The BDO, Explained
Trying to keep up with the politics surrounding the British Darts Organisation can be exhausting, infuriating and downright mind boggling. We attempt to clarify the current situation, how we got here and the potential paths forward.
What’s the background?
The BDO was founded by Olly Croft in 1973. Unlike the PDC, which is ran as a business with Barry Hearn having the ultimate say in any major decisions; it is comprised of 66 member counties who operate in a democratic fashion on behalf of their own county players. The BDO was until recently a member of the World Darts Federation (WDF), who are the official governing body of all world darts, but more on that later.
Croft was the chairman at the time of the split that formed the WDC (now PDC) and was ousted from his position as a result of a vote by members in 2011. The chairman since 2018 has been Des Jacklin, succeeding the previous incumbent Sue Williams, who occupied the role for six years prior. Mr Jacklin was steering the ship with several other members of the board, but following a tumultuous 2019, including a World Masters and a World Championship both mired in controversy, Des stepped down, citing the baggage that comes with this role as too heavy to continue, amongst many, many other reasons in an extraordinary 2700 word resignation statement.
What happened at the Masters?
The oldest major in darts, the World Masters, has been struggling to attract the attention it deserves for several years, both in terms of media coverage and ticket sales. Once shown on the BBC to a packed house, it has been reduced to token Eurosport coverage in front of a sparse audience made up mainly of participants and/or friends and family. Whilst this decline started well before 2019, it certainly did not get any better in its most recent outing and most of the resulting exposure was littered with negativity.
Before things got going, many players were voicing concerns at having no knowledge heading into the event about seedings, prize money or the draw. Then on day one, there were complaints of many mistakes in the eventual draws, including several international players being left out, leading to announcements of a redraw. It then transpired that the organisers had included “fake” names in the draws, supposedly to prepare for such events. It appeared the inclusion of these fabricated names pushed the entry for the ladies event to over 128, meaning, as per BDO rules, there would be 16 seeds instead of 8 with Paula Jacklin, wife of chairman Des, becoming number 12 seed as a result. There was an attempt to keep prize money confidential with only the top 32 being privy to such information, if and when they got that far. Such secrecy about payouts is unheard of in a big TV tournament.
Anger, frustration and bitterness ringed around the venue as the atmosphere turned quite toxic. The result was possibly the most mismanaged and maligned major in the history of the game, which led to the WDF, the governing body of world darts, dropping their long association with the BDO, citing the Masters fiasco as a major reason for doing so. Such was the mayhem at the arena, Mr Jacklin announced over the microphone that he would be quitting as chair after the World Championships, which followed just 2 months later.
Ok, so what about the Worlds, the O2 and the Lakeside?
This was the first year since 1985 that the BDO world championship was not held at the venue often considered the home of darts, the Lakeside Country Club in Surrey. With ambitions high, Mr Jacklin and the board switched the event to the “Indigo” within the O2 complex in London. The previous arrangement at Lakeside saw the club’s owner, Bob Potter, stump up the £397,000 prize fund and in return, he takes the ticket sales, hotel bookings, bar sales and so forth. In an effort to provide a bigger return and greater control for the BDO, the move was made and it is fair to say, it backfired spectacularly. With none of the prize fund now backed, the commercial success of the tournament was dependent on large volumes of ticket sales. The end result was many sparsely attended sessions and supposedly free tickets being handed out in order to bulk up attendance for the cameras. It is estimated around 15% of available tickets were sold or used. It appears the pulling power of the Lakeside was grossly underestimated.
The worst was yet to come though as another row over prize money erupted around the O2, with it becoming evident that the players were going to be playing for a much reduced pot just days before the event, but with a lack of clarity about the actual amounts. Fallon Sherrock pulled out of the event due to this and given her recent successes in the PDC, which had created huge media attention, there could barely have been a more high profile player to withdraw. The previous contracts were voided and the winner’s cheque was reduced from the £100,000 it had been for many years previous down to the £23,000 that went out to eventual champion Wayne Warren. Warren insists he still did not know how much he was going to be getting even after lifting the trophy.
So Des Jacklin quit after all this?
Yes, but not for long.
Covid19 has left us in a temporary interim period, which members were hoping would be stabilised at the BDO’s annual general meeting, set for August 30th 2020 in the midlands, restrictions allowing.
A “Zoom” meeting between member counties and the sole remaining director at the time, Frank Branscombe, took place in which it became apparent it was impossible and unconstitutional for one director to do the job alone. Several names to join the board were thrown into the ring and a hastily arranged online vote took place in which all the names were approved, which included Des Jacklin himself, back as temporary chair with an agreement that this will be the case until the AGM could take place once Coronavirus allows. The outcome for each candidate was communicated in terms of their percentage of votes, but not the breakdown of each counties vote’s for transparency. Some have expressed surprise and disbelief a majority could have backed a return for Mr Jacklin and this has led to further bickering.
So what happens going forward?
Breakaway factions coming from those who have had enough of the current situation have now emerged and put forward their own proposals to the county members. The Tri Nations, led by Lancashire stalwart Tommy Thompson and the UKDA, chaired by London’s Johnny Stefano, have both signalled their intentions to provide an alternative county/super league platform and both have concentrated on being more transparent, more cost effective and a fresh start for all. At the time of writing, all three are still campaigning to get as many counties on their side. Some counties have signalled their intentions but far from all and the momentum is very much with UKDA, who have had the biggest chunk of support so far.
