PDC changes to Players Championship Finals, European Championships, insufficient
by Burton DeWitt
We’re not going to play everyone’s favourite game of “Is it a major?” today. Instead, we’re going to play a spin-off: What should the PDC do to its TV events to make them even better and even more unique?
The PDC recently announced changes to both the Players Championship Finals and the European Championship, which are intended both to make the events more unique, and, presumably, to give more opportunities for players not in the top 32 to play matches in November ahead of the World Championships.
Qualification to the European Championship is now exclusively restricted to the top 32 from a new Order of Merit based on money earned from European Tour events.
And qualification to the Players Championship Finals is likewise limited to money earned in the 20 Players Championship events, but will now feature the top 64, not 32, players from the year. The event will be held across two stages so that it can still be completed in three days.
The changes to the European Championships were well needed, but they weren’t sufficient. The event had no distinguishing features, other than that it took place on the continent. But even now that it has a unique qualification mode, it still is just a mini-Players Championship, the European version of the Players Championship Finals featuring half as many players after half as many qualification events.
And on the same token, the changes to the Players Championship Finals, while necessary to expand the opportunities for players to get match experience later in the season, make the events too much like the UK Open. By having two stages instead of one, the players lose the pressure of having the entire darting world look upon them as they throw. The event is split between the two stages, between TV and not-TV, a hybrid that is great if there isn’t already an event that has perfected that format.
So instead of making changes that gave distinguishing features to two of their premier autumn events, the PDC merely morphed them into hybrids between themselves and other events already on the calendar.
Yet, there still are numerous avenues the PDC hasn’t turned down to try and create entertaining, unique events.
Let’s first start by looking at the Fabulous Four of PDC ranking majors: The World Championships, World Matchplay, World Grand Prix, and Grand Slam.
Of the four events, two are set play and two are leg play, but the differences don’t end there. The two set play events can each be distinguished: The World Championships is for a World Title; the World Grand Prix requires players to double in, in addition to the traditional double out.
And the two leg play events have noticeable differences. The Matchplay must be won by two clear legs, making it in essence the World Championship of leg play. In contrast, the Grand Slam has both a group stage and involves players from both the BDO and PDC.
These differences—some minor, some major—make each event unique in its own right and add a level of intrigue that no other event on the calendar has.
Regardless what term we put on these events, they are premier events, and they are unique.
Now let’s look at the PDC’s other TV events. The following table is like the table for the first set, except it adds a third category.
The four non-ranking events are all unique in their own right and merit little discussion beyond this quick mention. The Masters gives the top players a short little tournament to celebrate their status in the Top 16. The Premier League is a glorified, high-value exhibition for the best, most exciting players. The World Cup is a representational event that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the PDC umbrella. And the World Series Final gives young and international players a chance to compete in the UK against the top 12 PDC players.
But the UK Open, European Championships, and Players Championship Finals—while all having some small differences—are beginning to blend together, and the changes to the Players Championship Finals move it to some sort of hybrid event, half UK Open, half British Isles-based European Championships. The comparison is only strengthened by noting that like the UK Open, the Players Championship Finals is held at Minehead.
However, there’s no reason the PDC couldn’t make changes that diversified the events while still giving more opportunities for players to play later into the year.
I. Players Championship Finals
I’m a big proponent of the Players Championship as it was before, as it in many ways was the Floor Players Championship. Everything about it, including not just the seeding based on the Pro Tour Order of Merit but also the short format in the first round and the medium-length format the rest of the way, was meant to honor players who succeeded in the floor events. But by expanding it to 64 players, the PDC has invited players who didn’t succeed, players who struggled to get past the first couple of rounds in events, who didn’t do enough.
Suddenly, it’s like the UK Open, a huge event where you can slide under the radar, make a deep run, and still have no one remember that you were even there in the first place. Did you know Jan Dekker made the Last 16 of the UK Open last year? Me neither. But he did, and he might just be obscured enough to do the same at a 64-man Players Championship Finals. And still have no one ever remember it.
If the PDC wants to expand the field to give players a chance to compete in November, expand it to 48 and expand it to four days. Give the top 16 seeds byes. True, a few Ally Pally qualifiers will miss out, but even at 64 players, there’s no guarantee that they all will make it: Wes Newton would have been 65th last year.
The Players Championship needs to remain condense enough to be a true floor players’ championship, not a mini, seeded, UK Open.
II. European Championships
This is the event that should be expanded, and by flipping it with the World Series Final, could be expanded whilst giving players more of an opportunity to play later into the year.
The European Championships remain indistinguishable, the event that is to some people a major, to some not, and to some the spark for a conversation they are sick of hearing about.
But regardless of whether it is ever a true major, it can still be a unique event.
Let’s take a look again at the chart, this time limiting ourselves to the seven ranking TV events:
As with the entire PDC calendar, there is a bias in favour of leg play and standard scoring. Yet the European Championships, especially if moved three weekends later in the calendar, is barely a month out from Ally Pally. What if it is expanded to 64 players—featuring a healthy mix of British and European-based dartists—and each match featuring best-of-3 leg sets?
Suddenly, just a month out from the World Championships, you’re asking Michael van Gerwen on a Friday evening to beat, say, Rene Eidams, in set play. Imagine that? What a great warm-up for the World Championships that would be.
And when you add in that the sets are shorter and that play will have to be split across multiple stages, you get an event that accomplishes the PDC’s goal of giving more opportunities later in the season while not making any two events too similar. And it gives many of the soon-to-be Ally Pally competitors practice that they don’t get elsewhere on the circuit: set play.
Yes, I am aware that I’m making the European Championships—as opposed to the Players Championship Finals—more like the UK Open than it already is. But the other changes to it should make it more unique, make it its own, great event.
It will make it its own event on the calendar, with its own unique challenges and its own unique format.
Right now, despite the changes to the calendar, the PDC is stuck with events that don’t stand out. Hopefully, by 2017—whether by adopting my suggestions to coming up with something else on their own—they’ll have made the changes that are necessary to differentiate each event.