Following several months of indifferent courtship of the BDO, the Professional Darts Corporation removed its velvet gloves last week with the announcement of a cunning plan that included three new tournaments.
The PDC World Cup of darts, Unicorn Under-21 World Championship, and Unicorn Women’s World Championship were touted as a direct response to the decision of the British Darts Organisation to refuse to discuss their buy-out offer. With £2 million – the value of the offer – waiting in the bank, the midnight oil must have been burning brightly in Brentwood in the days since the BDO confirmed their decision: one tournament was created every 3.66 working days.
Having gained the moral high-ground, the PDC has sprung quickly into action, replicating the BDO’s best bits. A PDC women’s world champion will be crowned live on Sky Sports in just five months time, with the finalists sharing £15,000 – and both receiving a PDC tour card, a place in the Grand Slam of darts, and £5,000 sponsorship. Two women players will have their careers changed; fourteen others will share £15,000, and, to provide the sport with balance, alongside two male world champions, there will now be two female.
These plans are described as the first stage. More can be expected, and where detail is sketchy, the organisation can be forgiven – Barry Hearn’s PDC has an excellent track record of over-delivering on promises. Were the A Team to be re-cast in Britain, Hearn would make a decent Hannibal Smith – rubbing his hands together, large cigar in mouth, telling his team that he loves it when a plan comes together.
In places, however, the PDC plan for darting domination currently owes more to Blackadder’s Baldrick than the A Team. This is the ultimate cunning plan, the headlines barely concealing the fact that so far limited PDC money has been committed, and only one women’s and one under 21 match are being transmitted (within dead-time in pre-existing television deals); and with eleven of the top twelve in the rankings English, the 24 nation darts’ World Cup currently looks fifty percent more predictable than the Boat Race.
One of the reasons for the phenomenal success of PDC darts over the last few years has been a cut-throat approach to commercial viability. New tournaments have been regularly developed and promoted, with those that are not profitable or of significant public interest disappearing even faster than they can be dreamt up – note how the hyperbole surrounding December’s Jocky Wilson Cup has disappeared as quickly as the event itself. The PDC should be praised for taking an innovative approach to the sport, but the top women players in particular will remain cautious about the decisions they must take in the next few months – the announcement makes no reference to an annual event, and women’s sport in Britain, even including football, is rarely commercially successful.
Behind the headlines of the announcement lies a different sentiment. As recently as 4 February, Barry Hearn was quoted as saying that ‘our door is always open [to the BDO].’ He still claims that the long-term objective is to unify the sport of darts, but on reading the small-print, the logical conclusion to be drawn is that the PDC have decided that the best means of unification is to destroy the BDO.
The BDO World Masters will no longer be a qualifying route for the Grand Slam; all four semi-finalists of the BDO world championship will be eligible for a PDC Tour Card; and those eight BDO counties who voted for discussion with the PDC will receive a place in the UK Open.
This last announcement in particular looks like a crass attempt to divide and conquer – BDO county players have been able to qualify for the UK Open for years. The overall impact of these decisions is to reduce the relevance of the Grand Slam, muddy the entry process for the FA Cup of darts, and, most peculiarly, to reduce by eight the number of tour cards available to existing paying members of the PDC.
The PDC neither needs the BDO nor should waste time, energy and goodwill trying to destroy it. If the ‘amateur game’ truly is built on inept financial management, self interest and mediocrity, it would no doubt fully self-destruct following the creation of an alternative well-funded, carefully-planned and expertly-delivered tour and tournaments for the world’s best dart players – be they women, under 21s or county teams.
The PDC has got most things right over the last few years – and the headlines from last week are to be welcomed. The sentiments apparent behind them, however, are of concern. It is one thing to remove the velvet gloves and reveal an iron fist. It’s quite another to launch a cunning plan which rekindles the darting war and launches another decade of bitterness in a sport that has been poisoned enough by conflict. Come on Barry: focus on what you do well, not what others do badly.