Often at sporting events, the actual match takes a backseat role. From my own experience, I go to the football to socialise with my friends as much as I go to watch the game. Halftime entertainment is given more attention now than ever before.
Likewise, darts is often seen more as a drinking occasion than a sporting event. Purists might argue that these scenarios damage the image of sport — they fear that sport will become a platform for entertainment rather than the entertainment itself. However, others claim that the overall match-day experience is as much to do with what happens off the field of play as what happens on it.
There is a greater emphasis than ever on the overall package that a sporting event offers; sports fans increasingly focus on the comfort of the arena and the food and beverages on sale. In an age where events can be watched on television at a reduced price, many feel that supporting their team is not enough of an incentive to travel by itself.
If these subordinate but significant add-ons to the overall match-day experience bring more people along to the spectacle, resulting in a greater atmosphere, they should be encouraged, not condemned. There is no bigger advert for sport than a packed-out stadium; organisers should do everything in their power to strive for this — even if it includes seemingly insignificant schemes such as cheaper halftime pies.
One only has to look as far as Spain to see the importance of inflated crowds. Villarreal’s initiative to give free season tickets to the unemployed has meant consistently full grounds at the Madrigal, therefore making them increasingly important to Spanish broadcasters. Likewise, if clubs are able to fill their grounds regularly they are more likely to benefit from the television deal and therefore more likely to stay out of debt, a problem for many of Spain’s professional outfits.
At times these additional forms of entertainment at sporting events can become — for the right or wrong reasons — as important as the actual game. The halftime show at the Super Bowl is the most extreme example of this. The anticipation surrounding the announcement of the main performer is tangible and many artists see the gig as a great opportunity to gain global publicity. Recent years have seen the likes of Lady Gaga, Coldplay, and Katy Perry take the stage. The Super Bowl has become a calendar event in the American diary, even for those who don’t particularly like American football. For the millions of Americans who watch this annual event on their televisions, the halftime show offers entertainment value for those who aren’t particularly interested in the sport at any other time of the year. Such spectacles allow families across the country to sit together and enjoy a shared experience, be it the sporting side or not.
Meanwhile, darts has become a haven for stag dos and hen nights, producing a fantastic atmosphere but perhaps at the cost of those who want to closely observe the tactical intricacies of the sport. It is crucial to note, however, that the greater the quality of the match, the better the atmosphere. Thus, to some extent, the quality of atmosphere is still dependent on the game of darts itself. The 2017 PDC World Championship final between Michael Van Gerwen and Gary Anderson had an incredible atmosphere, but that was heavily influenced by the fact the match contained the two best in the world throwing some incredible darts. However, as previously noted, attendance-drawing entertainment approaches, such as a liberal view towards alcohol and music, helps draw crowds, doing a great deal for the overall experience.
Those who feel that sport is becoming a mere platform for entertainment needn’t worry. Whilst the entertainment side occasionally supersedes the event, the level of the atmosphere is still dictated to some extent by the level of performance of the competitors. Entertainment add-ons aid the level of enjoyment for many and increase attendances, resulting in an even greater atmosphere, and should be welcomed. Moreover, halftime shows allow for a shared viewing experience, breaking down the barriers between those who like sport and those who are ambivalent.
It is obvious that sport itself has and always will provide a wealth of entertainment. However, an increased focus on match-day experience and providing entertainment for all is not to be discouraged.