Darts has grown into one of the most watched sports across Europe and the attendances are only going in one direction.
Darts used to be known as a pub sport to many people. That has now changed drastically, with crowd numbers being in the thousands and prize money being as high as it’s ever been before. Both the number of fans and the number of players have greatly increased in recent time, but just why has such a simple pub game dramatically grown on a worldwide level?
For starters, there is the addition of players with more flare than ever before. At no point can Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor be criticised; it was him who began to put the sport on the map. The 16 time world champion is a credit to the sport, however his showmanship was limited, letting his arrows do the talking the majority of the time. A leg or set was won with very limited reaction. There is no problem with this; in fact this is the way some feel the game should be played.
Nowadays though, players really like to give it ‘the big un’ when winning just a single leg. In a World Series Final at the back end of 2017, Gerwyn Price and Corey Cadby turned around and celebrated when hitting a ton or more, much to the amusement of many fans who were watching the game. Although the incident was silly, it is what fans want to see. They want the drama and the controversy because it is what they have paid to see.
Players now are just far more entertaining than they used to be. Michael Van Gerwin wins almost everything, and has done so with a certain flashy style. An MVG in full flight is exactly what the punters want to see. The walk ons are also very crowd friendly. ‘Snake bite’ Peter Wright dances across the stage every single time he comes on, immediately getting the crowd involved, and Daryl Gurney sings Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which is always a crowd favourite. The sport just seems to have developed a more relaxed atmosphere than it ever used to have.
The amount of players participating has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but why? Well, the prize money that is now on offer for winning tournaments is certainly very eye catching. Rob Cross, the 2017 World Darts Championship winner received a massive £400,000 in prize money. Not bad for somebody in their debut season. When Phil Taylor won the World title in 2000, he received £31,000. This not only shows the growth of the sport but also underlines the phenomenal work that PDC chairman Barry Hearn has done for the sport.
The overall prize money has risen from £500,000 to £15 million since Hearn took the PDC hot seat. He has managed to take a pub game to the second highest rated TV watch of 2017. The sport is in good hands, and with big sponsorship deals continuing to come into the sport, the growth is only going to continue to rise.
The sport is ideal for fans now. Not only is the quality at outrageous levels, there is no longer rules where you must sit down and behave yourself. It is perfect to watch world class talent whilst enjoying a beer (or 10) with others. Barry Hearn once quoted “Darts is the only sport that has a partnership of excitement of a party and world class sport. I don’t know another sport that creates atmosphere on that basis.”
This is evident almost every Thursday in the winter when the Premier League is being played. The crowds are outstanding, sell outs every week at venues all around Europe. Wayne Mardle of Sky Sports often reminds viewers of the sell out crowd of 400 people at Stoke’s Kings hall. Well just a couple of weeks ago, the Mercedes Benz Arena had a world record darts attendance of 12,000, underlining the rapid growth of the sport.
The crowd is often very much like it is at football, with chanting often taking place as well as jeering and whistling. But unlike the football, the involvement of the crowd at darts is genuinely always in good spirit. Chants of “boring boring tables” and “feed the stands” are often sung back and forth during the World Championships at the Alexandra Palace. There are rarely any malicious songs chanted during the games, and players are usually given a huge amount of respect whilst playing.
Whilst crowds begin to grow at venues, the amount of viewers watching on Sky Sports has also increased. 960,000 people watched the 2015 World Darts Championship final played between Van Gerwin and Peter Wright. This was 75,000 more than the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Southampton on the same day.
Whilst many still see darts as a pub sport, there is no denying that it has fast become a sensation, especially throughout Europe. Just how long will it take before it becomes a worldwide hit, and we see more money come from countries such as China to develop the sport further.
For the time being, darts is in a good place, and for the immediate future it will continue to be watched by millions and the party will continue.