The PDC has created a monster, they are now slaves to it

You could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t anything wrong. Record crowd numbers, ever-increasing prize money, and now a gleaming new channel – Sky Sports Darts. But while Barry Hearn waxes lyrical about another of his “rags to riches” stories, it only takes a light scratching of the surface to reveal that all is not well.

The crowd is the life source of every sport. Forget television rights, sponsorship deals, the standard of the players, without the fan base a sport would cease to exist. When looking at the crowd so far from this year’s World Championship at Alexandra Palace you don’t see the legion of darts fans making the annual pilgrimage to the year’s highlight event anymore. They have been replaced largely by clusters of drunkards.

These drunkards are  segregated into two groups – the “stands” and the “tables” – and are locked in battle for four hours or more where they trade insults about their assumed economic backgrounds. Every 20 minutes or so, those differences are put aside so they can bellow a tedious chorus of: “Stand up if you love the darts!” – somewhat surprising considering it doesn’t appear they have actually watched any darts since their arrival.

Granted, this is not a new scenario. The crowd’s morph into something more resemblant of a mob has been apparent from the birth of the Premier League almost 10 years ago – but the last two or three have seen it get much worse. The idea of any order and respect is long gone. Mark Webster’s first round match with Ron Meulenkamp ended in farce with referee Russ Bray powerless to control an afternoon attendance baying for blood as the pair missed an array of doubles – in fact his calls for quiet just made things worse.

And now it also looks like Sky, longtime supporters of this “atmosphere” have had enough, either that or they are simply embarrassed. Constantly throughout the tournament they have been muting the crowd, whenever they show signs of unrest. My amazement at Sky’s decision stems from their ties with the PDC. Rod Harrington, a commentator and analyst is a PDC representative – it’s akin to having Sepp Blatter commentate on the World Cup! Sky and the PDC have always been a necessity to each other, hence the criticism is sparse.

Worse than the allowance of unruly “supporters” however is the alienation of the true darts fan. Many are no longer willing to part with their hard-earned cash to sit in these pits. It was only in 2011 when a man was convicted for assault due to his behaviour at a Premier League night. In the same season Adrian Lewis was subject to physical abuse, when members of a Scottish crowd threw coins at him while he was at the oche. Phil Taylor was also spat on during his walk-on, at the same Glaswegian venue two years later. Not to mention the majority of Premier League evenings finish up with grown men hurling full pints at one another. Despite being a darts fanatic I have no desire to set foot in these arenas, this is not the sport I grew to love.

A reversal in the PDC’s direction is unlikely, I would argue impossible if it continues in its current form. The only prospect of change would be the bubble bursting, something darts has suffered previously with devastating consequences. However, appealing to a demographic who come to darts event to not watch darts is dangerous. When the new fad ultimately comes along and these “fans” up sticks to somewhere else, the PDC will be left with swathes of empty seats the forgotten fans will not fill. This already looks to be happening at the World Grand Prix, with the CityWest Hotel in Dublin looking concerningly empty at times, particularly for the final.

On a more positive outlook, the sport’s expansion across Europe is encouraging, with Germany especially attracting huge numbers who seem to have a more loyal passion for the game. One wonders why the Netherlands – once a hotbed for tournaments – is now sparingly used, with them enjoying as much success as they ever have.

But overall I fail to see anything than a bleak long-term future. Hearn, for all his business acumen, has created an unstable monster. There may be more money in the game than ever before but at what cost? As Freddie Wilde wrote about cricket, the fans are the sellsword, and those in charge should ignore them at their peril. The same can be applied to darts. Hearn labeled me and others pretentious for raising the issues and injustices within the game. I would advise him to remember this: when darts hits the next inevitable wane, it won’t be us who deserts it.

Photo used from TungstenTales

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32 thoughts on “The PDC has created a monster, they are now slaves to it”

  1. Good article, but interesting that you’ve chosen to not mention the grassroots organisation of Darts in this country – the BDO (British Darts Organisation). Time was that they were the rulers of professional darts, but for various reasons that are well documented elsewhere, they became secondary in many peoples eyes to the PDC.
    The BDO Lakeside World Championships start on 3rd January. The standard isn’t quite as high, but the endeavour and honesty of the players as very appealing, as is the respect given by the crowd.
    For a few years the respect of the crowd was viewed as the lack of atmosphere at the BDO event when compared to the PDC one. Your post above hints that maybe the tide is turning and peoples attention will be drawn to the ‘real’ darts that all pub and club players can aspire to play in, as my friend Scott Mitchell who plays in our local league could testify.
    I’ve recently written a post about this very thing and would be grateful if you could find the time to have a quick read.
    Cheers.

