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Supporting American Darts

In my last blog, I talked about how many new dart companies are gaining cheap advertising by offering a product sponsorship to many players. I felt that it was also time to take a look at how we, the consumer for dart related products, are spending our money and what we are getting in return for it. I know the mentality, it’s my money and as a consumer I should be able to spend it when and where I want. I get that. I am looking at this from the perspective of players getting something in return for their business. I am not saying that companies are not allowed to make a profit, but at some point we as players need to make a stand and band together. We all know that the almighty dollar dictates the growth of anything. As a mass, we have more power to dictate the growth of darts in America than any other entity.

We now have multiple companies from Asia in the market, which are making a lot of money off the American consumer and are taking all the profits and giving nothing back in return to grow darts in America. For the paltry sum of sponsoring a couple of players and offering a product sponsorship to a few other players, they are earning thousands upon thousands of dollars and using American darters, while not giving anything back to grow darts here in return. Where are the sponsors adding money to tournaments to increase payouts and attendance? Where is the (big name dart company) $10,000 USA Open? Where is the (big name flight company) $10,000 North American Classic?

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The second part of the conversation covers the topic of American based companies. Do people ever wonder how come there are very little USA based dart companies in existence? Are you spending your money to get supplies from England because you save 20 cents on a set of flights? Players should be taking the initiative to support those businesses struggling to succeed in the American market and are willing to put their money back into America via players and events. You have people like Ken McCowan of NineDartOut and Bill Penn of The Dart Zone both working hard to make their mark on America’s dart scene and doing everything they can to support events and the players, yet we have thousands and thousands of players who go online and buy their products from UK based stores because they can get a lower price. Do you really think those stores are then going to turn around and put that money back into the American market for darts? No. I would imagine that should those same thousands and thousands of players who make purchases through American based companies, and then the prices would lower to be competitive with those UK based stores. It’s simple economic logic. Now imagine the possibilities of support for players and events if those same thousands and thousands of players started putting their money to work here in America. It is something we as players should seriously consider. We are a nation of strong consumers for dart related products and as a whole, if we all banded together to take that strength of numbers and dollars to move it to the American market, we could see many more advantages being thrown our way. Then people like Ken and Bill would have the opportunity to leverage those profits into improving the American market.

So next time are you looking to buy products, think about the companies that are making those products available to you. Take the time and make it a point to offer your business and support to a company that is going to, at some point, offer something to you in return for that business and support here in America. Take a stand and do something to support darts. It may seem small and insignificant to you, but it is up to each and every one of us to use commerce to make our collective voices heard.

Anne Sleepy Kramer
www.sleepykramer.com


Invasion of the Product Player

Last week, after the steel tip tournament in Virginia Beach, the topic of conversation came up about elite players, product players, shirts, sponsors and logos. Some of the comments that were made were that there were now so many players sporting new shirts with company logos all looking like they are elite sponsored players. There was no differentiation between elite players, product players and everyday players. One can see how it might seem weird when there are more players in a tournament hall sporting shirts with more company logos than a 3 time World Champion that happened to be in attendance. But I can also see the perspective from the everyday player’s point of view. It’s their money to spend however they want to. And having the opportunity to buy these styles of shirts with the logos added in gives them a sense of belonging to a select group of players. I can see it as a source of camaraderie with players, especially when they sport the same brand and style of shirt.  Is it really the fault of the shirt companies? I do not think the blame can just be dumped on the new shirt companies with their “fancy shirts” as they certainly did not create the problem. These companies saw a business opportunity to fill a demand from the public and give them what they were looking for. I personally have to admit that it is so much easier to have a sublimated shirt with logos than it is to have shirts with patches and have to constantly deal with double sided tape, removing all patches before washing and then making sure they don’t fall off at some point over the weekend. Sublimated shirts are the greatest thing ever. And I do have to agree with the thought someone put out there that it really does lend a lot more to the professional look of the players that buy and wear these shirts. Whereas you would see just a lot of people dressed in normal street clothes and not really understand what you are looking at if you are a non-player just looking in the room, nowadays there is some small sort of uniformity in the dress of the players in attendance. So while the sponsor logo issue can seem to be a detractor, the overall look of the players since the addition of sublimated shirts is definitely a huge positive for darts.

Would it be more beneficial for those companies to create a standard for advertising and marketing not only of their own brand, but across the board in the steel tip and soft tip world? Another interesting idea was companies providing generic logos that can be used on shirts by their product only sponsored players, and then creating other logos with a different color variation that would be specific for their elite sponsored players. Would this eliminate the problem with not knowing who is an elite sponsored player for the company and who is sponsored as a product player? Would this add more value to the companies out there? I can certainly see where it would add more value for the elite players out there to be more easily recognized.
 
