular Sports Pages bookshop in London, the only bookshop in the country dedicated to sports titles, and contacted him. We got together and it turned out he’d had a similar idea but no budget, while I had a modest budget but no venue – which his shop could provide.
We agreed we needed a high-quality judging panel or the idea wouldn’t work. We also wanted to give as much of our available money to the authors so couldn’t offer judges any payment. Nonetheless, no-one turned us down and we managed to secure the services of legendary journalists Hugh McIlvanney and Ian Wooldridge, and popular TV commentators Harry Carpenter and Cliff Morgan.
SBC: Why is this prize so important to William Hill as a business, and what has its gained from its commitment to the SBOTY award?
GS: Obviously, I hoped that the award would become popular enough to secure us enough PR coverage to justify the outlay. It has done so many times over and proved one of the most enduring and popular sponsorships we’ve ever done outside of horse racing. Our name is now directly associated with an award whose title is shorthand for quality writing. We have benefited publishers, authors and readers and there has been no downside.
SBC: How does William Hill select its longlist and shortlist candidates for the SBOTY awards?
GS: Sadly, my co-founder John Gaustad died earlier this year but he and I always ‘copy-tasted’ the entered books with input from our judges and many respected publishing figures, including reviewers, whose opinions we’ve learned to respect. Utilising these ingredients, we manage to produce a long list, after which the onus is on the judges to eliminate the nearly-books to create the highest quality shortlist of which we are always so proud.
SBC: Can you detail to SBC readers any notable SBOTY winners, and how the awards have changed the authors careers?
GS: Our first ever winner, ‘True Blue’ by Dan Topolski, about the University Boat Race was made into a movie, and ‘Fever Pitch’ by Nick Hornby created a whole new genre of sports writing. Duncan Hamilton has become a full-time writer because of his dual success in the award, while Australian winner, Anna Krien, could afford to have a special writing study built.
But there are few, if any winning authors, who wouldn’t tell you that winning made a great difference to them. Some of them have even made almost as much as their winning prize money again, from the generous free bet which also comes with the prize!
Graham Sharpe – Media Relations Director – William Hill