Six-figure sponsorship deals beckon for Luke Littler
“The sky’s the limit” for teenage darts sensation Luke ‘the Nuke’ Littler who could be set for six-figure sponsorship deals and international stardom experts have said
The 16-year-old from Warrington is into the finals of the PDC World Championship in London after a dream debut at the tournament, beating experienced pros including his hero Raymond van Barneveld.
Littler started throwing arrows at just 18 months old and is proving to be a natural at wooing fans at Alexandra Palace.
For every chant of “you’ve got school in the morning”, Littler has reacted by rallying the crowds. His charisma opens him up to the potential for serious commercial success, according to those who have gone before him.
Keith Deller, 64 – who became the youngest ever World Champion in 1983 – told i that the earnings potential for today’s winners is “on a different level”.
But with some hailing Littler as a superstar in the making, Deller is among those urging caution.
“I do worry that he’s still only 16, he’s already won £100,000,” Deller said. “I know his manager [Martin Foulds], he seems a good guy, they’ve got to protect him, the PDC have got to protect him.
“We have to remember he’s only 16, he’s not 18. I would be calming the boy down saying ‘concentrate on the darts’. They’ve just got to make sure they manage him right.”
Deller, known as the Milky Bar Kid, said that when he became world champion at 23, he “didn’t know anything about the world”.
“I was going all over the country. It got to the point at the and of the year I was burned out. It can catch up, big time,” he said.
But when Deller became the first qualifier to win the BDO World Darts Championship in 1983, the prize pot was £33,050 with £8,000 going to the winner.
This year it will be £2.5m, with £500,000 going to the champion.
Participation in darts is accelerating, with new stars emerging from all ages and different corners of the world.
In 2019, Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to win at the PDC World Championship and is already thought to have built up earnings of at least £1million.
“It’s a different level these days, when I won I bought a house with a swimming pool in London, these players could buy four houses” said Deller. “Commercially, for Luke, I think the sky’s the limit.”
If Littler were to win the the World Championship, the PDC will be facing strong calls to include him in the line-up for 2024’s Premier League tournament which runs for around 14 weeks and sees the world’s top four players and four wildcard entrants compete at the biggest arenas in the country and Europe.
It may be too early for Littler to join, but Deller said he believes he can still command £100,000-a-year sponsorship deals going forward.
“I managed Adrian Lewis when he won his first tournament, everybody wanted him, we had to get it right,” Deller said.
“I was looking for blue chip, nationwide companies, you’ve got to be careful. We had Dulux and Twyford the bathroom company. I would say Luke can get six figures for a shirt sponsor.”
Comparisons have been made between Littler’s run at the PDC World Championship and the success of tennis prodigy Emma Raducanu at the 2021 US Open.
Since her grand slam win, the 21-year-old has struggled to match her success on the court, but has had a string of endorsements from the likes of luxury brands such as Tiffany and Co, Dior and Evian.
“It always captures the imagination when someone seemingly comes out of nowhere at such a young age and takes a sport by storm,” David Alexander, MD of Calacus Sports PR agency, told i.
“I think there’s possibly some lessons to be learned from [Raducanu]. Whenever I’m dealing with athletes I would say the priority is ‘focus on what you do as a sports person’.
“Darts is a little different because players tend to perform to an older age, but we’ve already seen Luke being welcomed as the guest at various football matches, he’s clearly an entertainer.
“I heard an interview at his local darts club and they said that he’s always wanted to entertain – when he could get double top he would go for the bullseye to get the crowd going.
“He’s still a young lad…but with someone as charismatic and entertaining as Luke he’s going to capture the imagination of sports fans whether they like darts or not.”
While Fallon Sherrock may have broken down barriers for women in darts, Littler’s success may open the door to a younger audience.
Samuel Gill, editor in chief of the websites Darts News, said Littler is the product of a well-organised pathway developed over recent decades that is helping a new generation of talent to flourish.
“Luke started playing through an academy in Warrington,” Mr Gill said.
“Then he went into JDC (Junior Darts Championship) tours, there was that route. Fifteen years ago the system wasn’t there, you had to play in a pub.
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