Luke Littler vs Luke Humphries will not be on free-to-air TV as Channel 4 makes no request

Luke Littler - Luke Littler vs Luke Humphries will not be on free-to-air TV as Channel 4 make no request to show final
Luke Littler is now just one win away from becoming world darts champion - PA/Zac Goodwin

Luke Littler’s World Championship final is not on free-to-air after terrestrial broadcasters failed to ask for permission in time to screen the blockbuster showdown.

The 16-year-old’s extraordinary journey to the biggest fixture in darts has captivated the nation and secured Sky record viewing figures for the sport, with 2.3 million tuning in for his semi-final on Tuesday.

‘Littlermania’ is dream timing for the PDC as it aims to secure a bumper new TV deal, with its current agreement with Sky expiring in 2025. His run to the final is a match for top Premier League football matches for viewing figures and is shattering previous records for darts on Sky Sports.

A host of MPs had asked Sky to make the final free-to-air in a bid to capitalise on the huge national interest in Littler’s rapid rise just months after sitting his GCSEs.

However, the likes of Channel 4, which has previously shown major events in rights shares with paid-for broadcasters, did not make any firm request, industry sources said.

Teenage darts sensation Littler could land a £500,000 jackpot in prize money tonight after securing a final against new world No 1 Luke Humphries, having swept aside Rob Cross 6-2.

The 16-year-old has also been promised a place in Sky Sports’ weekly Premier League Darts if he does prevail in Wednesday’s final at Alexandra Palace against Humphries.

Littler’s semi-final win against Rob Cross averaged 1.79 million viewers with a peak of 2.32 million viewers to set a record on Sky Sports that surpasses any match involving even Phil Taylor. The viewing peak for Littler was some 165 per cent up on last year’s semi-final and more than doubled the previous semi-final record from December 2017 when Taylor was making his last World Championship appearance after 16 titles.

Sky confirmed that their viewing figures for darts were in line with live coverage of Premier League and showpiece events like the League Cup final and Championship play-off peaks.

The next big event is Premier League Darts, a weekly competition around the country involving only eight elite players that begins on February 1 in Cardiff and continues for 17 weeks until the grand finale at London’s O2 arena in May.

“People will say, ‘You’ve got to put him in the Premier League’, I’m thinking, ‘I can’t really put him in the Premier League, traveling around, you’ve got all the rules about minors’,” Barry Hearn, whose Matchroom company runs elite darts, told The Telegraph.

“But then you think, ‘If he goes and wins I’m going to have put him there’. It’s made for the World Series where we take darts to far flung countries. Suddenly you can imagine him in New York and Madison Square Gardens throwing darts – the Yanks will go absolutely potty. Everyone loves a story like this.”

Sky’s contract with the Professional Darts Corporation is due to expire in 18 months and, ahead of negotiations, Hearn stressed that his priorities would combine maximising the players’ income with providing the best entertainment to fans.

Sources close to one terrestrial broadcaster confirmed no approach had been made because of the potential chaos of rearranging schedules at short notice.

A Channel 4 spokesman said: “We don’t comment on speculation about sports rights.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.