Darts Fans: Hanna Dowling (AKA Liz Yates)

‘Darts Fans’ is returning once again for 2020, and the first guest in the hot-seat this year is Hanna Dowling, otherwise known on Twitter as Liz Yates. Hanna produces darts podcast the Weekly Dartscast, as well as making the odd appearance, and regularly offers her insights on the game over on Twitter. She started by telling me a little bit about how she got interested in the game, “If we want to go way back (I’m very old. I kid I’m 35), my dad would occasionally play darts and we had a children’s dartboard in our basement. Until I moved to the UK at the ripe ol’ age of 30, I thought the whole point of darts was to hit the bullseye. I had seen people playing trying to hit the bullseye and just assumed that was the game of it. I honestly wasn’t too fussed to ask any questions beyond that.”

“In terms of actually watching darts and understanding it as a game, I picked that up when I moved overseas. I moved in early December and the PDC World Championship is mandatory viewing around my spouse so I learned how the game was played. In terms of a wellspring of interest in the game though, you’ll have to blame the ombudsman of darts himself, Dan Dawson. I was watching darts and understanding it but it didn’t speak to my interests until I found Dan’s Twitter. It is overwhelmingly silly when it’s needed and filled with great stories at other times and I wanted to keep up with the banter as it were so I threw myself into the game. And now I assume the sight of my Twitter name fills him with dread for lo he has helped create a monster.”

Although now residing in the UK, Hanna originates from the USA, where darts, as is well-established, isn’t as developed as in the UK and continental Europe. I was curious to hear Hanna’s thoughts on the setup stateside, and she is optimistic that the game is improving over there. “It’s funny. You always realise more about your home country after you’ve left. I didn’t realise how rich the USA’s cricket history was until I moved to the UK and likewise there is a fair bit of darts in America and there has been for a while. As the CEO of the Championship Darts Corporation, Peter Citera, told us on the podcast, it was a shame they didn’t interview Darin Young about beating Raymond van Barneveld at Ally Pally last year because very few players still playing would know him as well given how long they had been playing together.”

“But now that some of the darts is on BBC America, more people are really realising how big of a thing it can be, and of course now that there is the US Darts Masters, it really is starting to grow. My parents live in a small town outside of Orlando, Florida and the bar down the road from them has darts tournaments every weekend. After Fallon won her first match, some of my friends who aren’t into sports at all were texting me to be like, ‘Did you see that girl beat that guy?!’. It’s a very exciting time for American darts and having Fallon in the line up for the Masters and having it at Madison Square Garden will just help it grow even more. Just so many great things ahead for the darts scene back home.”

Hanna originates from the USA but is a massive arraz fan

As previously mentioned, Hanna, a customer insights analyst by day, is a member of The Weekly Dartscast team, producing and occasionally appearing on the podcast. “The podcast is weekly and cohosted by Alex Moss, who has a journalism background and Burton DeWitt, who does darts stats as a hobby (both massive nerds, I wildly respect that about them). They discuss anything new during the week regarding any news in the world of darts and do interviews with everyone from commentators to players to CEOs of organistions to people writing plays about darts. Basically, if you’re involved in the game in anyway beyond being a fan, we will make an effort to have you on as a guest,” Hanna explained about the podcast.

“As for me, I’ve been friends with Burton for a few years (both South African cricket fans as well as darts fans which is rare for two Americans) and he was saying that with his new job he wanted to continue doing the podcast but he couldn’t find the time to edit it. He knew my background was in film/TV editing so would I be interested in editing. I’m always on the look out to flex my creative muscles and keep on top of my editing skills so I said I would and I’ve been doing it for a year now. I guess the reason my title is producer instead of editor is I have been present to record the interviews as well as edit and I’ve stepped in what is soon to be 3 times to cohost when Burton is off on holiday, so I think the title comes from the fact that I’ll pretty much do anything we need from trying to dull the traffic noise on an interview because Burton recorded it roadside, to sitting quietly in the background of an interview with someone like Chris Mason trying to keep my cat from crying and ruining the recording.”

Hanna has also dipped her toes into interviewing, and recently attended the 2020 BDO World Championship. The event was well-documented for its difficulties and crises, mainly regarding prize money and the announcement prior to the competition that the WDF would no longer recognise them, but Hanna was keen to seek some of the event’s other stories. “So right when the BDO announced they were moving to the O2, I told Alex that he needed to get press passes for Matthew Kiernan (The Darting Nerd who often sends us recorded interviews from various opens) and I so we could get the scoop. I live about 20 minutes from the O2 and work even closer so I figured it was my time to shine. Unfortunately, Matthew had other things come up but in the end Alex and I got passes and I learned really quickly that the event wasn’t prepared for media overall. My goal was to interview all the women players but I did plan on doing match updates and interviews with winners. Unfortunately, minutes after the first game, I found out that no one was bringing the winners upstairs to ensure they spoke to any of the media. Whereas this is abnormal it made things extra complicated because I have quite severe anxiety in general so walking up to people and making arrangements went weirdly the first few days as did interviewing them.”

