History of the British Darts Organisation, or BDO
Although the first dartboard as we know it today was created way back in 1896, it took until 1973 for the sport to become organized under a professional umbrella. That was when the British Darts Organisation came into being, founded in a suburban house in North London by a small group of enthusiastic darts players.
The game of darts can trace its ancestry all the way back to Henry VIII, that is if we are to believe the stories of archers throwing their arrows by hand at targets, but the rules of the game as we know them today were formalised under the fledging BDO. Darts was already a popular televised sport in the UK dating back to the 1950s and ‘60s, but the BDO ushered in the era of the professional darts player. New split screen technology allowed TV broadcasters to show both the player and the board on screen which, much like the impact of colour television to snooker broadcasting, grew its audience exponentially.
In 1976 the BDO joined up with organisations from 14 other countries to form the World Darts Federation, whose stated aim was the development of the game across the globe. As the games popularity grew, more events were televised in the UK and more and more sponsors got on board. The very first World Professional Darts Championship was held in 1978 in the rather inauspicious surroundings of the Heart of the Midlands nightclub in Nottingham, and it was won by a 38 year old Welshman called Leighton Rees.
Englishman John Lowe was the losing finalist on that occasion, but his time would come the following year and in total he won 3 World Championship titles and finished runner up a further 4 times. Apart from being one of the most famous faces of the early days of pro darts, Lowe was also the first man to achieve a televised ‘nine darter’ – the equivalent of the hole in one for golf or the 147 break in snooker. For the first 16 years of its existence the championship finals featured players from Britain, but 1993 was to prove to be the last time that all of the best darts players were to compete in the same world championships.
In the late 1980s the sport of darts had begun to fall out of fashion in the UK. Television deals were drastically curtailed, and sponsorship was down as a result. The leading players were feeling the pinch and felt that the BDO was not doing enough to support and grow the sport. This resulted in 16 of the top professional dart players establishing a rival organization called World Darts Council (later to become the Professional Darts Corporation or PDC), which was to go on to hold its own world championship in 1994 to be broadcast on the new Sky television channel. Famous names like Phil Taylor, Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson, Dennis Priestly and the afore-mentioned John Lowe were all founder members of the WDC, and today the two world championships run in tandem over the Christmas period in the UK.
Since the two groups split, the BDO has continued to hold its World Professional Darts Championship every year, although without a number of the top names in the sport. As Sky Sports has grown over the years to become the premier sports broadcaster in Britain, the PDC has grown with it, and a number of BDO players have defected to its rival over the years, including four time world champ Raymond van Barneveld, who was one of the marquee names in the BDO.
The BDO continues to support grass-root tournaments across the world, which act as qualifiers for its three major annual televised competitions: the World Professional Darts Championship; the World Masters and the BDO World Trophy. The BDO version of the World Championships continues to be broadcast free to air on the BBC each Christmas, and this is still the most watched UK darts event of all in terms of viewing figures.
Despite this the future of the BDO is in some jeopardy, as it is in danger of becoming just a feeder organization for the wealthier PDC. The latter now boasts a roster of players generally acknowledged to be the best in the world on its books, including multiple world champion and darts legend Phil (The Power) Taylor. For now there are no signs that the BDO is going anywhere, and while it may not be able to match the prize money of its more bountiful rival, it still remains at the heart of the world game.