Leeds is here to stay as a venue for world-class darts – and boxing will be next.
Top sports promoter Barry Hearn was bowled over by betway Premier League Darts’ debut at the First Direct Arena last night – in front of 11,000 ecstatic, loud and fancy-dress clad fans.
Hearn, chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation, travelled up to Leeds for the event and instantly promised the Premier League will return next year.
“This is the first time I have been to the Arena and I am super-impressed,” Hearn told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“I heard some good things about it, but until you actually see it you don’t know.
“I like the fact the audience is so close to the stage.
“That adds to the atmosphere and the sound, but most importantly this is a commercial business and I have to be led by ticket sales.
“I don’t get to many Premier League games because I am travelling all over the world all the time, but I was not going to miss the biggest-ever event held in professional darts in the modern era.
“That’s what Leeds has given us, so hats off the everybody. The venue has made a real big pitch that they wanted us here and made us feel very welcome and most importantly the man in the street in Leeds has turned out in numbers to give their support.
“My first reaction is I want to bring boxing here next and we will be trying to do that in the next few months.”
Hearn already has a fighter in mind he thinks could become an Arena star.
“In boxing, you need local heroes,” he said. “There’s a kid in Leeds called Josh Warrington who is a really outstanding prospect. He is the kind of bloke who, if his career developed at the right speed and he had a venue behind him, he could put it on the map.”
As for darts, Hearn said: “On the basis of what I have seen, the ticket sales, the support we’ve had and the venue, this is now a nailed on Premier League venue.
“We must not get complacent, because that’s not how good businesses are run, but at the same time it has delivered, so congratulations to everyone and thanks for the support.”
Leeds is the birthplace of televised darts, which first took place at the Irish Centre, on York Road, in the early 1970s.
Yesterday was the first major PDC event to be staged in the city and the players had no excuse for not knowing where they were as the crowd rocked the arena with chants of “We are Leeds”and “Stand up if you hate Man U”, as well as choruses of “Marching on Together.”
The fans got their money’s worth, with the opening two matches both being drawn 6-6.
Two-time world champion Adrian Lewis battled back from 4-0 down to snatch a point against Robert Thornton and he said: “It was quite daunting. I should have had a look around when I first got here, but I didn’t.
“I was gobsmacked – that’s the only reason for it – when I walked on stage. I got nervous and that’s probably why I missed a few doubles.
“I was looking around thinking how far we’ve come since I first started in 2004-5.
“The crowd were chanting ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ – it was unbelievable.”
Thornton said: “The fans were brilliant, it was a great atmosphere – absolutely awesome.”
Master of ceremonies John McDonald, who introduced the players for each match, was equally impressed.
He said: “I have seen some atmospheres in my times and that’s one of them. Well done to the people of Leeds, it’s magnificent.”