Devon Petersen: The modern-day darts player with big business in his sights

Devon Petersen has built a reputation for his iconic walk-on dances, some memorable World Championship contests and his developing career as a Sky Sports pundit, but the South African star has even more strings to his bow and is looking to make the most of them.

The 33-year-old has become a hugely popular player on the PDC circuit, with the size of his fanbase enormous in relative terms to his results on the oche.

The African Warrior is number 56 in the Order of Merit, and has not been beyond the quarter-final of a major tournament, but his infectious personality has got the fans on board, and Petersen believes his darts are catching up fast.

The South African unleashed some monstrous averages in ProTour events shortly before the coronaviurs put the sport on hold, but says it has long been coming and is down to a surprise change of arrows he made at the start of the year.

However, it wasn’t a decision simply made on the tungsten in his hands, but Petersen saw the switch as another step on his journey to global expansion as a darting brand.

‘It’s a host of things, I’ve been playing well for the last six to nine months,’ Petersen told ‘Sometimes I’ve just not been getting the results.

‘But the start of this year’s Pro Tour, I changed suppliers to a Japanese company called Trinidad. Their equipment suits my throw and everything to a tee.

‘My previous supplier, Unicorn, I tested all their products, and I just didn’t get on with them. Finding Trinidad was a Godsend. All my hard work up until then has been elevated because of the equipment.

‘Trinidad are massive in the soft tip side. A lot of Asian companies dominate that side of the game that we don’t hear much about, we’re just used to traditional darts.

‘I thought I could expand my profile in Asia if I could find a suitable company over there.

‘In the PDC, Jose de Sousa was using Trinidad, as was Adrian Gray. I spoke to Jose and saw what he was using, had a bit of a feel of his darts and the flights. I messaged them and told them what I was thinking and asked to try their products. They sent me some stuff over and it kicked off from there. ‘

The Cape Town native is desperate to rise up through the ranks of the PDC, but he has his sights set on many things other than the world rankings and feels this sets him apart from many of his fellow pros.

The African Warrior is firstly a darts player, but sees many other levels to his career which he is working hard to exploit.

‘No doubt moving to Trinidad was a business decision, like everything I do within darts. There’s a profile you have you need to work on,’ Devon explained.

‘Some dart players are just dart players but I find myself more of an entrepreneur in some senses because I do look to expand my profile.

‘Now I have the opportunity to play soft tip darts. Through another contact in Japan I’m bringing soft tip boards into the pubs and looking to get that moving forward. I think the UK should be a hotbed for soft tip darts, we have so many kids playing it. Now I’ve gone with an Asian company, it all ties in, my profile can expand globally.

‘I might mix it up and do soft tip and steel tip and do a bit less on the exhibition circuit, I think the future of the sport is both soft and steel tip.

‘It’s really fun times. The game is expanding and it gives us all great opportunities, but only some players will take them because a lot of them are just dart players and don’t have an entrepreneurial side to them.’

‘Everyone just wants to be a dart player, but there’s so much more fruit you can pick off the side of it, not just the main tree,’ said Petersen. ‘No doubt people are missing a trick.

‘That’s where management comes into it, obviously making great deals for them. They take the lead on that, they push their brand, which is great, but a lot of players individually don’t do that for themselves from a marketing or social media perspective.

‘I think there is a massive trick missed with it, because that’s where the endorsement comes from. If you look at the sport in general, as a player you can get more TV time than Cristiano Ronaldo week-in week-out because you’re on TV for about 40 minutes for a game and the focus is on the player for that 40 minutes – the advertising opportunity is massive.

‘I don’t think that players are taking that leap. The more players that push it, it will diversify and allow for bigger opportunities business-wise and promotion-wise in the future.

‘The sport is becoming a lot healthier, a lot of the players are training more, because of the state of the calendar. Dart players will look a lot fitter on TV.

‘The likes of Adidas, Nike, Reebok, whoever comes along to grab it first, there’s an opportunity there, because of the equipment that we use…not just darts, but clothing, you could have breathable stuff, like golfers, there’s darts shoes, these opportunities have never been explored.