Or can it be the over saturation of product players from all the new companies trying to market in the darts field and are willing to offer what some consider limited giveaway deals to players in order to get their name and brand out there and recognized. Does it give so much free advertising for the companies that then the companies are not willing to pay a little extra to actually sponsor a player to help them get to a higher level? Honestly, I cannot see why they would when they can get all the cheaper advertising they want from the masses that are willing to wear their logo for free product only. And then there is no negotiating power for the elite player. It does not give any leeway for anything extra that the elite player can really offer the company that isn’t already being given freely by ten other local players who are product only players looking to be recognized and wear their logo to look like they are part of the elite group of sponsored players. From a marketing perspective, it’s easy to see why the companies would rather choose 10 lesser known players to be product players than one elite player. Chances are that lesser known product player plays a little more often locally and has the opportunity to expose many other local players to the product, while the elite player may spend more of their time traveling to tournaments every weekend and might not have quite the impact of product exposure that the local player does. Obviously, in this case, the companies are paying for a name to be seen in the later rounds and into the finals of the events. But does this create more brand awareness for their products than those 10 product players? It’s easy enough to tell that the cost for them is cheaper than actually sponsoring an elite player.
 
Can it also be a fusion of new blood into darts? Those same players who grew up getting participation trophies for Little League. Are those the same players now who want to get something in return for little to no effort? Are they willing to just give themselves away for nothing but product in return for being able to look like one of the top players and fit in the with the “in crowd”? Are product sponsorship's and new dart shirts with fancy logos all over them the new “participation trophies” of today? One company owner went so far as to say that he was aware of a player actually lying about being sponsored. Do we all really need to stoop to that level?
 
When it comes down to it, the top players don’t feel so special anymore because when they walk into a room full of dart players, many of them are wearing the same style of shirts with logos all over them. There is less quality derived for those top players that travel 20-30 weekends a year to compete. In the market today for darts, top players should be differentiated in some way from the everyday player. At one time, new players wanted to emulate their favorite top players. Now it seems that being a product player is a more enjoyable avenue for them. So now players can just get a new shirt with logos so they can look like a top player themselves without having to put in all the extra time and effort to become one.

It has become a well-known and obvious frustration for the elite players of today and it’s not without merit. You have many companies out there making a whole lot of money on sales just here in the USA alone and not giving back much in return because they have learned the trick of using the product player for their advertising. Rumors are bandied about regarding some type of unionization of players or some form of committee put in place to help address issues such as these. Such a thing could bring bargaining power back to the elite player and set a standard into place for current and future players. This option just might give the elite players the opportunity to push back on these companies so that they start investing more into the market that they are gaining so much revenue from. At some point, the players have to make some sort of stand. But we all have to wonder if in the end, will those elite players be cutting of their nose to spite their face? The companies could just as easily say good bye to those players and continue using product players to promote their merchandise. We see so much merchandising at other sporting events, yet we don’t seem to see very much at all at dart events.

It now becomes a larger problem for darts in general. We now have companies that are getting advertising for little to no cost to them other than product.  They are not putting much of that money being earned back into the game at some level to help it grow. At some point, this trickles down into other areas. You now have elite players that have less to negotiate with and in return, they are getting less or they are getting turned down completely because those companies can get a lot more for a lot less with product players. This topic also falls into advertising and the other businesses that rely on advertisers in order to put a product out for the players, such as dart magazines…or yes, even a blog! I recently submitted an advertising proposal to a company and they asked if I would accept product in lieu of payment. Somehow I can’t see Coca-Cola offering ABC a few million cans of soda pop in return for commercial advertising.
A new trend could be that the top players now don’t wear fancy shirts with logos at all, thus creating another market for the shirt manufacturers. Perhaps an exclusive line of shirts made solely for those companies to buy for their elite sponsored players, so that only those players will be wearing them and will allow the rest of the players and general public to see that there is something different and gives those players the opportunity to stand out from the crowd. After all, they do put forth a lot of extra time, effort and money to be some of the best players out there. If sponsors are not rewarding them with some sort of compensation to help them achieve their goals in exchange for promoting their products, at least they can still receive the recognition they deserve for all their hard work with a shirt designed specifically them to be recognized as the elite player they are.
Anne Sleepy Kramer

Darts and the Almighty Dollar

My curiosity is getting the better of me and I have to ask these things otherwise I spend all night awake because my brain refuses to stop thinking.

When we compete in softball, we invest in equipment, pay our money to play league and tournaments without a thought as to where the money was going, who was doing what with it, and the dreaded topic….were they making a profit? We didn’t care because we had a passion for playing the game and competing at the highest level we could. If you play, do you ask the organizers or field owners if they are making a profit? Do you ask them what they do with that profit? Do you demand of them that they should then share some of that profit with you?

Many compete in paintball and end up working their way up to tournament teams. During those years, they invest in equipment, only to invest in better equipment, and continue on as technology progressed and newer, more advanced equipment became available. They never think anything of it because it was a passion that they have to compete and be the best that they could be. And players went to events and paid money to play without a care as to the payouts for winning or the rate of return on their investment to get there to compete.

