Premier League Darts to drop ‘challengers’ format, says Matt Porter
PDC chief executive Matt Porter has confirmed that this year’s Premier League Darts line-up will be revealed following the World Championship final, although the ‘Challengers’ format will not return for a third consecutive campaign.
The concept was introduced in 2019 following Gary Anderson’s withdrawal through injury, and although Luke Humphries was the solitary ‘challenger’ to register victory, it has provided a multitude of memorable moments.
However, with the sport’s biggest roadshow expected to be pushed back, Porter exclusively told the Darts Show podcast that the 2021 edition will return to its original ten-player format.
When asked whether the challengers concept was being considered, Porter admitted: “It’s not something we’re looking into at the moment, no.
“We will certainly announce the players [Premier League] after the final, but the idea at the moment is to keep options open, because if things have to change, then we don’t want to be committed to something we can’t uphold.”
Adaptability will continue to be crucial for the sporting world throughout 2021 and the PDC demonstrated their ingenuity in adversity, receiving a gold award at the recent Sports Business Awards for the innovative Home Tour.
“What we’ve tried to do is keep the darts element as close to normal as it can be,” added the PDC Chief Executive.
“The events may have fallen down in respect of live crowds and sponsors, but the actual darts side of things has been as close to normal as we could have got them, and that’s certainly made it easier and more bearable for people.”
Just a few days ago, it was announced that the 2021 Qualifying Schools scheduled for January in Milton Keynes and Niedernhausen have been delayed until February, due to heightened restrictions across Europe.
The season-opening Masters is set to take place in January as planned, although beyond that, no definitive plans have been finalised.
“We’ve put Q School back. We’ll do the Masters at the end of January and then beyond that, we are still reviewing our options,” Porter added.
“We want to be able to complete as much of the year as possible, but we’re in a different scenario here, because in 2020 a lot of it was a case of finishing things we’d already started.
“We obviously haven’t started anything for 2021 yet and we’ll have that little pause in January which will give everybody time to take stock, see how the land lies in terms of restrictions and what’s allowed, not just here in the UK, but in different territories as well.”
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January 2, 2021, 6:00pm
The Premier League traditionally gets underway during the first week of February, although given the logistical challenges posed by the ongoing restrictions, that is expected to change this year.
“The Premier League Darts for example is played under seven different jurisdictions – the four home nations and Ireland, Netherlands and Germany. It’s all very well saying ‘great, you can have a crowd’, but in all seven countries?” he continued.
“There are going to be a lot of variables and a lot of things are still going to move, but hopefully the vaccine roll-out will continue abound and that will ease things up for us.
“Certainly after the Masters we are taking a view on what will be the right timing to stage certain events.”
The remaining ten nights of last year’s Premier League were played over an intensive 14-day period in August and September, although there are no plans to replicate that in 2021.
“We would hope not, because the momentum that it builds over time is part of its strength – the week-on-week storyline is good for fans and media, but obviously if we can’t do things, then we can’t do things,” Porter conceded.
The PDC has become a global phenomenon over the last decade – there were nine different nationalities represented in the last 16 of this year’s World Championship, which is testament to the sport’s evolution.
The World Series has been a catalyst for this growth, but last year’s events in New York, Copenhagen and the triple-header Down Under were all cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation they’re hoping to avoid this year.
“We are very conscious of our international stuff,” insisted Porter.
“We’ve had a lot of players over the last few weeks – whether it’s World Series Finals, World Cup or here at the World Championship, who have turned up and had next to nothing all year tournament wise.
“They have turned up dry and that’s been difficult for them because a lot of the affiliate tours have fallen by the wayside. With the World Series it is a similar kind of thing, but again, you talk about the different governments and the logistical challenges.
“Clearly if we have to go to Australia and quarantine for two weeks, it makes it impractical. If we have to go to Madison Square Gardens and socially distance it makes it very difficult, so we will look at it.
“The advantage of the World Series is that it is quite stand-alone. It doesn’t necessarily impact on too many other things, so we’ll see how that goes and they’re conversations I’ve got lined up for January.”
Speaking after a thrilling night of quarter-final action at Alexandra Palace, Porter heaped praise on this year’s field and believes that hosting the event at its spiritual home has been integral to its success.
“Everybody has shown a significant amount of mental strength in difficult circumstances and spirit as well – people got it, they understood it was going to be different and they were pleased to still have the opportunity to work.
“You can’t overstate the importance of this tournament to the players. It was critical for us that we still delivered it at Alexandra Palace – same practice room, same stage.
“We’ve had to try to make it more like a World Championship – some of the other events by being staged in Milton Keynes and Coventry, through no fault of Milton Keynes or Coventry, lost a bit of identity. I think this event is unquestionably the World Championship.”
1,000 fans were welcomed back into the UK darting arenas for the first time since March on the opening night at Ally Pally, yet any hopes of fans attending for the duration were soon curtailed as London entered Tier 4 of Covid-19 restrictions.
With the official government announcement coming on the eve of the event, it was another hammer blow for the PDC, but Porter insists financially they are making provisions to cope without crowds for potentially another elongated period.
“We’ll adjust our business to make sure we can continue to ride it out. We still have reserves and resources to keep ploughing on and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think in our heads we’re looking at what is going to happen at spring time, Easter. Is that going to herald a step back towards normality? Are we going to have to stomach another 12 months?
“Unfortunately, we don’t get to find out these answers a long time in advance, so we have to make sure we’re flexible, we have to make sure that we’re creative, and we have to make sure that we’re keeping in communication with everybody else that’s involved.”
You won’t miss a dart thanks to the dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel all the way until January 4 with every session from the World Darts Championship, including the final on Sunday, January 3. Check out daily Darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts
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