PDC chief executive Matt Porter optimistic darting crowds could return in coming months

PDC chief executive Matt Porter is hopeful that crowds could be welcomed back in the coming months, but he insists Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena could be considered to host further major tournaments throughout 2020.

Milton Keynes is playing host to this year’s Matchplay, after the tournament was moved behind closed doors and away from its spiritual home at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Marshall Arena was also the destination for the return of competitive darts at the recent Summer Series, as it was able to provide a protected environment to ensure the safe staging of the event.

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The PDC also announced last week that the Premier League Darts season will resume with six consecutive nights behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena from August 25-30.

Just days later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson paved the way for sports fans to return to stadiums from October in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The Prime Minister said trials would begin to see larger gatherings occur in sports stadiums from August, although Porter explained why this move may have come too soon for certain Premier League nights.

“We were aware of the test events scenario that’s come out, obviously our colleagues at the World Snooker Championships are doing similar sort of planning,” Porter told the Darts Show podcast.

“One of the main fundamental differences between darts and some other sports is that we’re not played in purpose-built stadia, we’re in multi-purpose stadia. We’re in multi-purpose venues so a lot of our venues are music or comedy venues and arenas.

“There’s perhaps a bit of a grey area as to what umbrella they operate under. Also, the realities of situations in terms of the venues opening look at things like whether they have to bring staff back from furlough, if the crowds are going to be very limited does it make economic sense?

“Each venue is very different so can each venue put the required adaptations in place? We’ve also got some in different territories – ie the Netherlands and Germany with their own rules.

“Ultimately, it was a combination of factors and for planning purposes, we needed to make a decision.”

The PDC’s decision to host six Premier League nights behind closed doors means that the planned double-header in Rotterdam will not take place, along with scheduled league nights in Birmingham, Belfast, Leeds and Berlin.

However, the sport’s biggest roadshow is due to resume with the remaining league nights in Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield in September and October.

Premier League Table

London’s O2 Arena is scheduled to host Finals Night on the revised date of October 22 and Porter is optimistic that the culmination of the Premier League season can take place with some type of crowd in attendance.

“It is moving that way. By the back of September or October we could have some form of crowd back. It’s certainly looking like other events will have done so by then,” he added.

“Although it’s good to be the first, sometimes it’s good to follow as well. We can see what works well with other venues and how they’ve done things, then cherry pick the best bits to what would suit us.

“From a sporting perspective we want to keep as much integrity and credibility as possible. We’re not looking to change any rules or formats.”

The government’s latest announcement has given sporting bodies renewed optimism that major offerings could proceed with spectators in attendance over the coming months.

The PDC will be hoping that major tournaments such as the World Grand Prix and the Grand Slam may be able to welcome back supporters, but Porter insists contingency plans are being made.

“There will be [contingencies] and Milton Keynes would certainly be one of those. We’re still hopeful of getting crowds back in during October and November, so at the moment we’ll take each week as it comes.

“We’re going to continue our strategy, which throughout has been having a six-eight week planning period and no longer than that because of the fast changing nature of the situation.”

The PDC Summer Series marked the sport’s competitive return from July 8-12, with 117 Tour Card holders making the trip to Milton Keynes, along with 11 players from the Challenge Tour.

The PDC received considerable praise from players and fans alike for the seamless return of the sport in its purest form and Porter admits it was essential to cater for all Tour Card holders, not just the game’s elite.

World Matchplay – Tuesday’s matches

“All 128 tour card holders are equal and it’s up to them to fight it out as to who is number one and who is number 128. It wouldn’t have been fair of us just to concentrate on the guys who appear on TV each week.

“It’s unlikely that we’ll have anything before the Premier League dates in August but we’ll then look to see what September brings.

Nevertheless, there have been questions regarding the status of the Challenge and Development Tours, with no events taking place since March, and the PDC chief executive concedes that the prospect of a return will be largely dependant on testing requirements.

“Going forward, for what events we put on whether they’re Players Championship events, Challenge Tour or Development Tour, a lot of it will depend on the testing requirements because they are financially onerous and they take up a lot of time.

“I’m sat in a hotel room now and I’ll have to wait for the best part of the day to wait for a result before I can leave the hotel room.

“Clearly, that isn’t practical at a semi-pro or a youth level with the Challenge and Development Tours because players have other responsibilities and the costs are prohibitive.

“As soon as we get to a point where we can stage events without testing, or maybe only testing people with symptoms, then we can look to stage tour events at all levels as normal.

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