So Much Darts, So Little Time
In normal times, the main events in the darts calendar are usually spread out more evenly across the year, but in 2020, COVID-19 saw the suspension of live sport for a huge chunk of the year. That meant when sport (darts included) returned to our screens, it was more compressed than usual and events were pushed into the latter part of the year when players and athletes were able to resume safely.
Thankfully, Sky Sports and SPS leapt into action for a relentless season of Darts events, kicking off with the World Grand Prix of Darts from 6th to 12th October. Hot on its heels came the World Cup of Darts in Salzburg from 6th to 8th November – and of course then came the BoyleSports Grand Slam at Ricoh Arena on 16th to 24th November. And finally – finally – came the jewel in the darts crown; the World Darts Championship, which rocketed to screens on the 15th December. Sky Sports and Sky Production Services teams were at the coalface for all of these events, delivering what the viewer at home was accustomed to seeing, in the most unusual of circumstances.
No Rest For The Wicked
But all of this didn’t happen by itself and it didn’t happen overnight. Sky Sports and SPS were working hard behind the scenes to make everything happen and get it on air. Against the backdrop of COVID, additional measures were put in place to keep everyone safe, and the impact that COVID had on the world of live sport, even when the lockdown was lifted, was felt in ways the audience at home might never guess. For example, it wasn’t until October that the PDC confirmed that the World Darts Championship would run and run the same as usual. In a similar fashion, Alexandra Palace was only confirmed as the venue in November, with the final meeting held on the 30th November and rigging for the event started on 8th December. Everything was achieved at a breakneck pace and in a tighter timeframe than usual.
Large chunks of the team and production resources were deployed at the Grand Slam until 24th November and forced to regroup and redeploy in a quick turnaround to get the World Darts Championship together, which began rigging just two and a half weeks later. In terms of crew, production had no choice but to plan for the worst. Despite the very high levels of COVID safety on location, the team still carefully balanced SPS crew with freelancers to flexibly replace any individuals that had to isolate without risking the production – the very definition of “the show must go on”!
Fans In, Fans Out
The relaxation of lockdown meant fans would be allowed to watch, so the team planned for fans accordingly. It almost – almost – felt like a normal year when 400 darts enthusiasts stepped foot in Ally Pally. Sadly after just 1 day, the rules changed again, fans were blocked from live sport, and everyone had to watch the rest of the competition from home.
Darts at Ally Pally is famous for its amazing atmosphere, and with the audience banished to their sofas and the players dwarfed by the epic hall, there was careful consideration given to the audio delivered. The players wanted crowd noise, and the viewers wanted crowd noise. So, the production team took a two-pronged approach of having sound supervisors and gram operators working simultaneously on different audio deliveries for the live transmission. The doubling-up of the audio crew meant that a bespoke audio solution could be delivered over the Ally Pally PA system to provide the atmosphere for the players and transport them to more usual times, and a more advanced audio solution could be created and delivered to the viewers at home – replicating the Sky Sports Crowds style workflow that had proved so successful on the football when it returned in the summer.
How It Was Possible
As Andy Holmes, Sky Sports’ Senior Production Manager, told us: “Trust and collaboration were absolutely vital to the success of this project. It was critical to have a reliable team that knew what needed to be done in each area. The production also required a trust investment from the PDC, as the introduction of crowd noise in the venue and at home was a new proposition made by Sky Sports.”
Ben Burdon, Studio Manager, said: “Crowd noise was a punt that we offered them, and because the players wanted it, the PDC said yes.” Andy added, “It’s shown this year that collaboration, constant communication has been brilliant. I’ve never seen Ben so much! The people involved have got an understanding, which makes life 100 times easier.”