PDC Chief Executive Matt Porter admits that the remaining eight Premier League players are ‘buzzing’ at the prospect of fans returning for the latter stages of the tournament later this month.
Step 3 of the UK Government’s roadmap out of lockdown from May 17 onwards is set to allow sporting events in indoor venues of up to 1,000 fans, and the PDC confirmed last week that a live crowd will return to professional darts events for the first time in 2021.
As a result, the final five nights of the Premier League from May 24-28 at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena will be able to welcome back crowds – ending a six-month period of behind-closed-doors action.
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“We can’t wait. It’s the best news we’ve had for 15 or 16 months now,” Porter told Sky Sports.
“To put tickets on sale and then today we have sold out for Friday – Finals Night – already gone. Thursday is getting that way and then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’re going to have a great crowd in as well.
“You can just sense the atmosphere here – even though there’s only a few of us inside the Marshall Arena, everybody has been lifted by what’s happening and it really feels like we’re on our way out of things.
“The guys backstage; they are buzzing. They cannot wait to get out there and play in front of a crowd again. They’re joking that: ‘I have forgotten what it was like. Did you get booed? I can’t remember, it was too long ago,'” Porter joked.
It was hoped that fans would return for the duration of last year’s World Darts Championship, although with London placed into Tier 4 restrictions, crowds were only present for the tournament’s opening night.
There were a number of strict protocols in place and fancy dress was not permitted, but the conclusion of this year’s Premier League is set to mark the return of smurfs, minions and plenty more.
“When we had that brief evening at Alexandra Palace with the crowd, there were a lot of restrictions in place then so no fancy dress was one of the rules back then,” Porter continued.
“The good news is that it isn’t one of the rules now. You can come within reason – in whatever you would want to wear, but there will of course be government guidelines that we will be following and the venue will be Covid-safe.”
Several safety measures will be implemented, including socially distanced tables, a requirement for face coverings to be worn, table service for food and beverages, one-way walking routes and pre-entry screening.
The PDC has also teamed up with Blue Light Tickets for the latter stages of the Premier League – an initiative that provides frontline workers with the opportunity to attend a variety of events, to thank them for their tireless work throughout the pandemic.
“We will be working with Blue-Light tickets which is a fantastic initiative to give tickets to key workers, people who have worked in difficult circumstances, particularly over the last 12 months or so. We are looking forward to giving them an evening out to enjoy,” he added.
Adaptability has been a word frequently used throughout the sporting world over the last 12 months, and the PDC has displayed no shortage of ingenuity to continue hosting the biggest tournaments, despite the multitude of challenges thrown their way.
“I’ve been doing this [job] for the best part of 20 years and it’s without doubt the biggest challenge that myself and probably anybody in a similar position would have faced during that period.”
Porter on the impact of the pandemic…
Porter admits it has been the biggest challenge of his career, but he is proud of how the darting community has responded, reserving particular praise for the current crop of players.
“I’ve been doing this [job] for the best part of 20 years and it’s, without doubt, the biggest challenge that myself and probably anybody in a similar position would have faced during that period.
“It’s unprecedented, it was unknown, we didn’t know when we might be able to come out of it and we didn’t know how we would come out of it.
“It has been a challenge but the way that everybody has responded – the staff, our partners and yourselves at Sky, the players especially.
“To have put their best foot forward and to have carried on and continued to deliver a show on a regular basis that has excited the millions of viewers around the world, that’s something we can all be very proud of.”
However, the PDC’s focus is firmly on the future, and Porter also provided an encouraging update surrounding this year’s World Matchplay, which is due to take place from July 17-25.
The tournament was moved from the iconic Winter Gardens last year, although the PDC Chief Executive is optimistic that this year’s showpiece will take place at its spiritual home, with the added bonus of a capacity crowd.
“The information we have so far is that if that June 21 deadline with the lifting of all social restrictions is met, then we’ll be at the Winter Gardens in the middle of July with no limits whatsoever.
“That is great because we’ve got thousands and thousands of ticket-holders from last year who we weren’t able to give their entertainment in Blackpool to.
“We’re all eyes on this year and we hope they will be joined by thousands more people all coming to remind themselves what a great night they can have at the darts.”
Watch full coverage of every night of the Premier League on Sky Sports, and stick with us through the year as we bring you the latest darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts
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