It isn't so long since darts was generally a bit of a joke in Britain.

The split in the early 1990s that resulted in two World Championships led many to predict the sport would whither and die.

In fact, it has grown to such a degree that it is now one of television's leading sports.

Each day next week, ITV4 will show around five hours of live coverage of the Grand Slam event featuring players from the PDC and BDO.

The top prize is £80,000 - more than the winner of every snooker ranking event bar the World and UK Championships will pocket - and a full house is expected at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

The rise in interest in darts can be attributed squarely to one man: Barry Hearn.

It was Hearn who realised the game's potential and marketed it with his usual flair and sound commercial decisions.

Let us not forget that two decades ago he was one of the biggest figures in snooker as manager of Steve Davis and various other leading players.

Hearn led expeditions to Thailand, Hong Kong, China and other outposts and helped build up interest that led to major tournaments being staged in these places.

He had bags of ideas and generated big bucks for his players but ran into what every entrepreneur who has ever become involved with snooker has suffered: envy and suspicion because he wanted to make money for himself.

The WPBSA's attitude to such people - from Mike Watterson to Hearn to Ian Doyle to Altium - has always been the same: we don't need you, we can do it all ourselves.

It is this attitude that has left snooker stagnated with fewer tournaments than in previous years and falling prize money while darts has thrived.

Hearn markets his sports at the top end. He concentrates on the stars - like the great Phil Taylor - because they generate the interest.

Because of how snooker is run, the same consideration has to be given to the world no.96 as the world no.1.

Actually, if the WPBSA used Hearn's model, the world no.96 would end up earning ten times as much as he does now because the sport as a whole would have a higher profile and there would be more playing opportunities.

Hearn still promotes snooker's Premier League but gradually became frustrated with the snooker world and concentrates instead on darts and other sports.

Nobody laughs at darts today. Snooker can learn a great deal from the way Hearn has transformed that game and should treat the next entrepreneur to come to our sport with greater respect.

1 comment:

Chris Turner said...

Great article, David, and so very true. We used to have some great invitation events lihe Hearn's World Matchply and the Regal (Scottish Masters) promoted bu Doyle. I know they did nothing for the lower ranked players but it gave them something to aspire to.

For me snooker's decline began when they took over there own promoting from Mike Watterson & others but the major error was, in hindsite, opening the game to all comers in the early 1990s. OK thta did mean that most of today's top players had an easy route onto the tour but if a player is good enough he will get on anyway. 500 odd players in every one of ten or even more ranking events was just too clumbersome not to say expensive.

Falling out with promotors has been a repeating story. It is not just Watterson, Hearn & Doyle. We used to have two ranking events in Thailand every year but they fell out with the major promoter there - I forget his name. I wonder how long the new relationship with China will last. The difference this time is that, if it does fail, I believe it will be China which takes over and World Snooker will be left with nothing.