Column #318 Is Darts Sexy Enough for American Television?

June 1, 2008
Column 318
Is Darts Sexy Enough for American Television?

So Bulls Eyes News’ Jay Tomlinson says to me, “I was wondering if you would consider the question above and write something up – serious but from the Dartoid perspective?” So I say back to Jay, “Are you serious about the serious part?” And he says back to me, “Yes and I need it tomorrow.” “What the hell,” I replied, “I can be serious.”

My first thought was of the incident with Jess Nicoll and the time she, the late Bucky Bakalac and I threw mixed triples together.

sexy-enough_dartoidSo owing to my pledge to Tomlinson, let me begin by setting the record straight about the rumors that have floated around since that fateful day: It was not Nicoll’s fault that my left eye got poked out. It was just that she turned around kind of fast-like and my eye was too close to somewhere it should not have been.

And there you have it folks, the answer to Tomlinson’s question: While in my humble opinion darts is not currently sexy enough for American television, it easily could become so.

Are you still with me? Are you lost? If you are, you ain’t seen Jess Nicoll!

The good news is that thanks to the creativity of promoters like the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) Tommy Cox and Dick Allix and the connections of their chairman, Barry Hearn, the sport in America is moving in the right direction. It’s just not there yet.

The sport needs more than just fancy stages like that big orange and purple thing the PDC erects in Las Vegas. It needs more than a bunch of big money tournaments at casinos like the Mohegan and the Mandalay Bay. It needs more than tuxedo-clad Masters of Ceremony like John McDonald and booming voice callers like Russ Bray. It needs more than gigantic electronic scoreboards, fog machines, walk on music and walk on girls. As incredibly attractive as Sid Waddell is he’s just not enough!

The sport needs sex appeal and it needs it on the line.

“If you build it, he will come,” whispered the mysterious voice to Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. “Bring on the BABES,” say I “and the audience will tune in.” Bring on Nicoll. Bring on Charity Buntz, Tee Ruleman, Melissa Wargo, Julie Heckman, Christina Oakley, Holly Carver, Keri Stevenson, Michele Olson and Suzana Vaccaro. Find Lori Verrier for chrissake! Get some MUD!

Okay, skip the mud.

If you want to attract a television audience in America it is past time that somebody (besides the producers of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars) remembered that sex sells. It’s selling tennis. It’s selling golf. It’s selling soccer. It’s selling swimming. It’s selling volleyball. It’s even selling poker (Google “Shannon Elizabeth” if you doubt me).

Sex appeal is selling frickin’ everything and it has been since the day Eve snagged Adam by sauntering into the Garden of Eden in that cute little Victoria’s Secret number.

I don’t care how you do it. And it doesn’t matter a whit where any of the ladies I have named are rated in the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) points standings. If you want darts to pull in the television ratings you have to make darts sexy – and with all due respect to you ladies out there who don’t fall out of your halter tops when you set up at the oche, this is just the way it is.

Sex sells. Athletic performance alone is not enough to build strong ties between players and the fans. Men (who comprise over 70% of the sports viewing audience in this country) want to see near-naked women. We’re sickos perhaps, but were not the only ones.

Make no mistake about it – the ladies are sickos too.

Just as Anna Kournikova, Lisa Harrison, Heather Mitts, Jenny Thompson, Lokelani McMichael, Michelle Wie, Gabriel Reece, Laila Ali and Danica Patrick have contributed to the television appeal of their sports by drawing in the male audience, sexy men have contributed to the television appeal of their sports by drawing in the female audience.

Just try telling me that women didn’t tune in to watch Michael Jordan – or that they flip the channel today when he appears in a boxer commercial. Just try telling me that women are not drawn to David Beckham, Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez, Ian Thorpe, Tiger Woods, Andy Roddick, Jason Taylor and Jose Theodore for more than their sporting skill (or their money). It’s simply not so.

It could be the same in darts.

Nicknames like The Power and Razor are not enticing enough and 180s and even perfect games are not spectacular enough to pull in the crowd. None of this, no matter how well framed with stage props and pizazz, can mask the reality that darts players, at least most of those at the top of the ranks, have an image problem.

