MOST sports with global ambitions bump into twin difficulties at one stage or another.
How to present your sports superstars, and their elite products, across the globe and throughout the year without them burning out horribly? Then how to crack certain very large, but notoriously difficult, markets and bring them into the fold.
Whether you think of it as World Series Darts or The Masters Series the PDC has built a formula and a presentation that has solved the first puzzle and may well have cracked the second as well:
Every Summer, and at other convenient times, the PDC ventures forth with a selection of its top stars. It then invites the local talent via its affiliates, or friends in those destinations, and presents a glitzy few days of top-class darts with all the PDC panache on show. It even manages to manufacture a season/year-end finale from these which doubles as another TV event featuring the best of the best but with dark horses and breakthrough stars.
Elements of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket can be seen in the concept of the best players being brought together to face each other in different formats with the all the razzmatazz and also of ATP Tennis’s Masters series and its, oft London-based, finals event.
The globe-trotting series has been a slow burn or a stop-start affair, with some elements proving an instant success and others taking tweaks and changes before breaking through. But those watching carefully would cite the breakthrough of Damon Heta as a major moment.
The Australian World Cup Champion had first shown his implacable nature and superb skills by winning the Brisbane Masters in 2019. To stroll onto the stage as a local qualifier and walk off with the trophy was unheard of. But suddenly these events were more than just glorified displays or exhibitions. Of course, we almost saw the ultimate fairytale with Fallon’s Nordic masters run in 2021.
2022 may not quite have had the impact of last year but Dimitri Van Den Bergh’s popular win, Gary Anderson reaching the final, and Fallon’s early victory ensured the event is well and truly anchored in the calendar.
Now they had the formula and the fairy tales sorted, could the PDC crack that difficult darts nut known as North America?
Superstar Exports? Check! The PDC had little trouble in persuading its marquee names to head to the USA for a leg of the Masters series. World champion Peter Wright, arguably the game’s biggest name in MVG, the other recent big event champions and, of course, the Queen of the Palace herself.
The Cream of Home Nation Talent? Check! Thanks to the concentrating effect of the Championship Darts Circuit (CDC) the last few years have seen a dramatic uptick in the numbers of highly competitive players emanating from those shores. In addition, they seem to have discovered a number of distinctive and interesting players that the audience is warming too. Danny Baggish, for example, has huge talent but a presence and story to match. The hosting of the North American Championship over the same weekend and in the same venue surely cemented this relationship.
Iconic Venue? Check! Darts and North America share a love of a venue that can hold the history of their sport whilst also being one of its characters. As with darts’ most cherished venues, ‘The Garden’ has a long history and is the host to many different types of events both sports and cultural. Add in its eye-catching surroundings and other local landmarks and surely it’s a match made in heaven.
After a two-year covid delay and many other stalled efforts to show steel tip, PDC darts at its very best it was finally time for the New York Masters to take to the MSG oche!
Peter Wright gave the event the full Snakebite routine, special shirts, walk-ons and a huge amount of pre-event media. The World Champion is darts’ most colourful salesman and surely ideal for the North American market. He also played rather well!
Leonard Gates risked a party pooper reputation by KOing Fallon Sherrock early. But, also made sure there was local representation, in the second phase, during what proved a fabulous weekend for the Army veteran dubbed The Soldier. Gates went on to claim the North American event defeating Baggish in the final.
Unsurprisingly, given the current form, it was Michael Smith who wrote his name in the history books. Becoming the first professional darts event winner in the esteemed venue.
Almost every comment to be heard in the hours and days after seemed to emphasise that this time the PDC had “ got America right….” Jeff Smith, the popular Canadian thrower, Peter Citera (no not the Chicago singer) CEO of the CDC, and many others waxed lyrical and promised to return. So did the PDC.
Within 24hrs the 2023 staging of both events was confirmed as returning:
“… staged the bet365 US Darts Masters and North American Championship on Friday and Saturday, with over 7,000 fans attending across the three sessions”
“The bet365 US Darts Masters and North American Championship have been a huge success and we’ve enjoyed two great days in the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden,” said PDC Chief Executive Matt Porter.
It has now been confirmed that the tournaments will return to New York on June 2-3 2023, giving fans another chance to see the sport’s best players taking on the cream of North American darts on the big stage.
“We’d had to wait four years to finally get to New York, but we’re already setting our sights on returning bigger and better in 2023.”
Masters of all they survey?
Words: CJ Harris-Hulme
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