Luke Littler. Whether you’re a darts fan or not, you’re sure to have seen or heard the name. The 16 year-old darts phenom, who took the 2024 World Dart Championships by storm, has become a household name and put darts back on the map following a post-Covid-19 struggle. In fact, when asking a group of Gen-Z’ers and Millennials their thoughts on darts, my favourite response was ‘Luke Littler’.
But as we all know, unless you invest in keeping momentum going, the fall can happen as quick as the rise. So, with Barry Hearn having taken it as far as he has single-handedly, how can the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) learn from the World Champs and how can they capitalise on Littler’s success to push beyond expectations? Let’s explore.
Once again the ownness lies on the individual, where it’s up to the players themselves to get closer to fans and bring new ones into the fold. We’ve seen this recently with the English National football team, the Lionesses who, following the historic 2023 WEURO’s win, saw the brand catapult to new heights in large part thanks to the players. Whilst the win helped with the brands growth of course, it was the way the Lionesses themselves – individually – who grew their personal brands and showed what it meant to be a women’s football player. Lucy Bronze, Chloe Kelly, Leah Williamson, Millie Bright all found personal fame and gained individual sponsorship deals off the back of their personal stories.
We’re seeing similar in America with the rise of NIL (name, image, likeness) opportunities for college athletes, where these athletes can now build their own personal brand and stories and rely less on the need to go professional to make a living off their talent.
When it comes to Darts, for so long the players have been fairly similar – white, 35 years+, with darts being all we know about them. Whilst the likes of Phil Taylor and Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld of course brought stardom, it arguably kept darts within the niche sport spectrum and we’re yet to see the sport go truly mainstream.
But with Darts being one of the most inclusive (even if we’re not quite seeing this yet) and individual sports in the world, and with the likes of Luke Litter, this year’s champion Luke Humphries and the first female professional player, Fallon Sherrock, this is the perfect time for the PDC to focus on growth.
Invest in personal brand workshops for players: Teaching players how to use social media and develop content to bolster their personal brands will support in growing their personal followers whilst also using their personalities to educate others on the sport of darts
Invest in content: Throughout the year – not just at tournament time – the PDC should be showcasing the players, behind-the-scenes of training / tournaments and in telling authentic stories to educate those in the world of Darts, akin to NBA. Fans want to see players away from their professional side too and new fans, want to understand the game and how they can get involved.
Target more accessible and respectable sponsors: Consumers today, especially Millennials and Gen-Z, are more aware than ever on the types of sponsors; and they make consumption decisions based on it. Historically, darts sponsorship is predominantly tobacco, alcohol and betting – industries a lot less appealing to the target audience. Moving forward, and like we’re seeing with Luke Littler, players agents and the PDC should be going after sponsors like Monzo, Five Guys, BMW.
Terrestrial v paywall: There was great debate on X recently where commentators felt if the World Darts Championships were on terrestrial TV, it would bring new audiences. However, little appreciate how Sky Sports have been the only broadcaster willing to host the competition for years. Authenticity is key and ditching those who’ve supported you for so long feels hasty and like the wrong thing to do. Instead, the PDC should look to barter a deal similar to Formula 1, where a terrestrial TV channel can host delayed highlights.
Link to Flight Club: Flight Club is already doing brilliant things for the sport – focussing on the continued trend of Millennials and Gen-Z’ers wanting more than just a pub to drink at. Instead, they’re after activity and ways to connect with mates. Flight Club allows all this through the beauty of darts. Could the PDC host fan zones at Flight Club during the Global Series or World Champs? Could they send players to local venues to compete against punters?
Bring back the dartboard: Most professional darts players started out in their dad’s favourite pub or on a darts board in the backyard. That’s the beauty of the sport – you don’t need much equipment. But pubs, backyards, youth clubs and sport facilities have seen dramatic declines in the inclusion of a dartboard. Whilst some question the physicality of the sport, the target skill required is exercise for the brain. It’s an easy game to pick up, a fun one to play with mates and the PDC should focus on getting boards back!
These are just six ways the PDC, its players, agents and promoters could grow the sport of darts, what’s missing?