Professional Darts Looks To Hit Bull’s-Eye With U.S. Viewers
FS1 to carry six hours of darts coverage this weekend
Can professional darts become a hot TV property, like professional poker, in the U.S.? Fox Sports is beginning the journey to find out, televising the U.S. Masters at the Tropicana Las Vegas on FS1 this weekend. And a couple of former Fox Sports stalwarts, David Hill and George Greenberg, are at the center of it: Hilly Inc. is co-promoting the event with Barry Hearn’s Professional Darts Corp. (PDC).
“It’s just going to be a hell of a lot of fun,” Hill, who is president of Hilly Inc., told the Sports Business Journal this week. “I think it’s something that’s got a better than a break-even chance of working, given the fact that this is the most crowded sports market in the world. If poker can find a niche, darts can, too, given that it’s now become this worldwide phenomenon.”
FS1 is on-board to televise six hours of action, with two-hour programs following each day’s competition. Fox Sports’ Chris Myers serves as tournament host; Jesse May calls the play-by-play; John Part, a three-time World Darts champion, the match analyst; and Kate Abdo reporting.
The three-day tournament represents the first time PDC’s World Series of Darts — a circuit that includes events in Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, and China — has been hosted in the U.S.
Coverage began with an eight-player North American Championship held yesterday and televised on FS1 via same-day delay at 12:30 a.m. ET. This event determines the domestic champion, who earns the right to represent North America at the 2017-18 World Championship in London.
Today, the eight North American qualifiers are drawn against eight PDC World Series of Darts players specifically invited to compete at the U.S. Masters. FS1 will carry U.S. Masters Day One action tonight at midnight. The eight winners of Day 1 competition will play down to a single U.S. Masters Champion tomorrow, televised on FS1 at midnight Saturday. The final round will re-air on FS1 on Sunday July 16 at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday July 29 at 11:00 p.m.
Matchroom Productions oversees production of all PDC events and is on hand, working from NEP SS22A and SS22B. The core coverage relies on 12 cameras, and Greenberg, who is producer, Hilly Inc., notes that the B unit has been turned into a studio for the FS1 team.
“The tournament ends locally at 5 p.m., and then we are on-air at 9 p.m. so it is a very quick turnaround,” he explains. “We have to condense four hours of coverage down to a two-hour show.”
The FS1 announce team will call the action live and conduct backstage interviews and color pieces, with players rotating into the studio. Although the show is being produced by PDC, the Hilly Inc. team will use an Avid editing system to edit it down. An editor well-versed in the intricacies of dart coverage will help ensure that the right content makes the cut for the final two-hour show.
“They keep going,” says Greenberg, “so we have to keep going as well.”
One challenge is cutting the show down but also making sure there is enough time to help viewers in the U.S. understand what professional darts is all about.
“We have to spice it up and make it presentable because most of the audience that watches will not know anything about darts,” says Greenberg. “The cultural challenge is to help them embrace a sport like darts. Our announcers have to present it in a way that sets a hook with a narrative and storyline.”
The event will be held in a ballroom with about 1,000 people. And, although the energy might not rise to the level of a 15,000-seat arena in the UK, there will be plenty of noise and excited fans.
“Darts is infectious. When you go into a pub in the UK, there is always soccer on one TV and darts on the other,” Greenberg points out. “It’s an incredible sport once you see what kind of skill it takes to throw a dart to within 0.01 in. of where you are aiming.”
Anyone who has watched darts for more than 15 minutes understands how the hook can be set. The games are quick, the error margin nil. And the use of split screens that always show the player’s face makes it is easy for audiences to become familiar with the personalities.
“There are no helmets, and a lot of the guys are just regular guys who play darts on the side and have stories,” says Greenberg. “It can resonate with young viewers because anyone can step up and do this. You don’t have to be the size of a linebacker. You just have to hone skills and learn how to be relaxed all the time and take a breath when you are on a stage this big. Plus, we have soccer as a lead-in, so we can grab some of those young fans.”