When Dave Allen joined the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) as Head of Media in 2004, there was no such thing as Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat; and Facebook was still in its infancy.
He was a one-man media department armed with just a website at his disposal, and televised darts was limited to just a handful of events mainly held in this country.
Fast forward to the present day and darts is a global sport, with the 2017/18 World Championship final watched by 1.4 million people in the UK and a record 2.7 million in Germany.
Allen feels that the exponential growth of the sport has stemmed from the PDC’s investment in social media.
“Looking back, I arrived with the PDC at a perfect time in 2004 because the sport at that point had great potential, and to see the incredible growth since is remarkable,” Allen said.
“We’ve invested huge amounts of time and resources in both digital and social media over the past decade or so and it’s become a key part of the business now.
“We want darts fans – attending events, watching on TV worldwide or following online – to feel like they are a part of the events, and social media has been a key tool in this, both between tournaments and at events.”
A key turning point for the PDC came in 2005 when the Premier League was introduced, a tournament that now boasts 10 of the world’s top players competing on a weekly basis.
The tournament expanded outside of the UK and Ireland for the first time in 2016, and this year’s edition features venues in the Netherlands and Germany.
This has helped to tap into new audiences and grow the game internationally, with just two of this year’s 10 participants from England.
“The introduction of the Premier League was key because it took darts ‘on tour’ – fans around the UK could see the top players live in their area, and that's obviously grown now to take in Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.
“Worldwide expansion is our key aim at the moment, both through the World Series of Darts – which will see events in Germany, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Auckland, Melbourne and Brisbane this year – and the series of affiliated tours we now have which includes a PDC Asian Tour for the first time.
“Darts has exploded in Germany over the past decade but we're seeing players emerging now from across Europe.
“We had our first Polish winner of a ProTour event recently in Krzysztof Ratajski, and seeing players from North America, New Zealand, Asia and South Africa competing at Qualifying School shows that players are beginning to emerge. On television, we've got more international broadcasters than ever and a truly global World Championship.”
At Calacus, our role has changed over the years as the emergence of social media underlines the importance of shared and owned content as well as the more traditional earned media relations.
Sports fans now crave instant content and it has greatly impacted the work that Allen does on a daily basis.
“Back in 2004, we had maybe two events a month, but now it is almost every weekend and the media team has grown from just myself to a team who work across website, social media and video.
“It’s a huge difference to where we were, but such a positive one because of where darts is now as a major sport.”
Darts is unlike any other sport, and its historical links to pubs and alcohol have meant that scepticism has continued to be attached to it despite the surge in popularity.
There has also been criticism aimed at the PDC for their use of walk-on girls as the players enter the arena, but Allen hinted that they may still have a role to play in the sport: “Walk-on girls haven't been banned, their job has ceased to exist following a request from our major broadcast partners, who felt that the concept of walk-on girls no longer fitted in with their editorial policies.
“It's become part of a wider debate since and there has been reaction both for and against the decision.
“The idea that the association between darts and drunken behaviour negatively affects how the sport is viewed by the media and the public is outdated and doesn’t reflect the modern game.
“We’ve seen so many positive articles, particularly from some of the broadsheet newspapers who perhaps only cover the sport during the biggest events.
“For Rob Cross to be featured in the Sunday Times after his World Championship win – and his appearance on breakfast television – was hugely positive for us.”
The incredible emergence of Cross – who won the World Championship in his first full season as a professional – has come at the perfect time for the sport following the retirement of its greatest ever competitor.
Phil Taylor is widely regarded as the best darts player of all time, and Allen paid testament to the contribution that the 16-time World Championship winner has made for the sport.
“Phil has done so much to raise, and carry, the sport's profile across the last two decades, and if he had retired maybe five or six years ago then there would have been an impact.
“We’ve not seen an adverse effect on audiences or interest in the sport following Phil’s retirement, and we’re in a really strong place.
“Michael van Gerwen has taken over as world number one, and we've got the likes of Cross, Peter Wright, Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld who are not only outstanding players but popular characters with fans worldwide.”
The long-term impact of Taylor’s retirement remains to be seen, but if the next 14 years are anything like the last, the PDC are unlikely to be too concerned.