Shortly before the first dart was thrown at Lakeside earlier this month, the British Darts Organisation (BDO) released two significant pieces of news.
Firstly, the 2014 World Championships will feature an additional 8 players, selected from ranking tables from across the globe – helping to ensure that the tournament, at least in the early rounds, will no longer resemble a GB v Netherlands shoot-out.
Secondly, the BBC has ‘extended its commitment’ to broadcast the tournament until 2016.
For all its’ pitfalls – and coverage of the 2013 tournament had many – the BBC’s annual foray into the world of tungsten-tossing is the sports’ best opportunity to reach a significant mainstream audience. No other darts’ broadcaster can boast 2.6 million viewers, the peak watching Scotty ‘Too Hotty’ Waites dismantle Tony O’Shea in a disappointing final from Frimley Green.
The change in tournament size will necessitate sizeable alterations to the schedule of play, seemingly untouched since Martin Adams wore short trousers. In turn, this allows a rare opportunity for a complete rethink of TV scheduling. Logically, broadcaster, administrator and venue will reach a sensible decision ensuring that all games, including women’s, are covered live, at times suitable to audiences both in Frimley Green and in living rooms throughout the UK and Europe.
It is an opportunity that the BDO cannot afford to let slip. Darts is booming, but most of that boom is across the great divide at the PDC, where the next world champion will earn £250,000 (roughly the same as the whole prize fund for Lakeside 2013). The BDO event has many positives – notably unpredictability, the chance for new stars to emerge, and an atmosphere in the venue unrivalled in the game – but the organisation has shown little appetite for appropriate change in recent years. Indeed, with seemingly no control over its’ own tournament, the approach has typically been to remove anything constructive from criticism, to start all discussions on the defensive, and to make over-blown promises which fizzle out without a blaze of publicity (remember the equivalent of the Premier League announced in earnest a couple of years ago?)
There are signs, however, that, following changes to the Board in 2011, we are now witnessing a new BDO. Alongside the recent announcements, and rumours of additional televised tournaments, it is the change in attitude that is most startling.
Nothing reflects this better than the manner in which PDC players and officials were received at Lakeside this year. Whereas once players from the ‘other side’ would be at best ignored, Dean Winstanley, James Wade and Colin Lloyd were warmly welcomed to the event, their presence noted on the BDO website, and Winstanley even introduced to the crowd in recognition of his 9-dart leg at the PDC tournament a week or so earlier.
History and repeated disappointments mean that the jury is still out, but the signs of green shoots are encouraging. As some of those involved in the big split move on from their roles in managing the game, perhaps a new era is quietly being ushered in.
If darts must have two codes, it is in the interest of the sport for both to be appropriately administered. A well-managed 2014 tournament is the BDO’s opportunity to show that the championship they run merits its ‘World’ status.