Matchroom Sport interview: Barry Hearn

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Matchroom Sport — with Barry Hearn as chairman — has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of sports programming over the past three decades

Matchroom Sport — with Barry Hearn as chairman — has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of sports programming over the past three decades

It would make a great trivia question: what is the second highest rated televised sport behind football? The answer would stun many. It’s darts.

The arrow-throwing game that hails from English pubs has evolved into a multi-million-dollar phenomenon and its heading to Dubai, where the inaugural World Darts Masters will be played in May.

The game is now the largest growing sport in the world, according to the man who has made squillions from it, Barry Hearn.

The former London accountant also has reaped fortunes from games such as snooker, live fishing, tenpin bowling, poker, boxing and more recently, ping pong, turning them into money-churning empires that contribute more than 40,000 hours of television from 570 professional competition days each year.

It’s a long way from having fellow Londoners look down their noses when he first bought a series of snooker halls in 1974. Back then, snooker was a game for the unemployed and beer-guzzling men.  Even Hearn could not imagine the money-making potential.

But around the corner was something of a sporting revolution that would turn not only Hearn into a multi-millionaire but numerous others into sporting heroes with bank accounts as large as their fan base.

The top darts players can now earn AED11m ($3m), while snooker tournaments offer the equivalent of nearly AED1.5m ($400,000) in prize money.

“People have never heard of money like that within that sport because people think it’s a pub game, it’s just a friendly chuck of the arrows,” the founder of Matchroom Sport says.

Hearn is the first to admit he’s proud of what he’s created, and he has no reservations in saying ‘I told you so’.

“Darts absolutely slaughters golf, cricket, rugby, horse racing [and] boxing in every number you want to think of,” he says.

“It tears it to pieces, it’s the hottest ticket in town. If you don’t buy a ticket to the [darts] world championships in the first week... you ain’t getting in. The dearest is now $400 a ticket to watch a game of darts.  It astonishes me but I’m taking all the credit.”

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