ITV had a huge impact on the popularity of darts when then cancelled its World of Sport programme marking a very dark time for the sport. When they dropped all coverage after the World Masters tournament in 1988, professionals began to worry about the lack of interest and sponsorship money coming in. Sponsors didn’t want to commit to the dingy and dour image the sport was portraying.
Fly forward nineteen years and darts is now one of the largest commercial and sporting triumphs, despite the tough economic times we are living in. The PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) are arranging more and more tournaments all over the world. The reputation of darts has not only improved in the UK, but is gaining popularity all over the world. Sky Sports have just started their new season of McCoy’s Premier League, bringing in more and more commercial success and awareness. Darts sponsorship is also at a record high. The British Darts Organisation Lakeside tournaments are still being broadcast on the BBC in January every year, and the people competing in that organisation are just as famous as their wealthier colleagues in the PDC.
So what has changed the perception of this sport? One of the features that made darts so unpopular in the 80s could be the reason for its triumphant return. Since the Sky Sports revolution, the pub has become an important place for those who want to watch live sport on the TV. And, remembering that the venue of darts tournaments is essentially a large pub itself, with beer, banter and camaraderie why wouldn’t it be a popular day out for live sports fans? There is a lot of enjoyment gained from watching darts today.
Players shirts are now overloaded with sponsors, there are advertising boards competing for attention around the venues and we even have celebrities turning up for a good night out. New sponsorship money has resulted in prize funds increasing at a spectacular rate, with the PDC championship carrying a prize fund of one million pounds – something that would never have been envisioned in the late eighties.
Darts has created sporting heroes. James Wade, Adrian Lewis and Phil Taylor have become household names in the sport. Phil Taylor even came second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010, beating Jessica Ennis and David Haye. People are able to relate to these stars, feel they are able to engage with them and stand in awe of their mathematical skill and the accuracy with which they throw on a consistent basis.
The world has fallen in love with the simple game of arrows. It has transformed from a simple past time between mates into a global brand in little over two decades. But when you strip back the money, the show business and the glamour, the game is still one we can all relate to and while that’s the case, the full house signs will be up in arenas all around the world for years to come.