Darts: Barry Hearn Hoping For Capacity Crowd at World Matchplay in July
(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

It has been just over a year since we last saw fans at the 2020 Premier League event in Liverpool, but PDC Chairman Barry Hearn is hoping for a "full crowd" at the World Matchplay in July.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has meant that no fans has been able to attend an event since night six of the Premier League in Liverpool last year - except for one day at the 2021 World Championship in December.

The Unibet Premier League returns next week, with the first nine rounds being held across two different weeks in April at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, but the first stage of the competition will be played behind closed doors.

With the governments road out of lockdown moving onto the next stage in the second week of April, hopes of seeing crowds return to darts, and all sporting events, could be likely come the summer.

Hearn aiming for full capacity return at World Matchplay

Hearn admitted that he is optimistic that fans can return soon, but is waiting for the green light from the government. The PDC Chairman is also hoping that some form of crowd can attend the second stage of the Premier League, which is set to take place in May.

"We're talking to the government at the moment about the World Snooker Championship and the crowds that we're going to have in," he explained to The Darts Show Podcast.

"The feeling there is that it is a series of small steps, but accelerating steps. The most important thing on these trial events, pilot events, call them what you will, is to come out of it with data that educates the wider picture.

"The bigger picture is the series of small steps, leading to a quite short-term return to normality. That's the dream. April and May is (a case of) 'let's test it, get the data, see what it tells us'.

"I think we might get a small crowd in towards the end of the Premier League. Not massive. But we've got to work within the rules. We haven't come this far to break rank. We've got a plan, and it's moving forward.

"My dream is World Matchplay in Blackpool, full crowd, no social distancing. It's party time, baby! Let's get the show on the road!

"We have to be led by the numbers. People are dying. This is a serious, serious pandemic. I had Covid in October. Fortunately I didn't have to go to hospital, but it wasn't a pleasant experience. So sympathy with those that have lost their loved ones, and that's a priority over everything else.

"Small steps. We are approaching the promised land."

(Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
(Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Price facing 'mouthwatering' battles in 2021

The competition on display at events so far this year has been emphatic. Welshman Jonny Clayton clinched the Masters back in January, the Machine James Wade become a three-time UK Open champion at the start of the month, and we've saw the likes of Bedlington ace Callan Rydz and Dutch legend Raymond van Barneveld win a Players Championship event on the ProTour.

World number one Gerwyn Price won the World Championship at the Alexandra Palace in January, and PDC Chairman Hearn believes the battles he will have with the likes of Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen will be "mouthwatering".

"I think he's a very worthy number one," Hearn said. "The battles that will ensue this year between him, Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen, it's mouthwatering times for darts.

"I can't wait for the Premier League to start, simply because the quality on-show is going to be unbelievably exciting."