Darts
Jake Michaels, ESPN Assistant Editor 92d

It's party time: Why is darts such a popular live sport?

Darts

MELBOURNE, Australia -- As the famous 'stand up if you love the darts' chant rang around Hisense Arena on Sunday, thousands of Melburnians in outlandish fancy dress rose to their feet as one.

Together they joined in the captivating song and dance, chugged plastic cups filled with beer and waved hilarious hand-written signs in the hope of being picked up by one of the broadcaster's cameras. The vibrant party atmosphere certainly isn't new to darts, but is something that is rarely seen anywhere else in world sport.

Regardless of your stance on darts, it's clear that when it rolls into town, it brings with it a unique atmosphere.

However, in sports-mad Melbourne, were the spectators who attended the event actually craving a fix of arrows? Do they really love darts?

ESPN spoke to 10 fans at the Melbourne Darts Masters and eight of them admitted it was their first time watching live. Half of them even claimed to have never watched the sport before.

"This is the first time [watching darts live]," Alan Green told ESPN ahead of finals night. "I have watched it on TV before with friends and it just looked like a lot of fun so we thought why not go along and see what it was all about.

"I couldn't tell you a single player, though. Do you even call them players?"

For the majority, anyway, it seemed the answer to the aforementioned question was an emphatic no. However, that just raises another question - why is darts so popular when it is in town?

Whether you love, like or despise darts, you must admire what the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) has created. Since the early 1990s, darts has evolved from a traditional British pub game to a full blown global sport that openly encourages entertainment and shenanigans. It has become synonymous with charismatic characters, including players, referees and commentators, but perhaps most notably the party and costume-loving fans.

From Where's Wally to Mario and Luigi, Spiderman to the Incredible Hulk, at some point almost every character has been featured in a darting arena. In fact, anyone attending without fancy dress looks completely out of place. Throw in singing, dancing and alcohol and it all culminates in a raucous, yet non-threatening atmosphere which PDC Chairman Barry Hearn describes as "sports-entertainment". It's difficult to disagree.

Without taking anything away from what happens on the oche, it's the crowds that make darts what it is today, and 16-time world champion and winner of the inaugural Melbourne Darts Masters Phil Taylor agrees.

"You have got to give a massive thank you to the crowds because without them we wouldn't be here," Taylor said. "They pay our wages and I've loved every minute of it."

What seems to encourage the free spirit of the fans is the purity which darts oozes. It's a sport that can be played by anyone, at any time of the year and is perfected by players of all ages, backgrounds, shapes and sizes. 

"The majority of these guys look as though you could run into them down at the pub playing darts with a beer in hand," Josh Warren said. "Even the best players in the world are so down to earth and that's a big reason why they're so popular.

"There's always interaction with the crowd and they're just having fun. They really set the atmosphere and they seem to thrive off the crowds."

It seems wrong to label those in attendance as 'fans'. The majority aren't fans of darts. Instead, they are looking for a memorable night out and won't be phased by which player takes home the biggest cheque.

Let's be honest, darts is unlikely to ever crack your top 10 favourite sport list, but as atmosphere and entertainment factor goes it wouldn't be far off the top.

Take a bow, PDC.

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