“This is the week Christmas begins,” said sports promoter Barry Hearn earlier this week in a not-so-subtle reminder to his Twitter following that the 2017 edition of darts’ annual showcase, the PDC World Championship, was nearly upon us.
Today, it is upon us, and though many would question whether there’s enough athleticism in darts to make it a sport (that’s for another blog!), few wouldn’t doff their cap to Barry and his team at Matchroom Sport for the extent to which they’ve growth both the PDC World Championship and the popularity of darts worldwide.
Indeed, with a prize pot that’s increased 10% to reach £1.65 million in 2017, four different winners in the last five years and a live event experience at London’s iconic Alexandra Palace that few other sporting events could rival, the PDC World Championship is in rude health.
And according to SMG Insight analysis – using data from our state-of-the-art media monitoring and valuation tools – the event is not only growing its audience overall, it’s attracting a more diverse following.
In the UK, darts’ biggest market, overall TV viewership for the 2016 PDC World Championship (which took place between 17 December 2015 and 3 January 2016) was 6.86 million – up 19.2% on 2014.
The 2016 final audience peaked at 1.7 million – the biggest-ever audience for darts on Sky – while the average audience was 908,300 – an increase of 33% on the 2014 final, which drew an average of 685,300 viewers.
Darts is now one of Sky’s best-performing sports and the broadcaster has dedicated a whole channel to the World Championship, Sky Sports Darts, every year since the 2015 event.
However, it’s not all about top-line numbers, as the UK broadcast coverage is also attracting a younger audience: the 2016 World Championship coverage on Sky drew a 3% year-on-year increase of viewers from the 25-34 age group, a 1% decrease in viewers from the D/E social demographic, and an 8% increase in viewers from the C1/C2 social demographic. A third of the darts audience on Sky over the last four years has also been female.
These figures are important – and music to the ears of the darts fraternity – because there is a stereotype often directed at darts that its fanbase is made up of older men from the working classes. That may still be true to a certain extent, but it’s audience is certainly shifting to a more diverse demographic make-up – which was seen first hand during the 2015 World Championship when Prince Harry was pictured enjoying a night’s action at Ally Pally.
It’s also worth stressing this isn’t solely a UK phenomenon – both the PDC World Championship and darts more generally are enjoying strong growth on TV in key markets across the globe. The Netherlands is darts’ strongest TV market outside the UK, while eyes should be directed towards Canada, which experienced triple-digit TV viewership growth for the sport in 2016 compared to 2015.