PDC CHAIRMAN Barry Hearn has hailed the increased depth of the prize money spread on the professional circuit in 2016, despite Michael van Gerwen's record-breaking year.

A further £1 million in prize money was paid out last year in ranking events following the expansion of the European Tour, a new prize money structure for Players Championship events and the increase of the Players Championship Finals to 64 players.

The record-breaking year from Van Gerwen, as he won 26 tournaments including every televised ranking title, saw him win a staggering £1.7 million in prize money across all events - up £800,000 on his total from a brilliant 2015.

In total, six of the top eight prize money totals across all events increased from 2015 to 2016, while prize money down the rankings also went up.

The player earning the 16th most prize money picked up £11,250 more last year at £131,250, with the 32nd player taking home almost £8,000 more at £69,750 and the player in 40th earning an additional £9,000 with a total of £47,350.

"While Michael van Gerwen has raised the bar both on the oche with his performances and his prize money winnings, there is a great satisfaction in the continued evolution of our prize money," said Hearn.

"The pathway is there for players to come through from youth and junior level to get to the top, and the prize money on offer now means becoming a fully professional darts player is a real prospect for ambitious players.

"The figures at 16th, 32nd and 40th all increased last year and we expect them to rise again in 2017 as our professional circuit continues to flourish.

"We're committed not only to increasing prize money for our televised events but across the circuit in 2017 and last month's announcement of the record £11.2 million total on offer for players this year is proof of that growth."

The PDC are also continuing their support of affiliated tours in Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia and the expanded Nordic & Baltic circuit this year, where a series of events in each region work towards qualification for the World Championship and World Cup of Darts.

"Global development has been a huge part of our growth strategy in recent years and we're continuing that push in 2017," added Hearn.

"At the top level we have the World Series of Darts, which will extend into North America when we visit Las Vegas in July, but we're also committed to supporting the international tours around the world to find the next crop of top stars.

"It was fascinating to see so many nationalities competing amongst a record field at Qualifying School last weekend, and particularly pleasing to see players from Hong Kong, Canada and Latvia winning Tour Cards alongside the sport's more established nations."