INSIDE STORY: Darts a world phenomenon

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Leading the revolution: Phil Taylor is dart's most popular and successful player.

The violent crack of thunder, sonorous Las Vegas-style exclamation of the “16-time champion of the world” and pumping acid house-beat of Snap!’s The Power have combined to become one of sport’s iconic moments.

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Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor treated an event-record high of approximately 3,000 boisterous and passionate spectators to his trademark entrance as the third-running of the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters reached its crescendo on Friday evening. An epic final against Michael ‘Mighty Mike’ van Gerwen followed, with The Irish Village crowd witnessing a breathtaking show of skill as the Dutchman managed to see off a timeless display from the veteran performer by 11-8 to maintain his iron grip on the title.

The continued success of the tournament at a Middle Eastern venue – far removed from its traditional heartland in Great Britain’s working clubs – shows the growing power and allure of an attraction that is swiftly entering the mainstream across the globe.

“Darts has that great combination of sporting excellence and fantastic entertainment,” long-standing Professional Darts Corporation chief executive Matthew Porter said. “The standard of the game has grown measurably in the last few years, but the level of entertainment has gone up with it.

“It is all about the way the whole show is delivered, the players responding to the crowd and the crowd to players. It is a perfect combination.

“There is a lot more clamour for sponsors to be involved with darts – and from sectors you wouldn’t traditionally expect to be attached to the game. That is about how we have positioned the sport in the market.

“We are getting into more and more countries now with our television coverage. This Dubai event is live in Great Britain and Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, across Asia, in the Middle East as well as Australia and New Zealand.

“It is practically global coverage. We are not just a traditional British pub game anymore, we are a worldwide phenomenon.”

Darts is a modern success story, Taylor and visionary Matchroom Sport promoter Barry Hearn at the vanguard. It has become unrecognisable from the jaded product peddled by the out-of-touch British Darts Organisation. Hearn and a group of leading players changed it forever when they split to form the World Darts Council in 1992.

New bars are being set all the time. January’s 2015 World Darts Championship attracted more than four million viewers throughout on Sky Sports Darts – a dedicated channel from the satellite television provider previously only the preserve of behemoths such as cricket and Formula One.

Even the BDO World Darts Championship continues to be a ratings hit on free-to-air BBC, more than two million tuning in for the 2015 final as Scott Mitchell beat Martin Adams 7-6.

Taylor won £12,000 (Dh67,400) for his first of 14 PDC World Darts Championships in 1995. ‘Flying Scotsman’ Gary Anderson took home £250,000 (Dh1.4m) when he defeated ‘The Power’ 7-6 in January watched by 1.7m TV viewers.

‘The Power’ has had a ringside seat in darts’ development, establishing himself as a mega star at a time of unfathomable growth. 

The likes of Bobby George and Eric Bristow lit up the 1980s heyday. Yet Taylor’s progression financially and in status with the WDC and Professional Darts Corporation since its 1997 establishment has blown all previous notions away, with new frontiers like Dubai symbolising its evolution.

When asked about the success of the Duty Free Masters, Taylor replied: “It is great for me, I am probably one of the biggest shareholders in the PDC. Moneywise, that is important to me but so are the places as well.

“I personally think Dubai is the pinnacle, you cannot get any bigger than this. It is the best tournament we have ever done and the nicest place I’ve been to in my entire life.

“I love Sydney, Austria and Tokyo but Dubai is different. It is not the world, it is another planet all together.

“I look at Dubai and think in the next 10 years it will get better and better.”

“There is a lot more clamour for sponsors to be involved with darts” – Matthew Porter

In 1989, only the BDO World Championship was shown on television. This year, broadcasters from across the globe will televise many of the 102 events with 11 majors to an ever-hungry viewership.

The PDC has estimated it now has a potential audience of more than 300 million people worldwide with media giants such as Sky Sports, ESPN, OSN, RTL and Fox providing coverage.

The sponsors and partners list on the organising body’s website is also lengthy, including 19 entities. The £998,250 (Dh5.6m) taken home in prize money alone by World No1 Van Gerwen in the PDC Order of Merit which calculates this figure during a two-year period, shows how lucrative the profession has become.

Reigning World Champion and 2015 Premier League Darts winner Anderson believes there has never been a better – or more competitive – time to be involved.

“I wish I was 34 instead of 44,” Anderson jokingly bemoaned. “It is good at the moment. Darts has a lot of talent. We are classed as the old boys.”

Its historical venues and locations can no longer hold the sport. 

With Hearn declaring more than 10 times as many ticket requests were made for a seat in the 2,500-capacity Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally, as it is colloquially known) for January’s World Championship, a move to one of the London venue’s bigger halls has been mooted. But growth is occuring throughout the world.

Dubai was the first of five World Series of Darts events in 2015, the highest number of locations since it began in 2013. The Japan Darts Masters debuts in June, with trips Down Under to Perth, Sydney and Auckland following in August.

“Asia we see as a big market for us,” Porter said. “It has always been a popular participation sport there, so it is just that change of mentality from getting people watching the game from solely playing.

