January 6, 2010

Branding the Arrows

photoEvery year before Christmas, my University friends catch up over a drink or two to share news, stories and celebrate the festive season.

It was left to a chap called Mark to organise this year’s shindig for friends, wives and girlfriends, and he decided to co-ordinate something a bit different from the usual meal and drinks.

Mark had everyone buy tickets for the World’s Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace in North London. No one knows why – only Mark knows anything about the arrows – but it didn’t stop everyone embracing the idea.

It almost didn’t happen. It was the day before Christmas when snow came down in bucketloads all over London suddenly on a Monday afternoon.

Given that Alexandra Palace is on top of a steep hill and various transport networks were disrupted (local buses were cancelled) the event organisers very nearly called it off.

In the end, the evening went ahead with a slightly reduced crowd and playing schedule. Despite only half of the matches going ahead, no one seemed to mind one bit.

Live darts appears to be as much about singing and drinking as it is about the action, and the snow hadn’t frozen the beer taps.

One of the most surprising aspects of the night (at least for someone more used to being a spectator at football, rugby and cricket matches) is the level of banter and general interaction between the crowd and players.

Each player has a nickname and a character for the audience to identify with. One player – the aussie Paul ‘The Asset’ Nicholson – took to the stage wearing a pair of sunglasses while I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News) by Eagles of Death Metal blared from the speakers. He was roundly booed by everyone.

In the real world, The Asset looks like just another ordinary bloke. You wouldn’t look twice at him if he walked past you in the street, but in a world stereotyped by big-bellied beer guzzlers, Paul is the “eye candy” of the dart’s circuit as I heard one female admirer observe.

His questionable matinee idol good looks seemed to instantly mark The Asset out as a hate figure among the beery boo boys. His nationality probably had something to do with it too.

The branding aspect of player’s identities piqued my interest and following a bit of research, I discovered some of the players are successfully leveraging their identities in the online world.

World number one Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor will sell you ‘Power Socks’ and a ‘Power Pencil Case’ all emblazoned with his trademark lightening bolts. Andy ‘X-Factor’ Boulton will flog you a key ring and Kevin ‘The Painter’ Artist will exchange a teddy bear, mug and baby’s bib for some of your hard earned cash.

Darts maybe a player’s weapon of choice, but it seems you have not arrived on the oche until you have acquired a nickname and an online store to go with it.

Who knew darts was so attuned to the power of branding and the commercial opportunities offered by the internet. Well, certainly not me anyway.

So, in the spirit of darts branding, I’ve compiled a list of the top 6 darts nicknames, along with their walk-on music.

1. Phil ‘The Power’ or ‘The Crafty Potter’ Taylor/The Power by Snap!

2. Simon ‘The Wizard’ Whitlock/New Sensation by INXS

3. Ross ‘The Boss’ Montgomery/I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas

4. Martin ‘The Assassin’ Atkins/Assassing by Marillion

5. Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ Baxter/Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen

6. Steve ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ Beaton/Stayin Alive by The Bee Gees