With less than a week to go until the Summer Series gets underway, the anticipation surrounding the sport’s return continues to build, yet PDC chairman Barry Hearn insists he has only just scratched the darting surface.
The 72-year-old recently suffered a minor heart attack, but it will come as little surprise that his health scare has not detracted from his insatiable desire to innovate and develop the darting landscape.
Hearn is renowned for being one of the nation’s leading sports promoters, having played an instrumental role in the growth of boxing, darts and snooker throughout an illustrious career.
He recently featured in a Darts Show Podcast special reflecting on his life in sport and with the sport’s return edging closer ahead of the impending Summer Series, he believes darts’ potential is limitless.
“Financially it was a great buy, but more importantly, the fun I’ve had out of it – the joy I’ve had watching it grow. I honestly think I’ve only just scratched the surface, I really do,” Hearn said.
“Give me another 10 years and I think we can do something quite remarkable, because here is a sport that anyone can play. There are no barriers to entry.”
“You can stick a dartboard up in your bedroom, you can stick a dartboard up in your garage, but there’s a structure in place where you can join developmental tours, you can see whether you want to play.
“Once the amateur organisation gets better organised, then we will have the complete picture there. It’s a game that can spread all over the world and it should do and it will do.”
The global nature of world darts has developed beyond all comprehension since Hearn took the reigns in 2001, with the flourishing European Tour, Asian Tour and World Series circuit testament to this growth.
The increasingly diverse demographic within the PDC was also evidenced during the Home Tour, which saw 101 Tour Card holders competing from their respective living rooms across the globe.
There were 11 nations represented in the last 32, with players from Australia, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Portugal joining the traditional darting hotbeds of England, Scotland, Wales and the Netherlands.
Hong Kong’s Kai Fan Leung also starred in the event, playing at 5am local time and providing another demonstration of the sport’s growing popularity in Asia – a continent which Hearn identifies as presenting a ‘huge opportunity’.
“We have always been prepared to invest in things we believe in. The Asian Tour has started and gone well – Asia represents a huge opportunity to us,” added the 72-year-old.
“Darts is one of the approved national sports in China, if it takes off like Snooker did, we have a huge business just there alone.
“Everywhere we go, people always say: ‘Wow, I never realised it was that good’. If we can spread the actual infrastructure of people participating in the game, we get the benefits of both participation and TV ratings and it’s very difficult for it not to be a success.”
Success is certainly a cornerstone of Hearn’s vocabulary. Just months after taking over as PDC Chairman, the tournament prize fund for the 2001 World Championship was £125,000, with £33,000 on offer for the champion.
By comparison, the prize fund for last year’s World Championship totalled £2,500,000, with eventual champion Peter Wright scooping an incredible £500,000 for his maiden Alexandra Palace triumph.
This growth is also mirrored in regards to the Premier League – the sport’s biggest roadshow. The inaugural event was hosted at Kings Hall in Stoke-on-Trent back in 2005, with a few hundred fans in attendance.
“As we change the perception that it is not a pub game, it’s a proper global sport – with our numbers and the ratings globally, we can be bigger than golf. Why not?”
Hearn on darts’ potential
The tournament is now a phenomenon across Europe, with annual visits to Rotterdam and Berlin and crowds in excess of 10,000 people. However, Hearn insists there is still more to come.
“As we change the perception that it is not a pub game, it’s a proper global sport – with our numbers and the ratings globally, we can be bigger than golf. Why not?” Hearn continued.
“We’re up to about £15m to £16m a year in terms of prize money, we’re still nothing compared with golf. Why is that when our numbers are so much bigger?
“The answer is perception, a little bit of snob value perhaps. Those days are changing, and the millennial audience today will accelerate that change.
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“People will say: ‘This is a great day out, I’m getting value for money and watching world-class sport’. Then you’re in the fast-lane and anything can happen.
“I am really excited about the future of darts. I think the world is our oyster and we are only going to be limited by our own imagination.”
Darts returns to Sky Sports in July, with nine days of coverage from the World Matchplay getting underway on Saturday, July 18, and every day until the final on Sunday, July 26