PDC World Darts Championship

Why darts is more popular than ever before

The sport of darts is exploding in popularity, with 33% more viewers and 10% more winnings for its players in the last year alone.

The 2023 PDC World Darts Championship Final between Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen saw almost two million people tune in to Sky Sports, half a million more than in 2022 and almost a million more than in 2021, seeing the ratings double in just two years.

PDC Media Executive Josh Gorton believes the sport’s massive increase in popularity is down to a whole host of factors, but the individual rivalries and characters cannot be overlooked.

Gorton’s first experience watching darts was the iconic 2007 World Championship Final, when Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld overcame a 3-0 set deficit to beat then-11-time world champion Phil Taylor and win the title.

That final was the first to top one million TV viewers on Sky, and with good reason too.

Gorton said: “I think in all sports you need a rivalry – Phil Taylor at the time was a real dominant figure in the sport – seeing that rivalry emerge between him and Barney was what really gave darts its first real boom in joining the PDC.

“There are big characters in the sport, darts is a predominantly working-class sport with working-class people, and I think that appeals to many – just look at Peter Wright, he’s a brand in himself!

“The atmosphere is unique as well, a sort of party atmosphere.”

The PDC Order of Merit – a ranking system based on prize money won over a two-year period by players in ranking tournaments – now shows more money in darts than ever before, the sum of the top 10 earners’ winnings passing £7 million for the first time.

Gorton commented on how The Order of Merit no longer represents the top 10 arrow-smiths making a professional living out of the sport, as pretty much all of the top 20 are now full-time, professional darts players.

Following a period of Taylor dominance, and van Barneveld’s mid-noughties charge, the level of competition has levelled up a gear and last year saw eight different TV title winners.

Gorton recalled his early days following the sport and compared it to now – painting the picture of a more globally popular game.

He said: “When I first started watching the darts in 2006, all eight quarter-finalists were English. In 2007, we had seven English plus van Barneveld.

“In the 2022/23 tournament, the four semi-finalists contained a German, Belgian, Dutch and one English representative.

“It’s such a global game now. The World Cup of Darts has even been expanded from 32 teams to 40 this year.”

And this globalisation of the sport shows no sign of slowing down.

Smith and van Gerwen’s astonishing final went viral worldwide as Smith threw a nine-dart finish after van Gerwen missed his ninth throw to complete the feat – bringing even more attention to the sport.

Gorton added: “The nine-darter and Wayne Mardle’s commentary went absolutely viral – Smith was interviewed by Ariel Helwani, the MMA journalist who’s absolutely huge in America, taking the sport across the pond.

“It wasn’t just the final as well – German Gabriel Clemens’ sensational run to the semi-final generated massive interest.

“We had German TV news crews coming over from the quarter-finals onwards – and we’re not just talking sports stations – there was a peak of 3.78 million global viewers in his semi-final against Smith!”

While darts has always been a staple feature of pubs and social clubs for a number of years, much of the public needed a reminder of how easy it is to play over the Covid pandemic.

Gorton explained: “Darts was one of the first sports to come out of the pandemic, because there was literally nothing on.

“All of a sudden, the PDC launched the Home Tour, which did huge numbers the first few nights.

“Home darts and online darts have continued since then.”

While the entertainment aspect of darts undoubtedly suffered during Covid – losing that party atmosphere behind closed doors – it has helped to cultivate the perfect storm.

Sell-out crowds, massive TV viewing that has now gone global, and a new generation of even more gifted darts players eager to take each other on and celebrate their eccentricities.

It seems the best is yet to come.

Featured image credit: TWsk via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

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