There is a never ending stream of arguments, accusations and squabbling taking place on social media groups daily including Des/Paula Jacklin and individuals associated with the rival organisations. Previous partners are also wading in with allegations of being unpaid for their work in 2019 and it often turns quite ugly.
So who will win?
As it stands, it is looking highly likely that nobody will win and the end result will simply be further splintering of an already highly fractured system. The most probable outcome is all three, or at least two of the organisations will be in place for the next season. Some counties will choose one direction and some another. There may even be counties that split themselves and have representation in more than one faction.
What about the TV tournaments?
Of the three current BDO majors, the World Darts Trophy and World Masters have already been cancelled for 2020. This is largely down to Covid19 and it is obviously not just darts that has been impacted in this manner. However, both of these events have been haemorrhaging money after being operated at six figure losses in recent years and with the wells now dry, the short term future of both of these competitions as we know them is looking bleak.
The situation with the World Championship is much less clear. Following their split from the BDO, the World Darts Federation has signalled their intention to run the event (and also the Masters at some point too). Whether that will happen in early 2021, as the event is usually scheduled, is anyone’s guess but seems a big stretch at this stage. If and when the WDF do run with the mantle to produce the majors, there may be a power struggle with the BDO to have control of said events and the road ahead to secure the required funds, backing and the rest to make it happen on the scale people are used to, is looking rocky. There is a real lack of trust surrounding it all which makes getting commercial backing almost impossible. But perhaps Bob Potter would open his arms, wallet and the Lakeside doors under the right circumstances, which would be a huge stepping stone to resurrection.
Speaking of money, where has it all gone?
The BDO has had two separate divisions for decades. “BDO-Enterprises” is the commercial arm, charged with funding and providing the TV tournaments. BDO-Limited is the arm that looks after county and super league darts and the splinter competitions connected to these such as the Gold Cup and the Champions Cup. In July 2020, BDO-Enterprises was placed into voluntary liquidation, a decision that has since been since reversed. It is now up to any of the unpaid creditors to decide whether to force liquidation on BDO-E through legal action.
Mr Jacklin has placed the blame for its financial implosion squarely at the door of the previous board, led by Sue Williams. According to Jacklin, there was £650,000 in the bank at the time of him taking over but £850,000 worth of financial commitments. These commitments include the use of third party consultants to assist with branding, sponsorship and other organisational matters such as “Sportotal”, who have come under fire from Jacklin for failing to deliver commercial partnerships. Recent correspondence from Des has stated his accountant is unwilling to back him up on these matters in writing, but will do so at the AGM.
Another recent letter from Des has advised that they cannot say either way whether what little money is left in BDO-Limited’s coffers (around £60,000) is safe from the (potential) liquidators of BDO-Enterprises. No prize money was paid out for the recent county season as it was cut short because of the dreaded virus. The BDO put a vote to counties as to what to do with this remaining cash and counties voted to carry the money forward to the 2020/2021 season, meaning there will be no entry fees taken for the upcoming county season. If the liquidators do raid the pot, there will presumably be very little prize money on offer next season, which will almost certainly cause further unrest amongst member counties that opt to stay with the BDO. Many counties are already voicing concerns that they did not receive the full list of options to vote in this matter too, with some getting the choice to have their 2019/2020 money refunded straight away, but many did not until it was too late.
So all will become clear at the AGM?
Whilst that would be ideal, you would be a brave person to bet on that. History of these meetings tends to be very cloak and dagger, with members concerns about finance and such often being batted away with responses that they cannot be covered at said meetings for legal matters. It is uncertain whether this will be any different this time round and the promises suggest it will, but we have been here before and the proof will be in the proverbial pudding. To complicate matters, counties are being pressured by the BDO to make their decisions about under which organisation they wish to play under before the AGM will take place. It has now been confirmed that any county that has already announced they are joining UKDA or Tri Nations will not receive any of last seasons fees back (roughly £1000 per county) and also will not be permitted to attend the AGM. This has caused total outrage on social media as many delegates believe this to be either unethical or perhaps even illegal as the AGM is designed to discuss the previous year, which counties have already paid for.
This leaves counties stuck between a rock and a hard place as they feel in order to properly present the options available to their members, they need full disclosure on the sort of issues that have been promised to be cleared up at the AGM, but the only way they can attend the AGM is by paying further fees to commit to another season with the BDO. They appear to be basically holding counties to ransom by refusing any refunds of monies already paid in an effort to force the hands of delegates.
I understand more, but things still seem somewhat hazy. . . .
Sadly, that is how many feel and such is the politics in BDO darts at the moment that it is probably going to stay that way for some time to come. Who you trust, who you believe and where to turn is down to whom you speak and your own personal experiences within the system. Members are being drip fed slithers of information and on a highly selective basis. Nobody fully understands the financial state except the small few in control and even they seem far from certain about the future of the funds. Without full knowledge of all the accounts, the contracts, the commitments and everything else, it is really tough for counties to make a decision about how to move forward. The WDF have been largely silent about their intentions from a TV point of view and the wait will likely go on for a while in the current climate, both globally and internally.
Probably the one thing that most members will agree on is that this is the lowest point the system has ever been in since its birth in the mid-70s. Without a superhero coming along to unite everyone behind a common ideal and a barrel full of readies, it is a case of watch this space, from behind the gaps between your fingers, for now.