Monday 8 January 2024

Oh god what have they done

I wasn't expecting to make a post outside of the year end awards prior to the end of Q-School, and I was initially just going to roll this up into that year end post as the overwhelming winner of most disappointing news of the season - but it's annoyed me enough that it requires a stand alone post. For those that missed it, the PDC put out a couple of announcements late yesterday. The first was to indicate an increase in Pro Tour prize money - this is fine, although it still has the silly situation where a round two win is worth less than a round one win (now half as much!). The second one was the bastard one. So for the Euro Tour now, instead of having the following:

16 seeds from Pro Tour, 24 Pro Tour qualifiers, 2 Home Nation invites, 2 Home Nation qualifiers, 2 associate qualifiers, 1 Nordic qualifier, 1 East Europe qualifier

We have this:

16 players from main OOM, 16 players from Pro Tour (seeds being the top 16 overall from Pro Tour), 10 Pro Tour qualifiers, 4 Home Nation qualifiers, 1 Nordic qualifier, 1 East Europe qualifier

There's many, many problems with this. Let's start with the timing - less than 24 hours before Q-School was due to start. There's going to be lots of players that will have signed up for Q-School with the expectation there would not have been major changes to the European Tour format. They may well be somewhat pissed off as of right now. If this is announced in, say, November, I don't think there'd be so many problems with this. Not only those that are looking to get in, consider those who are already in. Consider someone like Mervyn King or Mensur Suljovic - both players who are still easily good enough to be in the equation to get a lot of the cake at things like the Modus events, the World Seniors circuit, and on the WDF circuit in general. They were going to need a huge year to retain their cards having missed the worlds this year, presumably they would have needed to return a decision on if they're going to re-up their card way before yesterday, and with the events available outside of the PDC system today, they would have had a real decision to make as to whether to even try Q-School twelve months from now. At this stage, do they think they're just wasting a year?

The second issue is the removal of the associate qualifiers. There's 800+ players who are at Q-School right now, who may have been thinking "well, if I don't get a card, which with only 30 or so available may be fairly likely, at least I have the opportunity to sneak into a Euro Tour with a god run. Well unless you're in certain areas of Europe, that's now gone. We now no longer have the chance to see Martijn Dragt upset Rob Cross, Berry van Peer defeat Josh Rock and Jonny Clayton, and Wesley Plaisier to the semis - and that's just this year.

The third is the removal of the home nation invites. We could have the absurd situation where we go into the Euro Tour in Prague without the two best Czech players. How is that going to help grow the game? Similar in other countries with the exception of Germany and the Netherlands, where they've got players high enough up in the rankings that you will get the best players in. Surely that sells tickets?

The fourth is the scything down of spots for card holders. That is a huge percentage of potential earnings now gone - from having one spot for every four/five card holders, it's now closer to one in ten. Yes, the qualification path within them will be a little bit easier, but it's still a full extra round on average that someone will have to come through. We've already seen Mickey Mansell voice his displeasure on Twitter, and I'm sure he's not the only one - how is someone supposed to close the gap to the top 32 if the chances to earn solid cash from the Euro Tour are much less frequent, and half the field in the first round is now guaranteed to be players who are either in the top 32, or very close to it? Ignoring that, with the Pro Tour now being all midweek, there's going to be some people who were making marginal decisions as to whether to play Q-School in terms of being able to balance work if they're not quitting, and the presence of European Tour money could quite possibly have made the difference.

Finally, there's the real risk of Premier League syndrome. For all intents and purposes, we've now got the same field as the Matchplay and the Grand Prix, topped up with a few randoms. That has the real risk of becoming extremely boring very quickly like the Premier League has done the last couple of years since they switched formats. Yes, the seedings still being based off of the Pro Tour will make the actual draws themselves a bit different, but you're still going to get much the same group of players being fed into each other every other week, and with the reduced chances of a player being able to break into this, there is an extreme risk of this becoming a closed ecosystem. Repetitive formats and fields are not just related to this level - just look at the World Series participants announced for Bahrain and the Netherlands today.

I can kind of see why they've done this, as having the best players at the tournaments makes them more marketable - but this really, really hurts 75% of the card holders and 90%+ of PDPA members in favour of giving the top, top players a bit more of a friendlier schedule. The manner and extent of how they've done this is the real kicker though. Announcing this after people have made decisions as to whether to enter Q-School, maintain tour card status etc is unacceptable. Changes of this magnitude absolutely had to be made in advance of Q-School entries opening to allow players to make an informed decision of what they are getting into. In addition, the size and number of the changes in combination make this a complete trainwreck. PDC announcing that associate members don't really add to marketability and it is not worth their efforts to host associate qualifiers? Would be unfortunate, but wouldn't hurt by itself, maybe if they cut the spaces to one and held three qualis with the semi finalists getting one spot each and then expanding the last one to a playoff between losing quarter finalists to get up to 13 might have solved this issue. Removing host nation automatic spots? Not sure about that one, and I think you need to at least put out the option for card holders to enter the host nation qualifiers - maybe not all of them, perhaps just those that wouldn't be seeded or something. Having some of the massive players get a freebie into the event and not have to qualify? I could understand this if it was a smaller number, say 4-6, just to manage the schedule a tad and to guarantee some of the biggest names that may not normally play the Pro Tour as much to be in, but 16 is just complete and total overkill, and weakens the Euro Tour as an event of interest.

On a personal note, it's also going to severely limit the upside of this blog. We made 160 bets this past season just gone - less than 100 of them were outside of the Euro Tour. A huge percentage of where we have an edge is by knowing more about the darting world outside the elite than the market. Some of the better punts we had last year on the Euro Tour included Arron Monk over Florian Hempel, Nico Kurz over Dylan Slevin, Mickey Mansell over Matt Campbell, Cameron Menzies over Ricardo Pietreczko and Mike de Decker over Callan Rydz. Back to 2022 some of our best results were Niels Zonneveld over Alan Soutar, Scott Williams over Adam Gawlas, Karel Sedlacek over Adrian Lewis and Niko Springer over Jermaine Wattimena. How many of those sorts of games are we going to get next year? If we were to hold a Euro Tour based on how things stand right now, you would have the following players in round one - Nathan Aspinall, Peter Wright, Joe Cullen, Dimitri van den Bergh, Chris Dobey, Stephen Bunting, Martin Schindler, Andrew Gilding, Daryl Gurney, James Wade, Gian van Veen, Ryan Joyce, Gabriel Clemens, Jose de Sousa, Brendan Dolan, Raymond van Barneveld and Luke Woodhouse. How much change are we going to get out of that field? If they play each other, it's a known quantity match. If they play a host nation, Nordic or East Europe qualifier, most of the time it's a no contest. It's only if we get exactly them against one of the now much fewer tour card qualifiers that we may get a more interesting game - that's assuming that they don't run into a biggish name that becomes a known quantity match straight away. Ten names I've not mentioned - Scott Williams, Luke Littler, Kim Huybrechts, Callan Rydz, Martin Lukeman, Mike de Decker, Jim Williams, Willie O'Connor, Ricky Evans, Steve Beaton. Some might be moderately interesting, but a lot will fly straight into a no value situation. It's been a real sad 24 hours for the progression of the sport and the near universal dislike to the changes on social media is absolutely warranted.

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