THANKS to Buckskin’s Paul Hogan, I got the chance to visit the Mecca of darts, Lakeside, earlier this week.
It’s a strange sport to watch live, is darts, mainly because most people in the arena end up watching the matches on a screen as they are not close enough to the board to see what is properly going on.
As a result, I spent both of Paul’s matches away from the main stage, watching the action unfold on television in a press room far too small to accommodate the number of journalists covering the event.
That was on Tuesday afternoon. I hate to think what conditions will be like in that little room come the final on Sunday.
I digress, but it was good fun covering Paul’s run at the tournament. His match against Scott Mitchell on Tuesday will probably go down as one of the best games of the week and he was a little unlucky not to come out on top.
Paul’s a lovely guy, as I hope the video interviews I did with him after his matches showed, and it would be great to see him back at Lakeside again in the future.
Darts is a bit of a strange sport, mainly due to the fact that there are two different governing bodies. The British Darts Organisation (BDO) is the older of the two and runs the World Professional Darts Championships at Lakeside, while the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) was set up as a rival around 20 years ago.
It may be the younger of the two, but for 51 weeks of the year, the PDC is far more successful than the BDO when it comes to elite level darts.
Nothing should be taken away from the BDO’s support of the grass-roots game but at the top level, the PDC boasts better players, bigger crowds and far more television coverage.
The one week where this changes is the first week in January, when the BDO’s flagship event, the world championships at Lakeside, is screened on the BBC.
To my knowledge, it’s the only BDO event shown on British television, but it has a tremendous impact on the public’s view of the sport.
Numerous PDC events are shown throughout the year on Sky, but their world championship final was watched by just under one million people, less than half the amount that tuned in to watch the Lakeside final last year.
If you were to stop somebody on the street and ask them who the darts world champion is, they would be more likely to name the BDO player, especially as Phil Taylor didn’t win this year’s PDC crown.
That is the power of terrestrial television – and it’s something that too many sports are choosing to ignore.
I’m not here to knock Sky. They have completely revolutionised sports television in this country over the past 20 years and continue to do a fantastic job, while the impact of the money they put into sport should not be underestimated.
However, it’s that same money that gives the bosses of sport a real problem. Sky and other companies like BT Sport are in a position to offer far more money than any of the terrestrial networks, so to the bean counters, it’s a no-brainer.
The trouble is, the financial rewards can be outweighed by the drop in publicity.
Take cricket for example. I’m sure the accountants at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are delighted with the amount of money that they get from Sky every year – but I don’t think it’s doing the sport any good.
Think back to the summer of 2005, when the country was caught up in cricket fever as England finally won an Ashes series. The ECB had a real opportunity to build on that and introduce new people, especially children, into the game.
Sadly, that dramatic final day at the Oval was the last Test to be shown live on free-to-air TV and the opportunity was lost.
Audience figures peaked at almost 8.5 million during the 2005 Ashes series. Less than 2 million saw England regain the urn on Sky four years later, with similar figures for last year’s series.
In a competitive market, cricket is in danger of becoming invisible to its next generation of players. It's far from an ideal situation – and the ECB are not alone.
Too many sports think they can replicate the football model. They can’t. Football is a one off, a juggernaut that millions of us are addicted to and will happily pay to watch on television.
Other sports, people can take or leave. If it is on, they will watch, but that doesn't mean they are willing to pay for the privilege.
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