How popular are darts in the U.K?

I just stumbled across an article about a young darts champion named Luke Littler. If there is professional darts as a sport strong textin the US I’ve never bumped into it. So how big is it in Europe and/or the U.K?

It’s fairly popular in the UK, particularly as a “working class sport” (to the extent that means anything). Competitions tend to be in relatively small venues but they also get streamed and even shown on the BBC occasionally. A few darts champions become more widely known (e.g. Eric Bristow, Bobby George), but it’s not on par with football, cricket or rugby.

No idea about the rest of Europe.

It spread from the UK to the European continent in about the last decade and a half. I remember it beginning to be a thing in Germany, at least in the sense that I took note of it, around 2008, and have been following it. the Netherlands are the leading darts country on the European continent, so I suppose it must have spread there sooner.

I think its spread is largely due to how the governing body, the PDC, produces it as a commercialised media spectacle, much akin to boxing; what certainly helps is the fact that its main event, the PDC World Championships (which is what Littler has been playing in) is on over Christmas and the New Year, when there isn’t much other sport to compete against.

As a whole, I think as a spectator sport it’s nowhere near football, but it has found a niche. As an amateur sport that people play casually in bars, it’s been around for decades.

Oh, and I watched the final of the World Championships last night (which Littler lost). Speaking as a German who’s currently physically in the UK.

If I may expand on this a little:

There are two governing bodies in darts that organise “world championships”. One is the British Darts Organisation (BDO), which was indisputably in the lead until the early 1990s, when a group of high-level professionals split to form their own organisation, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). At first the two groups battled each other (prohibiting their players from competing in the other’s tournaments, lawsuits etc.), but by now they’ve found a modus vivendi of tolerating each other’s existence. The PDC was more successful in marketing its events to the media, which means it is able to offer higher prize funds, which in turn means the strongest players aim to compete in PDC events, and that’s where the higher level of darts is being played. But in the UK, the PDC world championships are aired on Sky Sports, which is a subscription channel, whereas the BBC (free-to-air) broadcasts BDO events. As a result, the British public are generally more aware of the BDO, whereas in continental Europe, where PDC events are often broadcast free-to-air, it’s the PDC that gets more attention. PDC events used to be strongly dominated by British players until about ten years ago, but by now have a very sizable number of international participants. The BDO, I suppose, is still a more British operation.

When we went to London last year, we found a darts bar. Several dozen bays with a couple tables and a dart board - it was a fun set up, but we couldn’t get in because they were booked for days.

I enjoy throwing darts and have a nice set in a case. When going to someone’s home where I’ve never been, I bring along my darts on the very low chance that they have a board. It has worked just once but everyone was impressed.

The BDO no longer exists, it went bust in 2020. The last BDO World Championship was in 2020. As you say, this did used to be shown free-to-air on the BBC, but they have rarely if ever broadcast darts since.

A blank wall and a marker and you’re good to go.

You’ll always be welcome at my place. Two boards and lots of beer. But even as a guest, I will never let you win. No Freebies in Darts.

Darts players are commonly associated with heavy consumption of alcohol, certainly at the pub level, and at one time even the professional darts players always had a drink in the other hand. This seems to have been phased out now. Satirised by NTNOCN.

Stephen Fry, Prince Harry, and Jack Whitehall (a British comedian) are all fans of the sport.

I can’t even tell you how many T80’s I’ve thrown while holding a beer. Too many to remember.

I also threw one while holding a baby.

The perception of darts in my generation was very much tied to this guy Andy Fordham - Wikipedia

As others said, for a long time it always seemed he was balanced between the pint in one hand and the dart in the other, with somewhat predictable and tragic results, which may be a factor in the game cleaning up a bit, but you would still notice interviewers constantly asking Luke Littler what he does to celebrate given he cannot drink (legally at least) given it has such a strong association with the game.

My rough sense is snooker is more popular and taken more seriously though.

The BDO was seen as second tier to the PDC. The BDO world championship was held at Lakeside in Frimley Green, about 2 miles from where I live. I was in a pub nearby while the tournament was on and could watch it on TV as well as see a couple guys having a game. The guys in the pub were scoring better than the professionals.

As a casual sport played by pub teams darts is far more popular as even small pubs can accommodate a dart board whereas not many can hold a 6 foot by 12 foot table.

These seem to have sprung up around the UK in the last few years (also minigolf). I don’t know whether there has been a conscious effort to change darts’ image from something fat, middle-aged men play in dingy pubs, to something anyone can play in a trendy venue, but that’s what it feels like.

I think snooker still gets higher TV audiences in general, partly because you can watch the World Championships on the BBC (i.e. without paying the hefty monthly subscription for Sky TV, which shows the darts World Championship). In terms of casual play, darts may have the edge in numbers as it’s more accessible and requires much less space to host, as kferr says.

Interestingly, the same man (Barry Hearn) is the guiding mind behind the professional tours in both. Not everyone agrees with everything he’s done, but he’s certainly increased the international exposure of both, bringing more money into both games, some of which benefits the players. I believe he understands the intangible publicity benefit of keeping snooker on free to air TV, but darts was already embedded in Sky before he got involved.

By the turn of the century there was a noticeable gap in quality between the BDO and PDC, which only increased as more and more of the best players migrated to the latter, with its greater financial possibilities. However, put most pub players on a stage with an audience, let alone lights and TV cameras, and their standard will drop significantly under the pressure. That’s the real skill to darts (and other static sports like snooker, golf etc).