    1. Had some huge feedback on this one so will be writing a lot more on darts and the challenges it faces. Yeah I was going to mention the BDO but it was getting quite lengthy and just wanted to stick to the problems.

      Lakeside is the only event I would consider attending nowadays. It is darts. And for all of its perceived problems, the model is sustainable. The BDO has struggled, had loads of players pack off and go, yet keeps coming back. The grassroots are essential.

      For me the PDC’s pinnacle was the 2007 Taylor vs Barneveld match, they should have never left the Circus Tavern. I reckon in time, once darts comes off this wave, and the part time fans leave we’ll go back to seeing some “proper darts” again. Granted, the arenas won’t be as big, but in my mind they aren’t meant to be. Getting 10,000 in to watch doesn’t necessarily mean success.

      Will check out your blog. Thanks for your comments, really appreciate them!

  2. Got to say the old NOTW finals were just as mental but again i think it was the shear number of attendess, 10,000 its just to many, great for revenue but not for the true dart fans, id rather watch lakeside than the ally pally,

    1. Think Bristow had a full can lobbed at him in an International match once. In the past this behaviour was stamped out, now it seems commonplace.

      Yeah the Lakeside is the only venue I would consider going to, possibly Blackpool. It’s a shame because the old Circus Tavern looked a fantastic place to watch darts.

  3. Not just the darts that the Hearne s have done this too. A recent boxing show in Leeds ended up more like a football match. A work colleague went and was shocked at the behaviour of fans and the amount of beer been thrown and the number of fights in the stands. In fact if you watch a lot of boxing now on tv the number of times the VIP turn round as a fight has broken out in the crowd’s. Some say these fights are better than the billed ones.
    I wonder what would happen if the players refused to play on and walked off? More than likely a full scale riot.

    1. There will be a tipping point eventually. I think what you’ve mentioned could potentially happen at a Premier League event. It gets very nasty there at times. Can’t say when it will happen but if it continues in this direction I think it’s only a matter of time.

  4. Just wanted to leave a comment to say what a great read this was. Also, the image you used adds another thousand words. Great work!

  5. I have already left a comment but would like to say that maybe they should limit the drinks and age. Feel so sorry for the children being put in such carnage. But no matter what anyone says it is very exciting and fun TV. As a true darts fan for 40 Years the small tours at social clubs are amazing and the few I have been to have been fantastic. So keep it on TV so the dart players can earn some decent money and true dart fans pay your £25 to see them locally and close up. Dart players work hard and travel a lot so to put up with a rowdy crowd is part of the job to earn a decent wage.

    1. The 2007 World Final between van Barneveld and Taylor is still the second most watched darts event in the history of Sky Sports. The PDC didn’t need to go in this direction, they did it because it was more lucrative.

      Personally I don’t think the crowd offer anything to the TV product. And neither do Sky, hence why they have been muting them.

  6. No your wrong mate..theres a lot of growth to go before any wain. like worldwide domination for starters. and rowdy crowds have been at darts since day 1, those fans were loving the double trouble and the players were laughing in the end. just cos you don’t have a sense of humour doesn’t mean nobody else does

    1. Judging by the feedback I’ve had I’m not wrong. Snooker had its eyes set on worldwide domination but that didn’t stop their bubble bursting in the 80s.

      2007 final – RvB vs Taylor. Was that a rowdy crowd? Believe it or not darts succeeded long before the Stands vs Tables nonsense came in and the audience never needed to be filled with people who are just there to get sloshed, and not watch the darts.

  7. I remember a few years ago when the PDC atmosphere was brilliant loud but respectful an alternative to the library of the BDO it was real darts fans making noise but somehow it caught on and become an excuse for a piss up for a number of non darting people and quite rightly as you say its a joke, chanting 10 German bombers at an 18 year old is a disgrace.

    As an Irishman your point about the grand prix is true and disappointing. Darts is never going to be our national sport but the grand prix used to be well attended with a good atmosphere but is like most crowds now gone to the dogs. When I attended this year the crowd interfered in the event booing players notably Taylor which also happened at the Masters in Scotland and saw the tournament moved to some place in England. We are in a lucky position over here to have a major PDC tournament and it would be a shame if it ended due to the behaviour of some idiots.

    1. Taylor gets it rough when not in England, not a fan but it’s still out of order. He doesn’t help his cause by saying “they pay their money” when they’re all for him though.

      Masters was dressed up to look like it had been moved to a bigger arena but PDC were evidently pisssed with the crowd.

      100% agree. Mid 2000s PDC crowds were the best. Up until the end of the Circus Tavern really.

