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Five key talking points from the 2016 Champions League of Darts

Jamie Shaw in Off The Oche 27 Sep 2016
Taylor celebrates a timely triumph (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

The PDC's ground-breaking weekend on the BBC perfectly encapsulated the feel-good factor surrounding the sport at present and could be the springboard to even greater heights.

Given what had gone before with Lakeside, little was expected from the Beeb's first venture into PDC coverage, having largely failed to acknowledge the existence of darts' premier organisation for the past two decades.

In truth, Sky have set the bar so high that it's become difficult to rival, but for the casual fan at least, the Champions League was a roaring success and perhaps a sign of things to come.

While some groaned about being forced to watch the same old faces, any terrestrial televised tournament can only be a welcome addition to a weekend where the alternative offerings are Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor.

With only the world's top eight players in action, the standard of darts was never in question: ton-plus averages on tap, big checkouts and near nine-dart misses. It was bulletproof marketing to the masses.

Here are our five key talking points from the weekend's visit to the Welsh capital...

Taylor is still MVG's biggest threat


Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen's preparation for the tournament had been polar opposite. The former had spent the last month recharging the batteries following the demanding World Series schedule Down Under, while the latter had been picking up titles left, right and centre.

Make no mistake, though, Taylor had been putting the hours in on the practice board in the comfort of his own home, particularly where the doubles are concerned. 

He was in and around the 50 per cent mark all tournament, a marked improvement on his Premier League and World Matchplay campaigns. 

The best of 19/best of 21 format is where 'The Power' comes into his own. He has now won his last three meetings with nemesis MVG over those distances since his crushing defeat in the World Matchplay final.

He is one of a select few players who know how to get under the Dutchman's skin both on the board and off it by attacking the MVG throw, matching his scoring power and being generally aggressive on the oche.

The BBC continually probed Taylor as to when he will decide to put his darts back in the case for the final time, but as long as he continues to pick and choose his events and maintains his current level of desire, he will continue to be a major force to be reckoned with.

MVG - Burned out or just outclassed?


Unbeaten in his last 35 games prior to the trip to Cardiff, it looked like all MVG had to do was turn up and throw his 'B' game to add £100,000 to his record September haul.

But the Dutchman was rumbled not once, but twice, by his old foe, and more surprisingly - he was well beaten on both occasions. 

Noticeably in the final, his first dart in a scoring visit was frequently dropping below the treble 20, a tell-tale sign of fatigue and the trademark bursts of brilliance we've become accustomed to seeing just didn't arrive. 

Van Gerwen has won an unprecedented 19 titles so far this season and could virtually retain his world number one spot without picking up a dart in 2017, but it's the sheer hunger for constant success which drives him forward.

A brilliant stat dug out by Rod Studd on Twitter outlined that MVG had contested over 700 competitive legs more than Taylor in 2016 alone. Yes, he's almost 30 years younger and cannot win everything, but that is a hell of a lot of darts and is bound to catch up with him at some stage.

The PDC schedule is relentless between now and the World Championship, so you would have to say it would be in the best interests of MVG to choose his appearances wisely to ensure he heads to Wolverhampton, Minehead, Ally Pally (and so on) in the best possible shape.

The BBC gave it a good go...


Few could have many complaints about the way the Beeb went about their coverage. They had rightly overhauled much of their Lakeside roster and brought terrestrial darts back into the 21st century. 

No stone was left unturned in terms of analysis, with Mark Webster and Paul Nicholson in particular offering great insight and looking at ease in front of the camera. 

It was refreshingly different to hear from players even after they'd lost a match - which has always been the case in most other sports - and the one-on-one interviews and features offered an interesting insight into the players' mindsets and lives outside of darts.

The fans turned out in numbers and were in fine voice throughout the weekend, providing the perfect backdrop for the players to strut their stuff. Anyone who had never seen Peter Wright pogo-dancing across the stage in his mesmerizing attire, or 180s flying in like they were going out of fashion, must have wondered what on earth they were witnessing, or in other words, can only have lived under a rock for the past five years.
 
The Beeb dedicated a lot of prime-time air time to the tournament and that faith should be repaid with healthy viewing figures, which will be released in the coming days.

... But it's by no means the finished product


Inevitably, there were a few teething problems with the camera work and scoring graphic (which should really just stick to deducting the score after three darts rather than one) and the lack of ad breaks meant a fair bit of padding in between games.

At times, the Beeb did their best to whip the tournament up as the be-all and end-all of the sport, which is exactly what it isn't. 

Yes, the lucrative top prize may match and even eclipse that of some esteemed majors, but you can't buy prestige, and asking Phil Taylor whether he'd consider retiring if he were to go on and win the tournament (which of course he did) was just ludicrous.

Jason Mohammad had clearly stepped out of his comfort zone to anchor the coverage and though some studio interviews were best watched from behind the sofa, he certainly didn't lack enthusiasm.

Given that a section of the audience were probably getting their first taste of PDC Darts, there was an inevitable element of 'darts for dummies' at times, particularly with emphasis on rules and profiling the players, and the lack of any walk-on girls shows the Beeb still aren't totally comfortable with portraying the image Sky have created.



Where next?


The BBC will ultimately judge the success of their PDC pilot on the viewing figures, but the door certainly looks open to add more events to their portfolio in 2017.

There are still gaps in the 2017 PDC calendar, as well as unconfirmed venues and broadcasters for a number of major tournaments, paving the way for further BBC involvement if the format and line-up was right.

The debate also rumbles on as to whether the PDC seems to be catering largely for the 'elite eight', particularly taking the World Series into account, but the Champions League format definitely offers scope for the field to be expanded with more groups and some fresh faces next time around.

The fact of the matter is, the broadcasters and sponsors demand the top players, as do the paying public, but that's not to say anyone outside of the top eight is not capable of producing the sky-high standard and entertainment value the fans have come to expect.


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Five key talking points from the 2016 Champions League of Darts

The PDC's ground-breaking weekend on the BBC perfectly encapsulated the feel-good factor surrounding the sport at present and could be the springboard to even greater heights.

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