“In terms of the BDO, I’m afraid I have no more insight into anything that has already been published outside of the fact that the people working for the organisation outside of the boardroom are all lovely people who are just trying to make things go well for the players and fans. What goes on at top levels is just a never ending trash fire alas. However, it was eye opening to see how quickly people adjusted to an unknown person in the player’s room. I started the week only really having met Paul Nicholson (which actually did wonders for my anxiety having a friendly face around even if we are only acquaintances) a few times and by the end of the week it was hugs and friendly competition (Paul, Tori Kewish and I are in a competition to be Mikuru’s number one fan) all around. It was nice to see how open and supportive everyone was of each other and by extension me.”

Hanna produces the Weekly Dartscast, a darts podcast cohosted by Alex Moss and Burton DeWitt

“However, in terms of the women’s game, I think it was interesting to get so many varied takes on where it is, what the ideal forum for the ladies game is and what struggles they have. Maria O’Brien is the only member of team England who doesn’t have several sponsors and she produced the second highest average in the first round. If she had played anyone besides Mikuru, we would have seen her have a deep run. Anastasia Dobromyslova is furious that the game hasn’t evolved enough to be able to make it her career (and ohhhh the naysayers who don’t even recognise her 3 world championships when she tries to vent her frustration) and Mikuru wants to be the best player in the whole world, not the best female player, the best darts player ever and any challenge is just something to crush and overcome. Of course, a big portion of why I spoke with the ladies about their experiences was because of Fallon’s run at Ally Pally. Some people were unaware that women’s darts was a thing, some people were unaware that women had beaten men before, and perhaps even more don’t understand why the women don’t just come play the men because it’s all equal so the women must therefore be no good. So this was to highlight the women’s game and the unique challenges women face in terms of trying to be the best. I mean, my interview with Laura Turner got interrupted 5 times (twice by her lovely children) and if that’s not a metaphor for barriers I don’t know what is.”

Hanna also further reflected on the event from a media perspective, “One of the things that surprised me from an ‘inside the press box’ standard was who remained professional and was seeking out the stories to be told. Yes, we all know the big story is that the BDO is in dire straits but there were several personal stories that each player, commentator, staff member and even darts fan in the crowd bring with them. I was told by one of the best cricket journalists that the key to good sport writing is to get the story behind the game/match, who struggled to get there, who is feeling at the top of their game, down to who got lost on the drive over and made it minutes before they were meant to be on. Any moment can really engage a fan so it was disheartening to see at least one print journalist spend less than two days at the event during which point he labeled Leighton Bennett as a bit of a let down or the popular blogger who walked into the venue and loudly declared, ‘I don’t care about the BDO but I had to see the drama for myself’. And another never came down but seemed upset that despite not being an affiliate or sponsor of the event their reporting had gone unnoticed. The lack of consideration or understanding would be in their words deemed as jealousy but mainly I felt disheartened for them at what they didn’t get.”

“What they didn’t get that I got (besides some fantastic interviews with women who have played all over the world, against men, in the PDC, etc.) was an appreciation for everyone’s stories. I met the team from Tungsten Tales who were the only people not doing commentary to be there more than I was. They were all very nice, let me tag along for winners interviews and helped me navigate the labyrinth that is the O2 while telling me some of the tales they have picked up themselves. Inside the BDO was fantastic to hang out with and had some good stories as well. And the commentary team, what a group of legends and so giving of their time. Paul Nicholson made time to chat with both Alex and I as did John Gwynne and I know Alex was absolutely desperate to get to talk to Tony O’Shea and he made time as well. The real professionals and the people who are confident in the product that they produce really shone through and it was eye opening in so many ways.”

Finally, with the 2020 season about to get underway, Hanna also shared with me some of the things she is looking forward to most this year. “All of it of course (!) but most especially the EuroTour. I love the EuroTour just so much. I think we will be going back to Gibraltar this year because a lot of my coworkers moved over there and I would love for us all to have a get together but I’ve got enough holiday days to do two so we shall see. I was thinking maybe Budapest as well but that’s the time I need to get my visa renewed so perhaps that’s unrealistic. #EuroTourUberAlles.”

Image Credits: Hanna’s Twitter and The Weekly Dartscast

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