Will Americans love darts? Prominent sports promoter says 'timing is ideal.'
Eddie Hearn knows what you’re thinking because he’s already heard it from American television executives, sponsors, and reporters.
"Darts won't work with American viewers."
When the prominent British sports promoter pitches his vision of drawing impressive crowds and strong U.S. television viewership with darts, the initial reaction is to recoil as if an unsightly plate of bangers and mash has been set before them.
“Trust me,” Hearn replies, “just watch.”
Whether or not the appetite is there, Hearn is betting the time is right to explore the validity of his theory by bringing the United Kingdom's immensely popular Professional Darts Corporation to Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater June 3-4.
“This event is the start of the American journey,’” Hearn said. “Not only can everybody play darts, it’s more than that … the live spectacle is so much fun. I really believe it has great potential here.”
The New York stop, which will be streamed by DAZN, features some of the elite darts personalities, including Peter “Snakebite” Wright, “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn “The Iceman” Price.
Those names might generate a befuddled reaction in the states. But Hearn, best known as the boxing promoter who counts four-division champion Canelo Alvarez and former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in his Matchroom stable, said the PDC ranks behind only the English Premier League in U.K. television ratings.
The darts league accounts for the same one-third of Matchroom business as Hearn's boxing enterprise.
From pub game to growing spectacle
Hearn inherited darts from his father, Barry, who was gripped 20 years ago by the potential to expand a pub game watched by beer-swilling patrons and transform it into a raucous arena event accompanied by walk-in music, fan costumes, and riveting skill.
“I looked around and saw blokes having a good time, having a few pints, and having a bet,” Barry Hearn told GQ.
Soon enough, the personalities of the players began to take hold.
Barry Hearn recalled being approached by a darts thrower by the name of Steve Hine.
“I used to be a baker,” Hine said. “When I walk in, is it all right if I wear one of those baker’s hats and throw muffins to the crowd?”
“What do you mean, ‘Is it all right?’ That’s (expletive) brilliant, son,” Hearn replied.
Hine immediately became known as “The Muffin Man.”
The Hearns watched in delight as the PDC drew capacity crowds of 20,000 to some of its major events and routinely trounced boxing events on Sky Sports television with three times the viewership.
“I feel firstly, in a world where top sportsmen can be, quite frankly, a little arrogant and a little disjointed from the general public, these guys are our working-class heroes,” Eddie Hearn said. “They are normal people who have played this sport that is predominantly played in pubs and small leagues and have come through the system to start making millions of dollars a year, and they are grateful for it.
"It’s full of characters and personalities, and, over here, the fans have embraced these sportsmen while treating darts as a night out. People are turning up, having a beer, having a great time, coming in dress – it’s such a unique environment.”
Hearn hopes the appeal of darts fastens a similar rise from American players — past the highest levels of pub tournaments — to regional competitions and the pursuit of a PDC career.
Another element that could boost darts’ ability to capture the American audience is the increased legalization of online sports betting across the map.
Wagering on darts
While American bookmakers say that the darts competition abroad “hasn’t cracked it here,” showing “very little traction,” according to Tipico Sportsbook’s Sunny Gupta, the prospect for success could hinge on the American debut in June.
The formula made table tennis a highly popular online wagering attraction, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when operators described its all-hours action as the slot machine of sports betting.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine moved American betting shops to stop offering action on the Moscow Liga Pro, creating a void that darts could fill with its around-the-clock action.
The betting potential for darts in America is huge, according to Hearn.
“It offers lots of legs, lots of games and it’s fast-paced, as well. With the U.S. growing considerably in terms of sports betting, the timing is ideal.”
In the U.K., the PDC sought to attract bettors’ fervent interest by filling hotel ballrooms with dartboards and staging live events featuring the world’s top players competing in multiple round-robin competitions.
“We’d stream it to all the bookmakers, right into the betting shops on top of the big tournaments and weekday matches," Hearn said. “It’s a very easy sport to stream for constant live-action and late-night betting. It’s been a big betting success.”
At MSG, the PDC’s title sponsor is the online British betting shop Bet365, which is licensed in New Jersey as Bet365.NJ. A spokesman for the company said darts brings a “dedicated fan base” of bettors, with major events ranking behind only the wagering on soccer and horse racing.
“It’s a core sport for us,” the Bet365 spokesman said. “In the U.S., we know darts ranks more highly as a participation sport. The U.S. is a rich ground for betting companies, but the thinking behind our sponsorship is more about raising awareness about what we think is an amazing sport.
“We want to share the darts culture, to raise engagement about that excitement the Brits feel about going to the event and raising the profile of the players.”
Hearn expects 6,000 spectators to attend next week’s event.
“It’s going to take time, but the best thing that’s going to happen is that if the U.S. market just experiences it, they’re going to watch it,” Eddie Hearn said. “They’re going to cheer it and tune in.
“I feel like bringing it to New York to Madison Square Garden, knowing we’ll have a lot Brits and ex-pats there, as well, that the American audience will watch it and say, ‘This is crazy … we like this.’"
Hearn said he anticipates taking the PDC to Las Vegas in the near future.
“It’s a big move going to MSG, this is the start of the U.S. takeover for darts," he said. “We needed a statement event like this to make some noise, and I believe this is the beginning of darts in America.”
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