World Championship 96-player field here to stay “for next two years at least” says Barry Hearn

Barry Hearn conducts a press conference (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

PDC Chairman Barry Hearn says the World Championship field will remain at 96 players “for next two years at least” amid speculation of further expansion.

The field of players for the William Hill World Championship was expanded from 72 to 96 this year, with a record prize fund of £2.5 million on offer.

With 28 sessions taking place over 16 days of action at Alexandra Palace, the 2018/19 PDC World Championship is the biggest staging in the 25-year history of the tournament and also included two female qualifiers for the first time.

As it stands, the world's top 32 players are seeded into the Second Round, while the 32 ProTour qualifiers and 32 international qualifiers enter in Round One.

Hearn has adopted the flat 128 draw format in numerous snooker ranking tournaments, but insists he has no immediate plans to roll the same format out in darts' blue riband event.

"I think the 96 works for us at the moment," Hearn told Live Darts.

"Most of it was driven by extra opportunity for global qualifiers because that's the way we spread the game.

"I think 96, for the next two or three years, is pretty much where we want to be.

"Like everything else, you constantly evaluate and constantly ask yourself questions and it's usually in retrospect after the event like 'how did the qualifiers do?' 'what was the standard?' and as the game inevitably gets more global there will be demand for more qualifiers and we may have to revisit.

"I think for the next two years at least, the 96 can stay."

Skeptics of the expanded field have suggested the quality of the early rounds has been watered down, with 42 averages from First Round matches recorded below 90.

Two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis revealed his frustration at an eight-day wait to contest his opening game, admitting: "When I was watching all the matches, I think it did get a bit boring at times if I'm honest.

"There's been far too many games and you're waiting around a hell of a long time."

Hearn, however, has defended the standard of the early rounds and insists the overall quality has not suffered as a result of more participants.

"I think the facts and the figures don't justify that," he added.

"If you look at the averages of the qualifiers from the old prelim rounds of three or four years ago, the averages are far higher than that.

"Sport's about giving opportunity and if you don't give these people a chance, how do you expect to grow the game?

"When you look at the massive markets that are available which could make the sport change instantly, you have to invest in those markets and part of that investment is giving people from those areas an opportunity to go home and say "I wasn't good enough, I'm going to get better" or alternatively, for people who have watched it on TV to say "I can do better".

"Germany, ten years ago, was a non-existent darts market. Today it's a hugely beneficial market to the sport of darts.

"Quite frankly, every country in the world could follow Germany but we mustn't close the door and get snobbish thinking we're bigger than we are, we have to give opportunity then we go from there."

Hearn has also revealed plans to increase the winner's share of the prize fund to one million pounds within the next five years, adding: "How big can darts get? A £1 million first prize, that's how big.

"It's ordinary people with extraordinary ability and they deserve every penny they get."


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World Championship 96-player field here to stay “for next two years at least” says Barry Hearn

PDC Chairman Barry Hearn says the World Championship field will remain at 96 players “for next two years at least” amid speculation of further expansion.

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