  8. Good article. RE the Grand Prix in Citywest. It used to be held in a smaller venue there but was moved to accommodate bigger crowds, it is an awful venue to watch darts imo and well outside the city centre. The Premier League in the 3arena is pretty much in the city centre and has tiered seating at least. Most of my work colleagues (that have no real interest in darts) have stopped attending the Grand Prix and go to the Premier League instead. Pity because the Grand Prix has a unique feel to it because of the double-in.

    1. Yeah they changed the room it was in a couple years back didn’t they? And now the later rounds have all had the format reduced. I can see the Grand Prix going to Europe in time. No good having it outside the city.

      Premier League I just don’t get. It’s far too long, and watching the same players for the best part of four months is just too much in the end. And it’s only an exhibition anyway!

    2. Exactly right! Citywest is quite awkward to get to, and getting home from the event is impossible. As a result, we now stay in the hotel itself, as getting home is just too much. You would think CityWest would have enough sense to make sure there are oodles of taxis about afterwards, but nope, that would be too sensible!

  9. It does not matter what sport you are watching you will always get ‘idiots’ going to the party to get drunk and start causing bother, so to try and label the majority of dart watching fans as being part of the stands v tables war is typical of how society nowadays feels compelled to label to satisfy their need to judge. Thats why they have security at these parties, to throw out the anti social element, that will always show up no matter what.
    You mention two unsavoury incidents that occurred at Glasgow to Taylor and Lewis. What you do not mention is what they both did to incite before the incidents occurred. I dont condone the throwing of missiles, coins etc, nor do I condone spitting, but the problem is not just the fans, its the player s ego’s thinking they are above reproach, above the law in regards to their behaviour and the consequences it brings forth. I was there at both incidents, standing very close to the guys who did the dirty deeds, and I can tell you they were weeded out very quickly, but what angered me was what both Taylor and Lewis did prior to the guys actions. Inciting a reaction and then playing the hurt party is the lowest of the low in my opinion, ive been to 4 premier leagues in glasgow, and I can tell you Lewis is his own worst enemy regards the crowds reactions.
    As for the guy posting saying that the premier league is boring, watching the same guys playing for 4 months blah blah, I would ask does he watch football? So you will watch football for 9 months a year, same players same teams, but darts is boring?
    I think your article may need to be looked at from a different perspective, the first rule of thumb when writing is to not include personal opinion, something you have shamefully ignored when writing this particular article.

    1. This was an op-ed. I was giving my personal opinion. It’s not a report, I’m giving my opinion. And from the 5,000+ views I’ve had in the past week (about 40 times anything I’ve ever had on anything before), I would argue I’ve achieved what I set out to. There’s little point in me just writing a report since people can go anywhere to get that, I was writing something unique. I’m trying to get a few responses from PDC and BDO players for a follow-up article.

      What did Taylor and Lewis do that night to deserve being spat on, and have coins thrown at them? I wasn’t there, and can’t remember reports about it. Good to hear they were kicked out, though. I think on the PL point, it’s that watching the same 10 players week-upon-week in an exhibition tournament doesn’t appeal. I prefer the knockout tournaments, would like to see more set-play too.

      Agreed on your first point, but my problem is the route that darts has taken. By endorsing a rowdy crowd Sky and the PDC have created their own problem – at least they think they have or they wouldn’t have been muting the crowd. The audience has improved a bit post-Christmas. Also, the fact that so many are there just to get drunk without really caring about the darts makes me think they’ll be gone as soon as the next “in” thing comes along. It’s a risky model to build a fanbase who aren’t attached to the sport. Of course, at the moment, the PDC are coining it in, but darts has had plenty of peaks and troughs so it won’t last forever.

      Appreciate your comments though, and would like to hear more about how the players acted at those PL nights in Glasgow. Cheers.

  10. Great article. Some of the events I’ve watched on SKY this year have been ruined by the crowds awful behavior. A bit of rowdiness is to be expect but all this ‘stands vs tables’ nonsense and the booing of players going for key doubles is just spoiling the darts.

    For me the peaks were the 2003 and 2007 finals. 2004 was pretty good too. Moving to the ally pally was a mistake for the real fans, since then it has turned into a giant piss up and not proper darts at all.

    1. Thanks. Totally agree. The Barney Taylor final at the Circus was magic. Incredible atmosphere, and it didn’t need any of this crowd nonsense.

      I’d like to think if darts was ever unified again they would play the Worlds at Lakeside, but now I think the money lure of the bigger arenas would be too great anyway.

  11. Unless you are very close to the stage, when you go to watch darts you get an awful view of the action, meaning that you invariably end up watching the game on the big screens anyway. One of the primary reasons to go, is for the atmosphere. Without it, you’d may as well stay home, where you get a better view, more comfort and much better food and drink at lower cost.

