Darts. Possibly the only sport in the world which can be, and routinely was, played with a pint of beer in hand. Until a few years ago, it was normal to see top stars of the game toting an ale, even a cigarette, at championship matches.
Now the pastime that was invented in medieval England, and is strongly associated with working men’s clubs, has made it to Germany and grown from niche sport into mass phenomenon.
At the European championships, held in the west German city of Mülheim last year, over 2,000 people packed benches around the main stage, while scores more queued up for tickets outside.
Tournaments of the Professional Darts Corporation are booming in Germany. About 12,000 people came to its tournaments in 2010, and 100,000 attended seven events in 2014.
With an average ticket price of €20 ($22.83), about €2 million was taken in at ticket counters — and the trend is rising. The England-based PDC wants to increase tournaments in Germany.
“We intend to put on one event more each year,” said Sebastian Mayer, a spokesman for PDC Europe. The association hopes for additional revenue from an important sponsor. “We have lots of little partners, but not yet one major sponsor like in England, for example,” Mr. Mayer said.
“We sell 90 percent of our drinks to darts players.”
Potential financial backers may be interested in the rising number of hours of darts coverage commands on German TV channels, including Eurosport, Sport1 and Sportdeutschland.TV, the Internet broadcaster of the German Olympic Sports Federation.
“Darts is a success story for us,” Sport1’s Michael Röhrig said. Initially, the world championship was the only tournament to be broadcast, but now almost all important competitions are covered. “In 2014, we broadcast 190 hours of darts live on free-TV.”
Viewership is rising.
In 2014, an average of 280,000 people in Germany tuned in to watch contests – a TV market share of 1.1 percent. And a whopping 1.86 million people watched the world championship final at the beginning of 2015.
According to Sport1, darts is more popular now than the German Basketball League. The broadcaster aims to leverage that popularity by selling darts memorabilia and accessories on its homepage.
The demand for darts and dartboards has also been rising, a development not gone unnoticed by Hermann Stiens, managing director of Embassy Sports. The company from the west German city of Münster has been making and marketing sporting goods for 25 years, and is Germany’s leader in darts equipment.
“Since 2006, our sales involving darts have doubled,” Mr. Stiens said. Annual revenues are a medium seven-digit figure.
Business is also flourishing with electronic darts. “Since 2010, sales have risen by 15 percent,” said Georg Heming, manager of a coin-operated machine provider. Mr. Heming operates 50 e-dart machines in the Münster region.
In 2014, revenues from his machines came to around €400,000. He splits the money equally with barkeepers, who host the machines on their premises.
The knock-on effect of having machines in bars is not lost on owners.
Darts machines take in about €1,500 every month, and each guest orders at least two to three drinks per game, said Angela Buchta, a Bavarian pub owner.
“We sell 90 percent of our drinks to darts players,” says Angela Buchta of the Frankenstube pub in Ansbach, Bavaria.
The bar has three machines.
Close to 300 games take place there weekly, with six teams playing in a league. The machines take in about €1,500 every month, and each guest orders at least two to three drinks per game, or “sometimes even 12 or more,” said Ms. Buchta.
The country has about 110,000 coin-operated darts machines, according to German manufacturer Löwen. And operators estimate they bring in about €600 million annually. Löwen product manager Helmut Schneller believes growth cannot be achieved simply by setting up more machines – most suitable bars already have darts equipment, and new machines mostly go to replacing old ones.
But potential exists elsewhere, he said.
Mr. Heming’s machine-provider company and a partner have acquired the German marketing rights for the technology of Spanish firm Radikal. The technology allows machines in bars to be connected to the Internet, allowing for darts duels at a distance.
“Players can now conduct tournaments and establish leagues independently of their location and timezone,” Mr. Heming said. Compliance with rules will be monitored using cameras, sensors and remote referees.
He has been marketing the high-tech equipment in Germany since 2009. He has sold more than 1,000 at €5,000 each. “Demand is growing. In the first year, we sold 100. In 2014, it was 300, in addition to replacements of 100 old machines,” Mr. Heming said.
The online game is a hit with players. Today, each German state has its own league rankings and tournaments. Mr. Heming intends to export the technology to Austria and Switzerland and hopes to introduce a European league in two years.
His grand goal is a “darts world championship in which every participant can play right from his home.”
This article first appeared in weekly magazine WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.