“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under…….”
So said Grand Masterflash & The Furious Five. At times the darts industry can be similarly challenging:
AS DARTS begins to emerge from the COVID-19 period it’s exciting to see that normal service will soon be restored at the ‘business end of making darts’ as well as many versions of the activity itself. Darts World’s equipment research outfit has studied the manufacturers and now is the time all are preparing for what has become their traditional autumn/winter launches to drive sales well into 2021.
Partly due to the playing calendar, and partly due to retail seasons and other factors, darts have always operated on a very cyclical basis. Major launches are scheduled for the Autumn to coincide with the UK’s start of darts league’s season and the build-up to the professional games televised seasonal climax over the Xmas period
As very close watchers we have noticed many nuanced variations between manufacturers and their approach as well as certain new features to reflect the modern sports market:
The Big Player Launch:
Whilst much rarer owing to contractual cycles and timing, these are becoming the ultimate sought after affair with bigger stage-managed productions that mirror the events in the football like transfer market. No longer is a player signed with a photo and handshake, and then a few months later a single dart and flight combo produced. It more like the announcement of Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
The capture of MVG, by Winmau, was perhaps the clearest overall demonstration of this concept and ‘launch’. Months in the planning, with an entire range fully market-ready on day one. These physical launch events featuring goodie bags, photo ops, and much more, are perfectly allied with the social media and marketing push. The result, even before lockdown, looked like a resounding demand-driven success.
Target pioneered this modern type of effort after Unicorn with their signing of ‘The Power’, a few years previous, using the already worked ‘appetite building’ and ‘revolution is coming’ launch styles for their revolutionary Carrera and Cortex Azzuri ranges.
New/Full Range Launch:
Our major manufacturer’s posture around the yearly launch to win the ultimate consumer bragging rights, which tends to culminate in their largest scale launches some featuring a catalogue full of new lines and innovations mixed in with existing products, several of which are repackaged or expanded ranges. This allows for a large positioned launch, which often sees Target and Unicorn attempt the big splashes first, as well as staged or mini launches at differing points of the year.
Harrows are often next into the fray with a more selected launch targeting a specific product area, points for example, or a smaller but focused effort around a range or player.
Winmau seems to let the dust settle before starting their formal launch process perhaps driven by differentiated manufacturing cycles and their specific retail distribution as it works towards Christmas, with Red Dragon the only other big brand hitting the January launch in the year the ranges are designed for.
Emerging and Niche Brands:
Two approaches seem to dictate the approach of other, less well-known outfits who are rapidly increasing in number, choose to launch around the big guns, and attempt a ‘pilot fish’ strategy to gain from the massive increase in darts marketing and exposure over the periods. Others deliberately try to avoid these periods and run tailor-made launches in parts of the cycle not dominated by major releases or darts news that does not feature their chosen player, accessory, or product.
Darts World has commented on various occasions that times are changing, in the darts ecosystem, and we expect COVID to have accelerated some of these changes. Management companies seem to be looking to remodel their operations, manufacturers may be more thoughtful of supply lines and the model of player/personality sponsorship and brand association is on a constant conveyor belt of change due to social media, manufacturer techniques, and intellectual property development. There are also looming threats from huge sporting conglomerates, from China and other areas, who regard the darts market with envious eyes.
Over the coming weeks and months, Darts World, and ‘The Boardroom’ team, will be reviewing every major launch and analysing the shifting sands of the darts business. We shall also be looking closely into the real effects of COVID and other factors on the infrastructure and financial health of various aspects of the darts industry.
If the traditional partnership, between Players, fans, media, and manufacturers, is to thrive going forward it will be important to ensure that all elements are in good shape and playing their part in the future.
Darts World will be looking at every angle of every launch and industry move of the coming months and we look forward to keeping all interest parties fully informed.