The 2024 PDC World Darts Championship produced an astonishing and thrilling sports storyline that captured the attention of the public.
Born in Warrington, England, Luke Littler was only 16 years of age on his debut at the Championship but made it to the final. Ultimately he lost to the world number three Luke Humphries, who produced a brilliant performance to win the final seven sets to four at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Humphries arrived at the World Darts Championship in terrific form having won the World Grand Prix, Grand Slam of Darts, and the Players Championship Finals in 2023. Despite defeat in the final, Littler’s incredible 19 days at the World Darts Championship has arguably allowed him to take over Michael van Gerwen’s spot as the biggest name in the sport, after creating global sporting headlines about his sensational performances at Alexandra Palace which included beating many of the sport’s top players.
The public who tuned in to watch the teenage sensation, including many who would never normally watch a darts game, will be intrigued to follow the career of the youngster. Littler’s astounding debut at Alexandra Palace has secured him an invitation to participate in Premier League Darts, a tournament that takes place between February and May when ten of the top players in the sport compete for prize winnings of roughly $315,000.
Littler captured the attention of the British public in staggering fashion and was the sole reason for Sky Sports being able to generate record-breaking viewing figures for the broadcaster. The final was reportedly watched by a total of 4.8 million people in the UK, with a peak audience figure of 3.68 million which was the largest audience for a non-soccer event in Sky’s 33-year history, surpassing better-known sporting events including the men’s Ashes and the Ryder Cup.
The viewing figures for the final were up well over 100% compared to the 2023 World Darts Championship final, which emphasizes the dramatic effect that Littler has had on the sport and just how much of a game-changer he could be in attracting new people to darts, not just to watch events on television but also to participate in the sport.
The viewing figures Sky Sports produced will excite broadcasters with rights to other major darts tournaments that Littler is involved in, as these competitions can expect a substantial increase in viewing figures, with viewers keen to see the youngster compete for other major honors in the sport. Broadcasters yet to enter the darts market will also be intrigued about any future growth that the sport experiences thanks to the arrival of Littler, who has already backed up his World Darts Championship performance by winning the Bahrain Masters, beating Man Lok, Nathan Aspinall, and Gerwyn on his way to the final, where he overcame Michael van Gerwen 8-5 to win prize money of roughly $25,000.
The teenager’s rise to stardom has included attracting over a million Instagram followers, so many brands will be keen to discuss potential sponsorship opportunities with Littler. Due to his current age, he is unable to secure sponsorship agreements with alcoholic beverage and gambling brands, which are often willing to invest significant sponsorship money into partnering with sports stars. Gambling brands have become highly associated with darts, securing lucrative deals with events and players.
Instead, it is expected that brands in the clothing and accessories sector and the non-alcoholic beverage industry will be weighing up potential sponsorship opportunities for Littler. GlobalData reports that eight non-alcoholic beverage brands agreed new partnerships with British-based athletes in 2023. These included globally recognized brands Monster Energy, Evian, Lucozade Sport, and Red Bull. Combined, non-alcoholic beverage brands invested $3.12 million into sponsorship agreements with UK athletes last year.
The sport’s largest federations and leagues will be hoping that Littler continues to perform to an elite level and captures further public attention, to increase the possibility of bringing darts to a bigger audience and a much wider demographic. In the UK, thanks to Sky Sports and Matchroom Sport, the PDC World Darts Championship has annually attracted a strong mostly male audience.
However, if Littler continues to win matches in major competitions he will likely be crucial in helping darts to stay relevant to many sports fans and the wider public. Darts is still a long way away from the mainstream of UK sport, with many competitions being of no interest to the majority of sports fans. The prospect of Littler becoming the new star of the sport could attract many more viewers to events outside of the PDC World Darts Championship, increasing the popularity of professional darts.
There is an expectation that the impact that Littler has had already on darts will impact the grassroots level of the sport. With Littler exploding onto the scene as a potential generational talent, young people who have been inspired by his success at Alexandra Palace are more likely to take up a sport with minimal barriers to entry and later get involved by joining one of the many darts grassroots academies across the UK.
The Junior Darts Corporation is a thriving darts set-up that has allowed the sport’s top talents to learn and progress through the pathway. Youngsters inspired by the rise of Littler have a clear route to professional darts, which is a real positive for the sport. It gives talented young players the best possible chance of developing their skills to make an impact on the big stage if they have the chance to play professionally.
There is certainly a buzz around darts thanks to Luke Littler, but the big question is whether television audiences will increase across the sport’s other major competitions. Players competing against Littler will be hoping that increased coverage across the sport will benefit other players and allow them to showcase their talents and personalities which will hopefully lead to an increase in sponsorship opportunities for other professional darts players.
The last darts player to completely transcend the sport was Phil Taylor, who dominated the sport for over two decades winning a record 85 major titles, including an astonishing 16 World Championships. Taylor has said that at 16 years of age, he was nowhere near the level that Littler is playing at, which highlights just how much of a talent Littler is. Only time will tell if Luke Littler can ride the hype and pressure. Certainly, brands will closely watch his journey, with the prospect of offering the youngster lucrative sponsorship opportunities.