"Darts Finds a Spotlight Beyond the Bar"
Once burdened by an image of booze-swilling, cigarette-smoking players, darts has become a major industry in Europe, with millions of dollars in prize money.
December 13, 2012
The former world champion made his way to the stage, wielding a light saber and flanked by Princess Leia and a posse of Stormtroopers, while the sellout crowd, merry on Christmas cheer and liters of beer, roared in approval.
Over the public address system, “The Imperial March” — Darth Vader’s theme — played at ear-shattering volume. The fans, many dressed as Mr. Incredible, pirates, animals or the Jamaican bobsledders from the film “Cool Runnings,” had scrawled messages on placards, hoping the television cameras would spot them.
These scenes played out at world championship sporting events in recent years. Specifically, the World Darts Championships.
A game that was once considered merely a bar pastime is now a major industry in Europe. Over the holiday season, Premier League soccer is the only sport that will attract more television viewers in Britain than the Professional Darts Corporation’s World Championship, the higher-quality and better-attended of darts’ two world championships.
This year’s tournament begins Friday at Alexandra Palace in London, with 72 players from 21 nations competing for $1.6 million in prize money. The winner of the final on Jan. 1 will take home $321,000, crowned as the first world champion of 2013 in any sport.
About 40,000 fans are expected to watch the action in a hall that, with its long tables and endless pitchers of beer, resembles something from Oktoberfest — and they may even be joined by royalty. Prince Harry attended the semifinal two years ago, and Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter and an Olympic equestrian medalist, was in the crowd for the most recent final.
A sport that once was, and to a large extent still is, synonymous with the working classes has garnered a much wider social appeal in recent years...