Darts could be a bullseye for your pub
The sport is alive and kicking in pubs and could pull in the punters this summer, say its top stars
Darts legend Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor never did accept an invitation from Geronimo Inns boss Rupert Clevely to challenge him to a game in one of the group’s pubs.
Taylor is the spearhead of the Save Our Darts Campaign, which claimed last year that darts was facing extinction due to the growth of gastropubs. Refuting this assertion, Clevely issued his war cry to prove that darts was present and correct in the trade. Naturally, in the interests of fairness, it would have involved Taylor playing blindfolded.
Since then, building momentum behind darts has suggested the campaign’s claims were slightly hysterical. Darts is back.
Competition organisers and Sky TV have pumped money into the professional game. Tournaments now resemble Las Vegas boxing matches with their bombastic glamour. Accordingly, darts is the second most watched sport on Sky Sports, behind football. This has had a massive impact on consumers, and increased the number of players in pubs. The Professional Darts Players Association estimates that there are more than one million people who play darts once a month or more. According to the last Publican Market Report, 50 per cent of pubs have dartboards.
Could darts go some way to filling the void left by the lack of our footballers’ involvement in Euro 2008? The Las Vegas Desert Classic is at the end of this month, for example, the Stan James World Matchplay at the end of July.
Now is the time for pubs to step up to the oche by pulling in punters to either play or watch darts. We spoke to three of the world’s top darts stars to find out how changes in the way the sport is perceived have made it more appealing to pubs.
James ‘The Machine’ Wade
World ranking: 3
Local: The Golden Lion, Aldershot, Hampshire
"Darts is dying in pubs? In my opinion, that’s nonsense," says Wade.
"In my area, I would say 70 per cent of pubs and clubs have got boards back in. There’s so much interest from young people, who are seeing that players can earn money out of it. It’s quite attainable to earn £100,000 a year. At the same time, it’s a game everyone can play."
According to ‘The Machine’, it’s these ever-growing prize pots in the professional arena and the distant prospect of rising through the ranks from your first game of darts in the pub that is enticing. Darts’ new-found glamour trickles down to pubs, he believes.
"It’s got to happen in pubs as well. If you put the darts on the telly, there will always be a couple of blokes who will get up, have a couple of throws, think ‘I can do that’," he says.
This was exactly how the world number three started out. "The reason I started playing was I used to see blokes down the pub, all having a laugh, playing the game. I thought, at the very least, if I get into it, it’s going to be fun.
"The pubs helped nurture me. The roots of your ability to cope with the noise and crowds are in a pub. You put up with everyone shouting out, trying to put you off just like you do at Wembley."
Wayne ‘Hawaii 501’ Mardle
World ranking: 9
Local: The Crown, Romford, Kent
Hawaiian shirt-sporting Mardle claims to have "groupies, people that follow us all over the world".
Mardle says, however, that while pros have developed healthier lifestyles, "darts is a working man’s sport and the pub is a working man’s environment. We don’t want to dissociate ourselves from that atmosphere of drinking and smoking."
‘Hawaii 501’ takes a lot of bookings for exhibitions and demos in pubs. These can be a big draw, he says. "It works. I do exhibitions on a Tuesday night and the pub is full when it would otherwise not be," he explains.
"Pubs may have to pay for an exhibition but you can triple what you make on the bar from those extra customers."
Mardle understands why darts was once in decline in pubs – "because people were relying on casual players. The trouble is that once those people have their darts, they might just have a Coke and play. People can put in a couple of extra tables, do food and make more money."
But a more organised approach, on the other hand, is an efficient way of getting tills ringing, he suggests: "To really make money from darts, get a league going and promote it."
Peter ‘One Dart’ Manley
World ranking: 11
Local: The Green Bank, Carlisle
"One Dart" seems to match certain darts stereotypes. "I’m probably the most unfit out of the top 32," he says. "I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a couple of pints just to settle my nerves. I’m playing in front of 8,000 people out there!"
However, he says that overall the professional game has moved away from this image. "A lot of credit must go to the Professional Darts Corporation for that and of course Sky Sports, which creates the best image for darts and makes it more about crowd participation," Manley says.
"Top darts players have never worked any harder. Demand for exhibitions and presentations in pubs has never been higher."
Despite the razzmatazz of the big events, pubs will always be integral to the sport, says Manley. He explains: "I’ve been to China and they don’t have pubs; they have sports halls. In England, if you want to play darts, you go to the pub. It’s the done thing."
Darts tips from David Brown, on-trade sales director for Whyte and Mackay, the whisky brand sponsoring Premier League darts
• Choose a night with no other sporting events.
• Advertise the event thoroughly in your bar and local media.
• Find out whether there are amateur leagues in your area and contact them, remembering not to overlook female darts teams.
• Charge an entry fee to cover the cost of prizes or to be given to charity.
• Make sure the prize is relevant. Think about offering spot prizes for the highest checkout or bullseyes.
• Play towards a final in a knock-out competition. This makes the tournament last longer, keeping trade in the pub.
• Have a players enclosure with drinks promotions and a buffet.
• Get your local Sid Waddell to compere the evening.
• Create your own branded 180 cards for fans.
• Let competitors make up their own nicknames and pick their walk-on music.
• Have some of your attractive regulars act as walk-on girls and boys for the evening to escort the players up to the oche.
Story by: The Publican