    If some of the crowd want to chant and engage in intermittent banter between stands and tables, or whatever, then so be it. To suggest that the majority off the crowd does it and that people who do so have no interest in the darts is wrong. The chants may be stupid and unimaginative but it’s not an issue as long as the chants are not offensive (which sadly isn’t always the case – hence the muting), it doesn’t spill over in to Violece/disorder and the crowd are respectful to players. Having said that, there are things that can and should be done to improve then situation. The booing of certain players on big shots, is the one thing would eradicate if I could – although It hasn’t been a problem in this tournament and it is difficult to see how you could control it with such huge crowds. Sky also need to demonstrate more common sense in terms of what they show and when they do – e.g. switching to a shot of a Spurs footballer in the crowd is going to incite a negative reaction from the crowd – so don’t do it mid-game when a player is about to throw etc.

    The crowds bring the money that funds the tour and prize money that allow the top players to make a full time living from the sport they love. I wonder how many PDC players would prefer to play in front of much smaller, more easily managed crowds, on a tour with vastly reduced prize money? I doubt that many would, or they would surely opt to play in the BDO. The best players in the world have voted with their feet.

    Some people pompously bandy around the term “proper darts” as a slight to the PDC. “Proper” professional sport involves the best players in the world, competing at the very top level. The darts in the PDC is “proper”, even if the behaviour of the crowd might not always be so. Can the same really be said of the BDO, where there is less depth and standard of the top players is clearly lower? People may love the honesty and endeavour of lower league football and it’s fans, but nobody would say that the premiership isn’t “proper” football just because the players earn more money, or because of the people in the stands.

    As for BDO crowds, the chanting of the PDC’s fans may be absent, but they sit in fancy dress, drinking away just as the PDC fans do, playing up to the cameras at every opportunity. The BDO even sells fancy dress costumes on its own website, in a blatant attempt to cater for the exact same demographic that you are complaining about. The droning chatter shows that the fans at lakeside aren’t exactly watching the games the studious, enrapt silence that you get in a major snooker tournament either. The PDC gets criticised for being about entertainment and pandering to boisterous fans, but nobody complains when the Martin Adams’ fans howl during games (including times when his opponent is throwing) or when a Ted Hankey plays to the crowd dressed as Dracula, throwing plastic bats etc. The idea that the lakeside crowd are “real” fans and superior to those who attend PDC events doesn’t hold water. The 2 fanbases are more similar than many people care to admit. The main difference is the sheer size of PDC crowds and venues. If the BDO was filling the big arena’s the PDC does, they’d have the same issues.

  12. Fantastic article! I am a new fan in that I only discovered darts back in December 2011. However, even within this short time period I have seen changes. I can’t stand the stupid “We pay your benefits” chants, and the football related ones are just ridiculous. On a practical level though the PDC need to bring in bigger screens now thae they are in bigger arenas. I think that half the reason for this nonsense is that is is very hard to see the screens from far back. Hence fans get bored and start doing their silly chants. We always book tickets at the front now.

    1. Arenas have got far too big. PDC are obsessed with the bigger crowds=bigger revenue line and see the sport purely as a business. At the moment they’re getting what they want from it.

      The massive crowds aren’t necessary. Look at the Crucible in snooker, holds around 1,000 and there used to be the best part of 20 million watching in the 80s. Still get upwards of 5 million today.

      PDC and Sky encouraged the “party atmosphere” and only have themselves to blame when it gets sour. As it often does on PL nights.

      1. You are correct about the small crowds. I recall snooker being absolutely massive when I was a kid. I do love the atmosphere of the big venues, but it is literally impossible o to see the screens if you are right at the back.

        I do hope you get quotes from the PDC or BDO players for your next tournament.

        I’d also particularly love an article on why the women’s prize in the BDO is an absolute joke. I was shocked to see Lisa Ashton receive a cheque for £12,000 while Scott Mitchell received one for £100,000. Let’s not even get into the fact that the PDC don’t have a women’s league at all. *Rant over* 🙂

  13. Although an article written two years ago, still very true today. I wont ever go to another PDC darts event whilst it is like it is – More than happy to stop and watch it all from comfort of my own sofa

  14. The crowd have added the soundtrack to Euro 2016 to their repertoire this year, with the Icelandic chant, “Don’t take me home” on repeat for an hour, and this year’s favourite, Gala’s Freed From Desire, where the baying mob sing the “Will Griggs on fire” variant, as they believe those are the actual lyrics, cos that’s wot they learnt on the telly innit.

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