A plan to bring darts to new fans around the country was the main reason for moving the New Zealand Darts Masters to Hamilton, says Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) chief executive Matt Porter.
After four successful years at Auckland's Trusts Arena in Auckland, the annual darting spectacle is now scheduled for Hamilton's Claudelands Arena on August 23-24.
The two-day event will still showcase eight of the sport's best players, along with eight Oceanic qualifiers from Australia and New Zealand, but the most notable change will see it played over two nights, instead of three, to improve the fan experience.
The Friday night will see eight rounds of 16 matches between the professionals and local qualifiers, with four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final on Saturday.
Porter identifies New Zealand as the toughest place for PDC professionals to play, due to the high calibre of local talent and he's eager to see the sport continue to grow in the country.
The PDC also looked at Christchurch's Horncastle Arena as a venue and it's confident the event will be staged in the South Island in the coming years.
Speaking to Newshub, Porter was confident fans would love the revamped tournament.
"We wanted to freshen the event up," he explained. "We had some great years in Auckland, the crowds have been fantastic, but there are other cities in New Zealand.
"We want to make sure the sports and darts public from around the country have the chance to come and enjoy the event, without having to travel as far.
"Feedback from the fans we had was that Sunday was a less appealing night to them.
"Darts is a big social night, so Friday and Saturday people are not working the following day, but on Sunday, they might have to work on Monday.
"We thought, by having two longer sessions, we'd give better value to the fans and give them the opportunity to see more players on one night."
The eight players making the trip will be announced after the UK Open in March. The last few years have seen the top four-ranked players in the PDC Order of Merit - Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Gary Anderson - along with top-ranked Australian players Simon Whitlock and Kyle Anderson, and two others.
Last year, they were Michael Smith and Raymond van Barneveld.
The 2018 edition of the Masters was the most competitive to date, with Mark McGrath becoming the first New Zealander to win, beating Smith in the first round, while Whitlock and Cross survived match darts against Ben Robb and John Hurring respectively.
"There are plenty of guys on the DartPlayers New Zealand [DPNZ] circuit who are more than capable of qualifying and competing at this level.
"We've found that the local qualifiers are getting better each year. We've had winners and players lose 6-5, 6-4.
"The PDC players don't see these games as walkovers and the standard of local players in New Zealand, in particular, is really high - probably the highest of anywhere we go."
Kiwis Cody Harris, Darren Herewini, and McGrath all recently competed at the PDC's qualifying school to try to secure a tour card, but all missed out in arguably the toughest Q-school to date, as the British Darts Organisation (BDO) players were eligible to enter for the first time also.
Harris finished 64th out of more than 250 competitors in the European school, while Herewini finished tied for 35th and McGrath in 153rd at the UK school with nearly 400 entrees.
Porter praised the Kiwi trio for giving it a go and was hopeful of seeing a New Zealander win a spot on the professional tour.
"You can't expect everyone to give up their lives, their families and jobs to move to the other side of the world," he said.
"One thing we [the PDC] want to do over the next few years is to make sure the tour becomes more global.
"You want to make sure the players from far afield have as much opportunity as possible to compete on tour and that is going to take a long time.
"It's part of our long-term strategy to make life easier for talented players around the world, not just in the UK and Western Europe, who want to compete as professional dart players."
Twenty different nationalities are represented across the 128 players with tour cards for the 2019 season.
At the recent world championship, which was won by van Gerwen, Harris created history, when he became the first Kiwi to win a first-round match, beating German Martin Schindler 3-2.
Part of that was down to the new 96-player format, which saw all the New Zealand qualifiers automatically qualify for the first round, compared to past events, where they would have to win a preliminary qualifier to reachthe first round against a top-ranked player.
Porter was pleased with the success of the 2019 championship and said the same format would continue in the coming years.
"The expansion went well," he said. "We had new players from new countries, with lots of young players showing lots of ability, so we're pleased to have that and we have reason to do carry on with this format."
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