DARTS: ESPN picks up BDO World Masters from BBC

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ESPN has won the rights to the BDO Winmau World Masters tournament, which was previously aired by the BBC, as it looks to push beyond its core sports of football and rugby.

The broadcaster would not reveal the terms or duartion of the deal, but sources suggested it is already running the rule over more darts rights.

The tournament will be ESPN’s first live darts programming in the UK and has been extended to a three-day event as part of the deal. It previously aired for nine years on the BBC.

ESPN’s live coverage will be led by Ray Stubbs, who was presenter of both the BDO World Professional Darts Championships and the Winmau World Masters for several years during his time with the BBC.

“After nine consecutive years with BBC Sport, the World Masters is moving to ESPN,” says Olly Croft, BDO Managing Director.

“In thanking the BBC for establishing the World Masters as a TV favourite, we are now delighted to be forging a new and innovative broadcasting relationship with ESPN to provide an even bigger three-day tournament from a venue new to BDO darts for our players, officials and sponsors.”

Darts coverage is mainly shared by the BBC and Sky Sports, which air the BDO World Championships and the PDC World Championships respectively.

Since the acrimonious split in darts nearly 20 years ago, the BDO has struggled to attract broadcasters to show its major events in the past, with only two events screened on television per year.

It was the lack of television exposure that led to many of the top players to form the rival Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) in 1993.

Popularity in PDC darts has boomed in recent years, helped by a longstanding contract with Sky Sports, which shows many of its events throughout the year, as well as getting some free-to-air exposure on ITV4.

BDO officials hope this new deal will see the start of more airtime for its major tournaments, similar to an agreement that the ill-fated Setanta Sports had during 2008, when the Irish broadcaster showed five of its major events.

Last month ESPN vice-president Jeroen Oerlemans said in an interview with Broadcast magazine  that it was eyeing up darts, snooker and cricket to add to its slate of football and rugby.

He said it was also keen to launch a second channel to make space for the additional rights it expects to pick up.

The BDO Winmau World Masters runs from 2-4 September at the Hull Arena. Reigning World Masters and World Professional Darts Championship title holder Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, will be seeking a fourth consecutive win.

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