Column #286 Could Cricket have saved the World Series of Darts?
February 28, 2007
Could Cricket have saved the World Series of Darts?
The question has been posed: Would the World Series of Darts have been successful had the choice of game been cricket instead of 501?
I agree that cricket is America’s game, that there is more strategy involved in cricket than 501, and that had cricket been the game selected for the World Series of Darts the show would likely have appealed to a somewhat wider audience.
But the result would not have been the slightest bit different. Not that the result had anything to do with the size of the viewing audience…
It was in the editing room that the series was doomed to die. It was the production of the World Series of Darts that failed the event, not the event itself.
In a way, it was like announcing the Victoria’s Secret Topless Darts Tournament and then having the girls dress like Eskimos.
The World Series of Darts was billed as a once in a lifetime chance for someone, perhaps even an average darter like you or me, to battle their way against the heaviest of odds and, just maybe, achieve the Impossible Dream – a million dollar payday.
The March to the Mohegan it was called…
But someone lost track of the plot.
The crew that followed the qualifiers around the country shot hundreds of hours of film and spent a great deal of time, in some cases a couple of days, with some of the players – going to their homes, places of employment, and visiting with their friends and families.
There was an opportunity missed to create excitement around the event – largely as a result of the decision to not highlight the American players involved and follow their momentous march. Clearly this was a conscious decision.
It was also just plain dumb.
ESPN could have “created” an audience, regardless of the game played or the format or who ultimately won, that might have ensured a future for the show. Why they didn’t do this is a bit of a mystery, but not a complete mystery. But what they did do – why they didn’t follow the march – can be explained.
While some of what I am about to say is speculative, I suspect that what we have come to know as the World Series of Darts wasn’t even on the agenda when Michael Davies and Barry Hearn first sat down to talk things over.
My guess is that what ultimately became the World Series of Darts was more Davies’ idea than it was Hearn’s (and that Hearn accepted it because, as imperfect as the idea may have been, successful or not, it fit his larger plan).
While their goals are the same – to make money – their strategies are different. Davies makes his money producing television shows. Hearn is banking on the global appeal of the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) professional tour. His goal in America is to find and develop a market and sell into it.
Put differently, Hearn envisions a different kind of television show than Davies’ bread and butter.
It is quite possible that Hearn came to Davies with a proposal that had absolutely nothing to do with the World Series of Darts – and that it was Davies (whose success with Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Wife Swap leaves no doubt that he has his finger on the pulse of what sells in America) who came up with the idea of a big “million dollar show” of some kind.
There is indeed some evidence to suggest that the PDC was caught by surprise when the news of the event leaked out in the New York Times. So it is possible that the event and the show took on a life that was not originally intended.
Finding and developing an American player who can compete regularly at the level a John Part has in the PDC has great sales value to Hearn. Over the longer term, a bunch of Brits winning everything does Hearn no good outside of England. He needs to develop world class talent in other markets and bring that talent into the PDC.
Or he needs to coax the talent away from where it is, as in the case of Ray Barneveld (and now others) who left the moribund British Darts Organization (BDO) for the limelight and potential big paydays of the PDC.
The Americans need to play the best regularly to hone the skills needed to fit into Hearn’s plan. Hearn understands this. It is to his benefit to help make it happen.
In the case of the World Series of Darts, Hearn could produce the top sixteen players in the world. It is possible (although I doubt it) that Hearn simply convinced Davies that a series concentrated on the best is what would sell best (hence the lack of focus on the qualifiers and the individual Americans). If this is how it played out I must believe that Davies doubted it would work – but acquiesced to the concept. My guess is that Hearn thought it would work.
If it evolved differently – if Hearn approached Davies, as suggested above, but Davies convinced Hearn that the idea would not work without a million dollar twist to grab the public, my guess is that both of them thought it would work.
Whatever happened, both of them were wrong. But over the longer term it doesn’t really matter that much to either Hearn or Davies or the future of darts in this country. They can still achieve their goals. Darts can still explode in America.
I have it on good authority that the World Series of Darts wasn’t and isn’t Barry Hearn’s ultimate objective in America anyway – that whatever the real story is behind how the event came to be, it was no more than a plank (and perhaps one that he didn’t conceive or particularly need – but that he accepted due to time constraints and because it could only help) in a wider plan, that essentially being to create something similar in America to the wildly successful Premier League in the United Kingdom.
With the World Series of Darts now in a body bag, a series of professional events due to kick-off in May, and talk all over the country about starting singles leagues and holding longer format singles-only tournaments, all is heading in exactly the right direction in America.
While among some darters there may be a clamor for a televised World Series of Cricket or something similar, and while I think this is all just dandy, it just ain’t in the cards. Live with it.
This is not for a moment to suggest that a tournament featuring Victoria’s Secret girls is out of the question. But just as with the World Series of Darts I guarantee you that the choice of game, cricket or 501, will have no effect on the size of the viewing audience.
It will all come down to the editing.
From the Field,
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