Anna Kournikova never won a Grand Slam (singles) tennis tournament but more television viewers turned in to watch her in her heyday than tuned in to watch the men. Jason Taylor probably has a trophy room the size of my house but I guarantee women who don’t know the different between a touchdown and a home run will be tuning in next season after watching him foxtrot in prime time.

What the sport of darts in America needs to garner a viewing audience is players, men and women, with sex appeal, personality and skill and not necessarily in that order. America is just not going to tune in to see some tattooed fat boy in a beer-stained shirt fill up the triple twenty. They just aren’t.

But they will tune in – I flat-out guarantee it – if the promotion for a darts tournament were feature the appearance of, say, Mieke de Boer, who posed for Playboy in The Netherlands in 2005 and who won the World Darts Trophy and the British Open in 2002.

Now let me name some of the male darts players women drool over.

I don’t know why exactly (really, I don’t) but women I know frequently talk (just like the men do about some of the ladies), about Bill Bell, Rob Heckman, Dan Zimmerman, Bob Gargan and Brad Wethington. This however is absolutely all I’m going to say about the men because it gives me the CREEPS!

But the fact remains, whether people want to admit it or accept it or not: just as the sport needs to market the babes it also must market the pretty boys.

Now there are some who say none of this matters, that there is no market for televised darts in America and they are – how do I put this diplomatically… idiots.

Was there a market for women’s basketball – of course there was, but it wasn’t realized until there was professional marketing. Recognize, for example, that the market for women’s tennis was much smaller than for the men until it was marketed with sex-appeal. This past year, the Wimbledon women’s final pulled more television viewers than the men’s single final. This didn’t just happen. It has been happening and it has been happening because of a plan. The same applies to women’s golf. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) actually has a formal five-point plan to attract more fans. And one of the points in that plan is to market sex-appeal. The same goes for volleyball. The transition to short skirts and skimpy outfits in these sports occurred by design and it opened up the television market.

Of course there is a market for televised darts in America! If there wasn’t the PDC wouldn’t be tromping from coast to coast investing money trying to crack the market. They’ve already been through the first round of all this in America and despite what many would call lackluster at best (in terms of both promotion and production) the World Series of Darts premier episode drew nearly half as many viewers as an average airing of the World Series of Poker.

It was not a bust. The result simply underscored the opportunity that is there for the taking. The sports business in this country is no less an entertainment machine than the film and music industries and just like the film and music industries the sports business is looking for sexy celebrities.

Once the sport of darts is marketed to television executives with words and images the executives understand – yes, sex appeal – the market will expand and from that, since advertisers are interested in the exact same thing, will come the opportunity to convince potential sponsors to step to the plate.

It all comes back to sex appeal. That’s what sells. It always has and it always will. It is sex appeal that is the key to the future of televised darts in America.

Now I know that to some the very concept of marketing sex appeal is an anathema. The promotion of athletes, particularly women, on the basis, even in part, of sex appeal is considered by some to diminish their abilities. It poisons the minds of little girls (apparently causing them to dream of posing nude for Playboy). It’s unfair for someone like Michael Jordan to make millions wearing next to nothing in commercials while Brandi Chastain is chastised for flashing her sports bra.

Crap, all of it. Sorry folks. Live with it. Athletes in the ancient Olympic Games competed in the nude. Today the majority of our female athletes, dressed modestly as most do, would probably be stoned in many countries in the Middle East. It’s an inconsistent world.

Anna Kournikova may never have won a Grand Slam tennis tournament but she’s made millions off of her well marketed sexy image – and the number of Americans and others worldwide who watch televised tournaments have increased. Kournikova has helped her sport and it was no accident.

Her game plan was genius and it was founded on the one concept that is, always has been and always will be consistent in this world: sex sells. This is the same game plan that is needed to take the sport of darts to the Big Time in America. And there’s no better trio to make it happen than Tommy Cox, Dick Allix and Jay Tomlinson.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.