World Matchplay: PDC chief executive reveals walk-ons and crowd noise behind closed doors

“The fans, in any sporting environment, they make the event and make the atmosphere.”

PDC chief executive Matt Porter is sitting in his hotel room, awaiting the results of his coronavirus test, along with the rest of the players and officials who will be on site in Milton Keynes for darts’ second biggest tournament of the year.

But there will be one aspect of the sport that will be missing.

“Any sporting event is poorer without fans, we’ve seen that in football and cricket as well,” Porter said.

“It’s a shame and it’s a shame for the people at home who look forward to going to Blackpool or wherever it may be.

“Hopefully, all it does is whet their appetite a bit more for 2021, when fingers crossed we can be delivering what we normally would do.”

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There’s a very different look to it this year, as sport adjusts to being played behind closed doors – but as we’ve seen technology can work wonders and the PDC and Sky Sports are teaming up to ensure the viewing experience – and, most importantly, the players’ experience – doesn’t suffer.

Nigel Pearson will step in after Sunday’s news that Dave Clark will be standing down as Sky Sports Darts presenter, and Pearson will be joined in Milton Keynes by John Part, Devon Peterson, Laura Turner and Mark Webster for expert analysis.

Walk-ons, crowd noise and a video wall are all part of the experience over the next nine days – it’s worked for football, rugby and cricket and Porter is confident darts will see the same positives.

“We’re looking at fake crowd noise to create some sort of atmosphere, I think that the players will respond to that better than they would do to a silent hall.

“We will have that playing in the background and it will be a little bit a trial and error at the start. There’s been plenty of testing and we’ve been working closely with Sky, the players have been sending videos of themselves dancing around to 180s at home.

“There will be walk-ons, the players may feel a little awkward with that but there will be some videos to help them along their way. We’re not going to ask them to walk too far, though!”

The PDC have installed a projector screen into the arena, where fans are being urged to send in their celebration videos, while much like Premier League stadiums banners are in place and at the Masrhall Arena they will depict the former winners of the tournament.

There’s an argument that darts has led the way when it comes to sport in lockdown. The innovative Home Tour lasted more than a month, kept more than 100 Tour Card holders active and the sport’s fans entertained.

To their credit, the PDC were duty bound to support every player, not just the elite and that much was evident with the priority being the return of the the Pro Tour which happened last week, at the very same Marshall Arena that will host this week’s action.

“It’s shown what the PDC is an innovative, forward-thinking organisation that can act nimbly and effectively and adapt to different scenarios.

“We’ve got the benefit of our infrastructure within the Matchroom group and we’ve got some creative people. We’ve been able to come up with concepts like the Home Tour and the Summer Series to keep darts alive at this difficult time, I think that both of them worked and did what they were supposed to do.”

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“It’s an emotional time for us all after Clarky’s announcement.

“I feel like the caretaker manager taking over until told otherwise.

“I’m honoured to hold the fort & look forward to nine great nights of action.”

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The Summer Series delivered in spades, not only did everyone on site return a negative test, but the very best players showcased their skills, as if they had never been away.

Peter Wright won the five-day Order of Merit as well as Sunday’s tournament, Michael van Gerwen picked up a couple and James Wade was also in the winner’s circle.

All the action took place in Milton Keynes, which is fast becoming the home of darts, and Matchplay Sport after the successful hosting of two snooker tournaments at the venue before the Summer Series and the Matchplay.

On Wednesday it was announced that the resumption of the Premier League will take place over nine nights at the Marshall Arena, but what is it that makes it ideal?

“It works very well for us here, with the onsite hotel and arena, it’s a self-contained venue, that definitely helps.

“It’s a central location, close to the motorway and airports so pretty much everyone can get in relatively easily. It’s a venue that we’ve got an excellent relationship with, that understands our needs and can service those.

“You need to be somewhere that’s operationally effective and the Marshall Arena is certainly setting a blueprint for behind closed doors, indoor sports.”

“It’s great to have darts returning to our screens and huge efforts from the Sky team and the PDC to bring such an important event in the Darts calendar.

“I know that darts fans and Sky viewers will love seeing their heroes back on our screens.”

Georgina Faulkner, Director of Multi Sports, Sky Sports

As for the tournament itself, the very best the game has to offer will be in attendance. The top 16 players from the Order of Merit are joined by the 16 best players on a one year qualification table, it means the prospect of James Wade-Gary Anderson and Peter Wright-Glen Durrant lurk as a second-round ties.

Porter can’t speak highly enough for how the players came through last week in Milton Keynes and have adapted to that most used of phrases ‘new normal’.

“Their approach has been professional, they’ve been understanding, appreciative, they’ve acknowledged that things are not as they were before and they’ve embraced the new situation.

“I think that they’re grateful to have the opportunity to be playing competitively and earning prize money again. I can’t fault any of them at all, they’ve been spot on.

“At the Summer Series we had 128 players in one room, I don’t think that there are many other sports that have done that, and we didn’t have one issue. Hats off to the players, they’ve been a credit to darts.”

Finally, what of the next nine days, and a very different look to an event that is a big part of the sporting summer. There may not be the atmosphere of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, but it’s a big tournament, with big prizes at stake for players returning to their day jobs.

“I went down and the stage and the set looked great it looks like a big event. It’s just a shame that there won’t be people there to watch it. Ultimately, it’s still £700,000 worth of prize money and £150,000 to the winner.

“There will be 32 players who, I’m not going to say that they won’t care that there’s not a crowd, but they won’t let that get in their way of wanting to lift that coveted trophy.

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