Late in 2019, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) announced that the World Series of Darts would be coming to New York City for the first time in 2020. Assuming the Coronavirus pandemic has passed, the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden will host the U.S. Darts Masters and North American Championship on June 5th and 6th (the winner of the North American Championship will go on to compete in the World Championship). For those who have never seen darts on TV, it’s quite the spectacle; the crowd is as much a part of the show as the players and those in attendance as there for the party as much as they are the sport.
Howie Long-Short: “Over the last 15 years, [professional] darts has become a global sporting phenomenon.” Barry Hearn – chairman of the PDC – explained that “in Europe, [darts] is the second highest rated sport on television – behind only soccer. [The game is also] massive in China and is now spreading through Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa.” Pro darts has yet to capture the hearts and minds of the U.S. sports fan, but Hearn says it’s just a matter of time; “[the sport simply] needs a young American flag bearer capable of competing at the world level [to stoke their interest].” Considering pro darts players are “ordinary people with extraordinary talent” (as opposed to people who hit the genetic lottery) and that the U.S. has a population of +/- 330 million people it seems likely one will be discovered sooner than later.
Darts is both a television and live gate draw (PDC events pull in +/- 300K fans annually worldwide, 22,000 people attended a tour stop at Schalke’s football stadium in 2018), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those competing on the sport’s biggest stage are making “millions and millions of dollars per year.” To put that in perspective, the top earner on the PBA tour – another ‘blue collar’ game – earned $285K in 2019 and no other bowler sniffed $200K.
With a standard dartboard only 18 inches in diameter, the majority of fans in attendance at World Series tour stops are watching the action on screens. While it may sound strange to attend an event that can only be seen on a television, Hearn explained that most of the crowd is there for the atmosphere. “People dress up. [The fans] are engaged. There is a little bit of alcohol involved. And at the same time, the level of accuracy displayed – the technical ability – gives it a real sporting sense.” ‘A little bit’ is a relative term. The average fan at the World Series consumes 10.2 pints of beer/night. That’s a higher rate of consumption on per/person basis than was reported at the Munich Beer Festival.
DAZN is set to broadcast the June event. Existing relationship aside (Hearn also owns Matchroom Boxing), the OTT provider was a logical home for the darts series because of the “younger, millennial” audience it serves. Hearn says the sport appeals to that demographic because “it’s over in a few minutes – the millennial fan doesn’t [have time to] get bored.” Of course, with people around the world playing the game (and thus having at least a base level understanding of the rules) and DAZN planning to expand into 200 countries (there are no plans to delay their May launch), it’s also a property that would seemingly have more value to John Skipper & Co. than just about any other broadcaster.
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