‘There’s loads of stuff happening, you can’t play any other sport except darts online, in your home. If this [coronavirus] was to happen for a long time you could have myself vs Michael van Gerwen, playing turn for turn, bookies taking bets on it from our living rooms. No other sport, you can play a professional level that way. There’s a massive opportunity for darts there.’

Petersen is absolutely full of ideas for the sport as a whole and his own career and you get the impression he is just desperate for the rest of the world to keep up with his own ambition.

While not plotting the future of darts, Devon turns his hand to trading thanks to his background in financial services in his home country, offering another outlet for his creativity.

It is not the usual career path for a darts professional, but one that he believes has given him his unique outlook on the game and will also help him through the torrid time of the coronavirus hiatus, which has curtailed the earning power of darts for the foreseeable future.

‘I’m okay. I trade, I do Forex and trade indices as well during the week so I’ve got more time to focus on trading,’ said Petersen of dealing with the current lack of tournaments. ‘From a financial point of view it’s fine.

‘It will hurt me from a darts point of view in terms of rankings, wanting to get in the Matchplay because I’m playing well, but I’ve got money away for a rainy day and with the trading I’m not stressed.

‘If it goes on for years then I’ll have to reconsider if I’m going to stay here [in the UK] or not, but just for a month or two, it’s okay. Darts is a yearly thing. You can go from hero to zero in a year and drop down the rankings so I’ve always had a back up plan.

‘I was in banking most of my life, retail banking then financial planning and financial advising. It’s always been finance, finance, finance and now trading on a daily basis, so staying there. The old saying is “to make money you have to be in money”.

‘I studied business management and retail business management and left that with a qualification then went into the banking side and then the financial side of it. I think that’s why my mentality is quite different. Exhibitions, the merchandise, doing Sky [Sports] stuff, partnerships, ventures…it’s because of my studies and life experiences.’

Devon’s life is now based in Bradford, but he remains passionate about developing darts in South Africa, and another part of his very busy schedule is set to be creating a Junior Darts Corporation (JDC) Academy in his home city, Cape Town.

The JDC initiative, led by Steve Brown, has been a great success so far in the UK and Petersen is excited to get started in nurturing the young talent in South Africa after gaining his accreditation earlier this year.

‘This year, or possibly next year now, I’m doing a JDC Academy over there, to find the next professionals from South Africa, ready to come over when they are 18.

‘The JDC in the UK, Steve Brown and the guys, have assisted me with that. Now we can give Africa the opportunity to have a JDC Academy. That will be Cape Town, the pilot will be there and from there expand it depending on how we can manage it. The key is quality over quantity, if we can get the structures right, hopefully expand year by year.

‘I’ve sat with Steve numerous times. He’s created this opportunity for young people and I’m very happy to be a part of it.’

Petersen’s journey from Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town to Bradford is partly down to the Yorkshire city’s handy position for the PDC Pro Tour, but also thanks to Devon’s close relationship with fellow darts pro Joe Cullen.

The pair are well known to be good pals on the circuit, but hearing Petersen talk about the Yorkshireman and what he has done for his career, and his life in general, is really quite moving.

‘He’s been monumental in my career,’ Petersen said of the Rockstar. ‘A lot of people don’t know this, our relationship is amazing, but it’s much more than that, he’s like my brother. I always say that, but I mean it.

‘I never had a place to stay when I came back after my wrist injury [a year-long problem which ruined Devon’s 2013]. Joe opened up his house to me, let me get back on my feet and then I could venture out further.

‘For five to six months as I came back, he opened his house and let me stay with him. I’d stayed with him before, but that time specifically, when my career was in the balance, he was like a superhero for me. I always say I owe my career to Joe Cullen and what he’s done for me.

‘We always used to joke about it. The top tier of the sport, he’s just a few steps away, I might be a few floors away. The way in which he’s playing, he’s been phenomenal the last two years.

‘He’s probably just a few games away from breaking through and doing what Nathan Aspinall did a year ago.

‘We’ve always said, when we rule the darting world it’s going to be great, we’ll be the top two, or part of that top 10 in the world, best buddies as well, it’ll be fantastic. What a way to travel the world, it’s like being on a lads’ holiday every weekend.’

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