Sunday, 15 March 2020

How the coronavirus could provide a unique boost to darts

These are desperate times for the world right now. There's talks of the elderly being in lockdown, I have no FA Cup quarter final to look forward to next week, I'll be down half a month's wages on lost non-refundable flights around Euro 2020 in a couple of days, and given a week or two I won't be able to go down to the pub and moan about it with my mates. For many countries, this is the situation already. But as I sit here waiting for Players Championship 8 to start with a decimated field, this unprecedented situation and all that goes around with it provides, oddly enough, a unique opportunity for the PDC and darts in general.

You see, there's one thing that we're being told to do, that's if it's at all possible to work at home, do so. What's almost unique about the sport of darts is this:

Darts is about the only sport in the world where it would be feasible to work from home

Is there any requirement for players to be facing off against each other in the same building? Not really. Amateurs around the world have been playing against each other via webcam or similar for years, possibly over a decade. As we see half of Europe in lockdown, what do you actually need to play from home? More or less just a dartboard, darts, and an internet connection to transmit all of the above. You would think that any player even at county level would have all of those in his (or her) house.

As such, what is stopping the PDC from co-ordinating a tournament, or series of tournaments, where tour card holders and, for that matter given the unique circumstances, invited players from regional tours all around the world, from competing against each other in their front room in place of optimistically re-scheduled European Tour events (moving Sindelfingen to May, really? You think this is going to go away in a couple of months?)

The critical thing to also consider is this:

The PDC is sponsored solely by betting companies

If I was a bookmaker that didn't have a large percentage of their revenue streams coming from online casinos, I would be very concerned right now that there is nothing for losing punters to bet on - especially if I'd just had a very bad Cheltenham. They need sport of any description to function, and if they go bust, then the effect for the PDC is clearly obvious. It is in both the interest of both bookmakers and the PDC to try to get some form of elite sporting event taking place if at all possible, therefore to put all sorts of efforts they can to collaborate and deliver should be obvious. It would cost them next to nothing in the grand scheme of things to post out a decent streaming setup to Jesus Noguera or Karel Sedlacek if they don't have one.

Also consider the following:

The PDC's sponsors rely on TV coverage to get a return on investment

How many people right now do you think are cancelling their subscriptions to Sky and BT Sport, and how many people do you think will have done so in a fortnight when they've seen repeats of 1992 Worlds Strongest Man? Heck, I've set fire to my TV licence already after the BBC replaced Match of the Day with Mrs Brown's Boys Live, which is surely the height of social irresponsibility from our national broadcaster. It's not that unreasonable to say that people may cancel their subscriptions and then realise they can do without them once the crisis has passed with obvious consequences for TV turnover.

If you arranged something like a 256-player tournament that included all the tour card holders, all of the top 16 from the likes of the DPA tour, the Asian Tour (last year's obv), the CDC, the SDC, the Challenge/Development Tours, the ladies' game, etc etc, and played it out over the course of a week, then given the nature of the event where you have players facing off from all over the world, you can schedule each match at such a time where it's convenient for both players given the differences in time zones and probably get blanket 24 hour coverage on Sky, as they literally have nothing else live to show. The benefits of this for all parties, including the players who, as independent contractors, could have serious problems if they're not already made from the game or have significant sponsorship backing - no prize money to play for and no exhibitions = no income.

As I say, it's a very weird situation that the world's going through right now, and while it wouldn't have the same atmosphere as Ally Pally or the Winter Gardens, for the casual fan you'll get to see some live sport of some description, and for the darts enthusiasts that like the people that'd read this it'd be a fascinating event. While we do see international players from around the world make it to Ally Pally, it's very rare that we actually see them play off against each other, as the fixed nature of that draw would require them both to win a game against a Pro Tour qualifier and a seeded player. Only Seigo Asada, Fallon Sherrock and Nico Kurz managed that last year, and only Devon Petersen did it the year before. Who wouldn't want to see Seigo Asada against Danny Baggish? Mikuru Suzuki against Noel Malicdem? Keane Barry against Fallon Sherrock?

The draw's out for PC8. The seedings have got down to Darren Webster, which is quite an impressive number of drop outs. White's only 30's today, which is probably still value but with Ando on an adjacent board, Chizzy in his quarter and Wright/Aspinall/Smith all in his half as well, I'm maybe not feeling it quite so much. I'm going Clayton 66/1 and Humphries 100/1 - they're in the van Gerwen half, and on the same board (6), but that quarter looks weak and it only requires one MvG slip up and the quarter is wide open (Maik Kuivenhoven round one is a game he should win, but isn't trivial). I'll chuck in Jason Lowe at 150/1 on board 5 and de Sousa at 80/1 on board 2 as well, Clemens is tempting on board 3 but is as short as 50/1 already.

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