Darts: Darts breaks out of pub ghetto as Taylor fuels popularity surge
Phil Taylor may not fit the image of the archetypal modern sportsman, but might Gillette consider installing the king of the oche as Tiger Woods' replacement in its advertising campaign alongside Roger Federer and Thierry Henry?
No, maybe not, but if you were looking for a man who dominates his sport in the way that Woods has done you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than the 49-year-old former ceramic turner from Stoke.
Darts is attracting a younger audience and younger players these days, but Taylor bridges the generations. Twenty years after winning his first world title, 'The Power' claimed his 15th on Sunday night at London's Alexandra Palace, beating Simon Whitlock 7-3 in the final of the Ladbrokes.com PDC world championship with a wonderful display of consistent throwing.
Having already thrilled the crowd with 170, 167 and 161 check-outs, Taylor secured the first prize of £200,000 with a brilliant 131 finish in the final leg, hitting treble 20, treble 13 and double 16 with his last three darts.
While the recession is hitting most sports, darts remains on an upward curve. The Professional Darts Corporation's world championship, which long ago replaced the BBC-televised British Darts Organisation's rival event at Frimley Green as the sport's premium contest, offered £1m in prize-money for the first time this year.
Taylor, who earned just £24,000 with his first world title in 1990, banked more than £750,000 in overall prize-money in 2009.
With live audiences growing, more televised tournaments and new events being established around the world, an increasing number of players are making a good living from darts.
Whitlock, a 40-year-old former bricklayer from Brisbane who went to the Ally Pally as the world No 98, will use his £100,000 runner-up prize to base himself in Britain and join the PDC circuit on a full-time basis.
Barry Hearn, the chairman of the PDC and one of sport's most successful entrepreneurs given his record in boxing and snooker, gives Taylor much of the credit for the sport's rise.
"People have talked about Tiger Woods, saying that golf's TV ratings are 40pc higher because of him, crowds are bigger and sponsorship easier to get," Hearn said.
"Taylor transcends the sport in the same way that Woods has in golf. I think golf will find it very difficult acclimatising without Tiger. People are saying his absence will cost golf £200m.
"Every darts player out there -- professionals and amateurs alike -- has had the benefit of Phil's excellence. He's brought the whole sport up. Darts is now a proper sport.
"There are still a few cynics out there, but when they come and watch darts they see the error of their ways. Taylor has played a big part in that because the perception of darts is changing from a pub game to a proper sport.
"We're 70pc there, but we still have to keep working. Globalisation of the sport is going really well with tournaments in Japan, Australia, South Africa and the Far East. It reminds me so much of snooker in its early days in the 1980s -- but we'll get this one right.
"What we have to do is to keep educating the public, to keep getting home the message that these are proper sportsmen. You see a lot of youngsters coming into the sport these days who aren't big guys with what you might call 'the beer look'."
Hearn expects Taylor to earn more than £2m this year.
"There are lots of other players earning £400,000 or £500,000 a year, which would have been unthinkable five years ago," he said.
"I've done thousands of events over the last 35 years and this tournament is as smooth an operation as I've seen anywhere. We've had record crowds, record ratings, record receipts.
"And in the middle of a recession, that's sure to put a smile on my face. We've had approaching 40,000 people here over the last fortnight. Darts continues to stagger me. It's so big now with the 18- to 28-year-olds. What we have to make sure is that we don't get complacent and we keep giving the punters value for money and a good experience. We won't take anything for granted, but we're very grateful that we're currently the hottest ticket in sport."
In winning the world title in three different decades, Taylor has equalled the achievement of John Lowe.
"I have a few left in me," he said after his latest triumph. "I love everything about my job -- getting up every morning, practising and dedicating myself. I always try to better myself.
"Even now I know I can improve, whether it's my flights, my stems, my fitness or my diet. There's always that 1pc I can improve."
Some darts aficionados believe Taylor does not receive the credit he deserves, asking why he was not on the 10-person shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. The fact that the PDC event is televised by Sky rather than the BBC may be relevant, but Taylor is not complaining.
"I'm in the shadow of some fantastic sports people in this country," he said. "They try as hard as I do and are as dedicated as I am -- even more so, some of them.
"I don't begrudge anybody. When you hear people on TV talking about you in the same breath as people like Steven Gerrard, you look at it as if they're talking about someone else. It's weird. It's very humbling and gives you a lump in your throat." (© Independent News Service)