I bet almost all of us that compete at darts have probably at one time in life competed in some of these other events. So the questions of the day are….why do dart players insist on knowing where all the money goes when someone creates and operates an event that allows you to compete? Why do dart players insist that an event not make a profit?

I recently heard about one such event in South Carolina called Ghost on the Coast, a well-known steel tip dart tournament. The tournament flyer with tournament prize size and payouts was posted many months before the event even happened and people made plans to attend because they always have a fun time there. The organizers that run the event were blasted over the internet multiple times from many sides because their event was so well attended that they made a lot of extra money. It seems the players there thought that they should have put that extra money back into the event payouts.

Honestly, do you play your round of golf, notice it is a fabulous day out, see all the extra people out playing a round that day and go up to the owner of the course and demand that since so many people are out playing today, he should then take some of that profit and offer it back to the players that were there that day? Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? So what makes darts so special that the players have determined that no event should be for profit and no organizer should actually have a positive balance in their account after the event has taken place?

I was talking with Charles at RedEye Rhino about this very subject, which then sparked the idea for this next blog post. It’s not something new. I had done a similar article for a web based darts forum back in 2007. Things are still the same. The mentality hasn’t changed.

Charles wanted to speak particularly about the Premier Cup Amateur Qualifier, which drew 64 players with an entry fee of $50 each. Total for the first event was $3200. It seems that some people are concerned about what is being done with that money.

His replies to my questions were, as follows: “Most players have no regard to the business and its operational cost. For the Saturday event at the Premier Cup, there is blind draw paying out a guaranteed $10,000. Not one person has asked where that guaranteed money comes from or where the $5,000 that is being added to the main event is coming from. Then of course, there is the cost of running the event including, but not limited to venue fees, board rental, travel and hotel cost for the staff, which can run us $8,000 easily. I’m failing to understand why do some dart players feel that every cent is owed to them?”

None of the companies involved in the sports I noted at the beginning of this blog work for free, so why do dart players insist that any companies related to darts have to be a not for profit company? No one in this country in darts should work for free including tournament directors, especially when those directors have to deal with the scrutiny of people who feel entitled or feel that events and leagues should be free. We all know money doesn't grow on trees and neither does the idea of improving darts. From a business perspective, it takes money to make money, and for darts it’s the same thing.... if we want the bigger sponsors they are going to have to make money in order for them to invest. If a company is not making money, do you expect them to stick around? Yet it seems that all dart players are concerned about is if 100% of their money is being paid back to them. Go ask the PGA or PBA that question and see how far you get.

So the next time you catch yourself counting the entries, take a moment to stop and think about the value you are getting for the money you are spending. For a majority of the players today, remember that you are not making a living playing darts. Darts is a hobby and we are being entertained, like all the other sports we participate in. And as with any type of entertainment, you pay to play.

Anne Sleepy Kramer
www.sleepykramer.com


The darts world as we know it is coming to an end

The darts world will never be the same. The darts world as we know it is coming to an end. These are some of the words that epitomize some of the feelings expressed after Benjamin Dersch of Janesville, Wisconsin, a predominately soft-tip darts player did the unthinkable and won both the 501 and Cricket singles events at the steel tip darts event known as the Las Vegas Open.

The Las Vegas Open has been around for a very long time. This year marked the 38th annual event, which for all you math geniuses, that means it started in 1979. Benjamin Dersch was 1.5 years old. I have attended this tournament for more years than I care to mention after doing that math. However, I do recall in 2003, the doubles team of Chris White and John Kramer won both open doubles events that weekend and it was noted that this was the first time since the start of the tournament in 1979 that this had been accomplished. It has since been repeated by the team of John Part and Dan Olson. But nowhere in the record books is it written, that I and many others are aware of, that one player has gone and won both men’s singles events until this past weekend with Ben’s wins. To me, this is the surprising part! Out of all the incredible players that have attended the event in previous years, this feat has not been done before. Even with the likes of players in attendance such as 3 time World Champion John Part. Multiple PDC top players such as Wes Newton, Simon Whitlock and Ritchie Burnett have all been in attendance at the Las Vegas Open. The tournament has been home to the Cricket National Championships for over 10 years now, which invites many of the top elite steel tip players in America to compete. Yet, with all these well known, top players in attendance year after year, the feat has never been completed. So why is it a big deal? Is it simply because Ben is primarily a soft-tip darts player? Obviously a darts player needs some sort of skill and/or talent to be able to compete at the levels that Ben has competed at in the soft-tip darts world. So why is it such a surprise to see someone who has skill and talent go out and win a couple singles events in steel tip? Would it be any different if a predominantly steel tip player were to go out and win a huge soft-tip event? Well, we all know that has been done and seems to be not such a big deal after all. Or was it because Ben won the Friday night LOD too? That has to be it!

But hey, guess what else happened that no one else seems to be talking about? Ben now has an invite to compete at the World Masters over in England later this year. And if he can really make his mark there, he could possibly get an invite to compete for a spot at Lakeside. And for those that don’t know…..that’s the BDO World Championships! And it’s all steel tip…imagine that!