PAY for television has transformed the sporting world as we know it. The money that has changed the English Premiership into a billion dollar industry has been generated in the main from the pockets of the paying public up and down Ireland and the British Isles.
Whether it has been ‘good for the game’ is open to debate. Sure, it has made the league a global product and made millionaires out of a lot of young men but the sentimentalists long for the day when the English game was full of English and Irish players, the days when clubs like Nottingham Forest could win a European Cup.
The changes that the Sky Sports era has made to soccer can be debated until the cows come home but one sport that has benefitted hugely from the same era is darts.
Changing perceptions is not an easy thing. Darts was perceived for many years as a sport solely the home of beer guzzling, middle aged men, who had nothing better to do than throw three arrows at a board in a bid to make themselves ‘sportsmen’.
However, Barry Hearn, a promoter who is famed for making snooker a mainstream sport in the eighties, spotted a gap in the market for a sport that could appeal to the masses if shown in the right light, and in the last five years, his gamble has been a huge success.
This week, thousands have packed the Alexander Palace in London to have a great night out and watch darts players from all over the world bid to become World Champion of a sport that barely registered on a worldwide scale only a decade ago.
The pure attraction of the sport is its simplicity. Anyone with €40 for a board and €15 for a set of darts can play the game.
In a professional sporting era where the Holy Grail is but an aspiration for most young men, darts has provided a window of opportunity for a lot of hard-working men, and women, to have their moment of stardom live on Sky Sports.
Just this week, a butcher from New Zealand, a chef in the Irish army and a postman from the Philippines strode into a packed auditorium to take on some of the best at their sport in a one-on-one duel. Granted, none of them won, but it’s a story to tell their grandchildren.
And next week, the remaining players will all be hoping for a chance to take on Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, who is aiming for his fifteenth World Championship. Tune in.