When it comes to sports and entertainment in general, audiences have more options than ever. Because of that, sporting bodies are trying ever more leftfield, innovative ways to sell their particular brand. With the advent of potentially huge Sky TV darts revenues coming on the back of the end of tobacco advertising, everyone is understandably desperate to ensure they get their share.
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Twenty twenty cricket is a very good – a very successful example of a sport where a governing body has changed the format and it has worked. For the first time in years, cricket grounds were full for English domestic cricket, and the IPL has been a major success. Whether this will have the desired filter down effect into test cricket is another matter. Snooker on the other hand, and in particular power snooker, is a case where this hasn’t worked so well.
Darts has in many cases led the way in terms of how a fantastic product can be spruced up, marketed and served to an ever willing public. It has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades but thankfully in a way that hasn’t damaged its integrity or appeal. Even in the low points of the sport, there has never been the desire – from any quarter of the game – to tweak the rules, in an attempt to “improve” it as a game or spectacle.
The PDC World Championship continues to be an incredible success – last year 66,000 spectators attended Alexandra Palace, with over 1.5 million people watching it in the UK as well as in both Holland and Germany. What darts has done particularly well though, is not to just rely on that one big blue riband event. The world championships is one of the highlights of most sports fans’ calendars but what about the other 11 months? The Premier League of Darts has taken the baton and run with it, very quickly building both prestige and a following, with the added advantage of taking top quality live darts around the country.
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The latest initiative also takes a leaf from football’s book, in a move that looks set to change the darting landscape in more ways than one:
The latest big profile event in the darting calendar is in the familiar – in name at least – guise of the Champions League. Held at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on the 24th and 25th September the tournament will feature the top eight ranked players in the PDC Order of Merit (taken at the end of July’s World Matchplay event). The format will have two groups of four players playing round-robin matches, with the top two from each group progressing to the knockout semi-finals, and then the final, where an impressive £100,000 prize will be waiting for the ultimate winner. As you would expect, the betting markets have been eager to embrace the event. Bookmakers currently feature Premier League champion Michael van Gerwen as the clear favourite, with Phil Taylor and world champion Gary Anderson second and third favourites respectively.
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Where the darts champions league may fall down in one respect – it is the same players taking part, something that isn’t the case in the football version – it more than makes up for it, with what could well be the most brilliant piece of negotiation in the PDC’s history. The tournament will be screened live on the BBC.
The BBC has always been the traditional home of darts in the UK, with up to 15 million viewers tuning in when there was just the 3- then 4-channel format. Even today, the BDO World Championship attracts between 2 and 4 million viewers. However, this will be the first time that the stars of the PDC will be available on terrestrial television, and will be a huge shot in the arm for the sport as a whole.
As is usually the case, there are two sides to every story. If someone wins, there is a loser. In this instance those on the receiving end are the BDO. Couched with the announcement that BBC is to show the PDC Champions League, also came the statement that they will no longer be showing the BDO World Championships. It is a relationship that has lasted 38 years, and has featured some of the most memorable sporting contests in both the corporation’s and the game’s rich history.
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There is no doubt that the withdrawal of the BBC’s backing of the Lakeside event, at a time when the BDO is not in the best of health anyway, will be a major blow to the sporting body. However, looked at another way, it could be seen as a new opportunity. Under the BBC, they were always going to play second fiddle to their schedules, and more often than not were tucked away on the red button for all but the latter rounds. They now have a chance to take a lead from those at the PDC. It is the same sport after all, and they should be using the public’s love of darts as a crutch, not a stick to beat themselves with. There are other TV companies that would love to show one of the most iconic sporting contests in the world. New people involved will undoubtedly have fresh new ideas. They will inject new life, new faces and hopefully new fans into the BDO version of the sport we all love.
By this time next year, we will hopefully have seen not only a new chapter in PDC darts, but a whole new book opening up for those in the BDO.