“We aim to do that in a lot of new markets. We are trying Japan this year, we were in Singapore last year and we are looking at Hong Kong.

“We have our stock events across the United Kingdom and western Europe. But in order to truly develop as a global sport, we need to broaden our horizons.”

Sports need their superstars for them to develop. The spotlight does not just shine on the two Dubai finalists. Anderson has been the best performer in 2015, Taylor protege Adrian Lewis remains in the mix while Peter Wright’s vibrant mohican stands out among the field.

Darts is breaking new ground in the standard of play, depth of well-remunerated professionals, television reach, locations played in and sponsors attracted. But for Taylor, the best is yet to come.

“I have never been this competitive,” he said. “I am playing every tournament the PDC puts on.

“For years, I used to turn up like Michael [van Gerwen] and start winning. But if you don’t get stuck in, it catches up with you – trust me. These players now are all dedicated, all practicing and doing everything they should do. If you think Michael van Gerwen is a good player, come and watch the youth tour. There are nine darters from lads who are 16 or 17-years-old.”

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On the radar: President's Cup final & NSL basketball fins

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Dubai this week: President's Cup final, NSL basketball finals & Dubai Golf Show.

We look at the sporting events lighting up the UAE over the next seven days including the President's Cup final, NSL basketball finals and Dubai Golf Show.

If we have missed anything please give us a nudge on Twitter using #360Fans @Sport360.

PRESIDENT’S CUP

Wednesday, June 3

The 2015 President’s Cup final will be an all-Dubai affair with Al Nasr setting up a meeting with eight-time champions Al Ahli. In the semi-finals Al Nasr got the better of a wearied Al Shabab to claim a dramatic 4-2 penalty shoot-out win, while Al Ahli scored once in each half for a 2-0 win against Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi.

Venue: Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
 

DUBAI GOLF SHOW
Thursday, June 4 – Saturday, June 6

A must for golfing enthusiasts. Beginners, amateurs and professionals alike will get an opportunity to explore an array of equipment and activities. World class equipment manufacturers, workshops, tuition from experts, state-of-the-art golfing gadgets, custom fittings, golf fashion, competitions and golfing holidays are all on offer.

Dubai Golf show for three days at Dubai Sports City.

Venue: Dubai Sports City 

Website: Dubai Golf Show

AL RAHA BEACH ULTIMATE GAMES, ABU DHABI
Wednesday, June 5 and Wednesday, June 12  

Introducing Ultimate Beach Games held at Al Muneera Beach, Al Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi. Enjoy fun activities and sports with family and friends to keep fit and healthy including the American Gladiator, Tug of War, Volleyball and many more fun beach activities.  

Venue: Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach

Price: Complimentary

NATIONAL SCHOOL LEAGUE BASKETBALL
Saturday, June 6

only four teams remain in Sport360's inaugural UAE-wide school basketball league. The U-14 final will be contested between Indian High School Dubai and the International School of Choueifat. Afterwards Sharjah rivals VISS and NFPS will do battle for the U-16 title.

Venue: Victoria International School Sharjah (VISS)

Website: NSL Basketball

DUBAI DESERT ROAD RUN – SUMMER SCORCHER
Saturday, June 6

The Dubai Desert Road Run is designed for serious and casual runners alike. It includes a 10km race for adults and those above 14 years old, a 3km junior race, ages 6 to 18, and a 3km fun run, which is untimed. Trophies will be awarded to the first three men and women in all age categories for the 10k run.

Venue: The Sevens Stadium

Website: Dubai Desert Road Run

UAE OPEN BADMINTON TOURNAMENT
Monday, May 18 – Friday, June 12

Launched in 1978, the tournament is the oldest of its kind in the UAE and is open to players who reside both locally and abroad. A total of eight ranked players from India and Malaysia have been invited and the winners will walk away with cash prizes, trophies and gift hampers worth more than AED 60,000. There are 26 categories catering for all age-groups from U-8 to veterans.

Venue: India Club, Dubai

Website: India Club Dubai

CITY FOOTBALL SCHOOLS IN AL AIN
April 13 – June 17

Manchester City’s Football Schools programme is running weekly training sessions for young players in Al Ain over the course of the next two months, bringing the Premier League champions’ style and coaching product to the UAE.

The professional coaching team offers a wide range of sessions available to boys and girls aged 5-14. All new players will also receive a City Football Schools kit.

Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain

Website: HBZ Stadium

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Happy Birthday – May 31 – Marco Reus, Jim Craig, Roshan Mahanama

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Superstar: Marco Reus.

Happy 26h birthday to the talented Maroc Reus, congratulations to Roshan Mahanama for reaching half a century and a huge happy 58th birthday to American ice hockey legend Jim Craig.

Marco Reus is German attacking midfielder for Borussia Dortmund. A quick, aggressive dribbler, Reus is considered to be one of the brightest stars in Germany and arguably the best player in BVB.

Jim Craig is retired American ice hockey goaltender and Olympic gold medalist at the 1980 Winter Games.

Roshan Mahanama is former Sri Lanka cricketer and currently ICC match refereee.

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