A competitor with a multi-colored mohawk makes his way to the stage, high-fiving fans along the way as a song by hip-hop artist Pitbull blares on the arena speakers. Other stars enter to rollicking tracks by The Who and The White Stripes. They go by nicknames like Snakebite, The Wizard, Bully Boy, The Flying Scotsman, and Voltage. All the while, cheerleaders gyrate and sparks shoot up from the stage. You wouldn’t be blamed if you mistook this description for a WWE event. But this isn’t pro wrestling—this is the Premier League Darts tournament. You read that correctly. Darts.
Most Americans likely associate darts as an activity to kill time in dingy bars or in their uncle’s musty rec room. BBC America looks to change that image. After all, darts in the U.K. is considered a serious sport. In fact, only soccer beats darts in sports TV ratings across the pond. While there is obvious appeal to Anglophiles stateside, BBC America also stresses other ways in which darts could appeal to Yanks.
The coverage plays up the bombastic, pro wrestling-like environment, hence the pyro and cheerleaders, not to mention elaborately designed videos playing on large screens on the stage. Perhaps the only real visual carryover associated with the old school activity are the polo shirts and slacks the players wear, though even some of these outfits are wildly designed. The fans in attendance eat up the scene the entire time, chanting in unison and cheering wildly. One might recognize this type of audience participation from soccer, but it’s also becoming more and more common in the world of wrestling, particularly WWE’s NXT, where commentators have to shout into their microphones just to be heard over the crowd noise.
The drama isn’t just limited to stage production, though. One of the biggest selling points of the sport is the cast of characters involved. The most outlandish and perhaps controversial of the participants is Scotland’s Peter “Snakebite” Wright, he of the mohawk that’s forever changing colors and painted pictures on the shaved sides of his head. (His hairdresser wife deserves much of the credit for his look.) Wright attributes his flamboyant appearance as a cover for his natural shyness, though fellow opponents in the Premier League like Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson see his smack-talking and showboating during matches to get the crowd pumped up as disrespectful. While his comebacks and thrilling play garners headlines, Wright probably drew more attention early in the current tournament by refusing to shake the hand of a fellow contestant, the much-respected Rob Cross.
But even with such attention-grabbing personalities and over-the-top stage theatrics, there’s no denying the chess-like tactics and throwing precision of the players. Take away the gimmickry and special effects, and you will witness some of the best dart competitors in the world. Whereas most of us experience darts as a bar game where we always aim and throw a wobbly dart to the bulls-eye, there’s more skill exhibited by these players, who work the smaller outer rings for points, rather than going for the obvious and often elusive center circle.
BBC America first expanded their dart coverage by airing the World Darts Championship from December of last year until this past January. This tournament featured 72 players from 24 countries, with England’s Rob “Voltage” Cross coming out on top. The BBC continued its darts push with a media blitz surrounding the current Premier League Darts tournament, which began February 1st and runs for 16 weeks with events that began in Dublin and will end at London’s famous O2 Arena on May 17th, with stops in major cities like Berlin and Rotterdam along the way. This tournament showcases ten of the most elite dart superstars, including Cross, Wright, and Simon “The Wizard” Whitlock, who sports a mullet with a dreadlock-ponytail that must be seen to be believed.
Premier League Darts also adds the stipulation of two players being eliminated following nine weeks until the top four compete in the final play-offs. The payoff is certainly enticing. While the competitors cash in with endorsements, the overall winner will take home 250,000 English pounds (around 349,000 in American dollars), while the runner-up collects 120,000 pounds (roughly $167,600).
After the recent fourth round, England’s Michael Smith leads in points, followed by Netherlands’ Michael Van Gerwen and Australia’s Simon Whitlock, with Peter Wright, England’s Rob Cross, and Scotland’s Gary Anderson close behind. But as we’re only three weeks into the tournament, there’s still a lot of darts to play before any contestants are even eliminated.
To catch all the dart action, tune in to BBC America Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET.