It’s fair to say the new-for-2022 format for Premier League darts has attracted mixed reviews.
The field has been capped at eight players, who take part in a mini tournament each week, with points awarded depending on how far they get. The winner on the night picks up five, plus a tidy £10,000 bonus, while the quarter-final losers go home with nothing. There are points on offer for the semi-finalists and runner-up too.
The revamp seems to have gone well with fans at the venues, with PDC chief executive Matt Porter saying recently that arenas were staying fuller for longer thanks to the intrigue created by the format. But many fans watching on TV have criticised the Groundhog Day effect of constant matches between the same players. It’s certainly a valid grumble. Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith have met so often recently it’s felt like they’re competing in their own private two-player league.
There’s also the issue of players who seal their top-four spot weeks before play-off night, leaving them with little left to play for other than the £10,000 bonus. Van Gerwen admitted only last week that it had become a struggle to motivate himself for Premier League nights since booking his play-off spot and had started prioritising European Tour events.
Those issues are tough to fix and it is only right that the new system is given at least a couple more years to bed in before it is inevitably refreshed again. But that isn’t to say that smaller tweaks cannot be made in the short term.
One should be the issue of absent players, with Gerwyn Price and James Wade missing nights through injury and illness respectively this season. Given the relentless schedule of PDC Tour, it is inevitable players will occasionally need to see out the odd week. And with mental health no longer a taboo subject, players should not be deterred from doing so.
But when they do, there needs to be better solution than what we’ve seen in 2022, with their quarter-final opponents given a bye and a 6-0 win into the semis. Joe Cullen has been the beneficiary on both occasions and is on course to reach the play-offs.
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It must be said, the rule could have easily worked in the favour of his main top-four rival too. Had Wade not returned to action at the O2 last week, Peter Wright could have received a 6-0 walkover. In the event, he won 6-3 before losing to Cullen in the last four.
But it’s an area that needs looking at, in the interest of fairness if nothing else. One solution could see a reserve player on duty on each Premier League night. Most of the time, they won’t be needed. In that case, they could perform some media duties, giving an insight into the life of an active player.
Those back-up players could be based on the venue. Raymond van Barneveld or Vincent van der Voort could be on duty for the Netherlands night and a top German player, like Martin Schindler, could be on standby in Berlin.
Daryl Gurney or the emerging Josh Rock could be on hand in Belfast. Gary Anderson, if he doesn’t make the 2023 line-up, or the hugely popular John Henderson could be the go-to men in Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Even if they wouldn’t be able to pick up points, they could still make their mark on the league and, of course, be eligible for the £10,000 bonus. If the PDC addresses one issue for the 2023 Premier League, it should be this.
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