Right, deep breath required! My subject this time is the pricing of darts and I’m going to require a fair degree of fortitude to plunge into that murky pool of contention! But, before I do, I’d like to make one thing clear: the views I’m about to express are entirely my own and not in any way instigated by Unicorn.
The cause of this departure from my usual cosy aerodynamic comfort zone is a recent occurrence that set me thinking (always a dangerous sign). I acquired, from a friend, a signed Lowry print (Peel Park, Salford, 1944, if you’re interested). And what that has to do with the price of fish - well, darts - will hopefully soon become clear.
From a gallery, that print might have cost as much as £1,000. If I could afford the original (I wish!), it would probably be the best part of £1,000,000. But, for maybe £30, my wall could have been adorned with an unsigned print virtually identical to my new acquisition - except for that name scribbled in pencil in the corner.
But the truth is I wouldn’t be anywhere near so pleased with it. It would feel too much like I’d regressed to my student days when a Barbarella poster on the wall was the level of art to which I aspired (mind you, one of those would still have its attractions!).
So that pencil scribble is a concrete illustration of the price of fame, as is a baseball fan paying maybe $7,000 for an autographed photo of Babe Ruth when an unsigned one is $50. And if you’re wondering what’s wrong with a more patriotic example such as Bobby Moore’s shirt, I’m just trying to engage any transatlantic readers out there who might not have heard of either “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” or “Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs”!
Meanwhile, back on topic, why pay more for a dart just because it has a top player’s endorsement? Well, if you don’t want to, by all means don’t - it’s your choice. But a direct association between a product and a famous figure, whether it’s L S Lowry, Babe Ruth, Bobby Moore, or The Power, is worth a lot to many people. And, in the case of darts, it costs the manufacturer a lot to obtain. Most professional dart players survive on the circuit with the help of manufacturer sponsorships, tournaments often rely on it too. And sponsorship has to be paid for with sales.
As does, for that matter, research and development - which, judging from the comments after my last blog, at least one customer rates as worthwhile (thanks, Simon!). The R&D team at Unicorn might not be paid quite as well as Phil Taylor (well, I’m certainly not, anyway – if I were I could have bought the original of that Lowry!) but neither are we free and neither are the countless prototypes and tests – both successful and unsuccessful - that are involved in bringing to market radical new barrels like the Sigma XL, or material innovations like shafts in titanium and magnesium, or advanced on-line facilities like UniLab.
Now I don’t know the exact figures for darts, but from my experience in other sports every £1 a manufacturer spends on sponsorship or R&D needs the profit from between £5 and £10 worth of product retail sales to re-coup. It’s only the general public buying those products that keeps the sport thriving and progressing.
And that, may I suggest, is worth remembering when tempted by a £15 set of look-alike Phase 5s or James Wade Maestro Premiers from some industrial estate outfit that puts nothing back into the sport.
Of course there is also another, more direct, reason for a higher price. The quality of the product. If you pay £75 for a set of darts the manufacturer can obviously afford to make them to higher tolerances and specifications - and include a nicer case with more goodies in it - than if you paid £15. Perhaps they’re even made in a more expensive material – say 95% tungsten rather than 85%, which admittedly isn’t that much cheaper in itself, but is easier to machine and therefore results in a lower reject rate.
But even if you can’t, or don’t want to, afford a top-of-the-range set, all the major manufacturers – and certainly Unicorn as the biggest – still market a wide selection of quality darts for less than £20. All works of the engineer’s art, if not signed ones!
So, given that no-one has to pay big money to buy a perfectly adequate set of darts if they can’t afford to, what about if they can? Despite these straightened times, ever since I wrote my “Good Nature” blog I haven’t been able to stop myself thinking (told you it was dangerous!) of what, if price really weren’t an issue, would be a truly top-of-the-range set of arrows, the ultimate in objet d’art.
And not only have I now come up with an answer, I even got a quote for making them - in Platinum and Iridium!
Although that quote was a lot cheaper than a signed print (not even the original!) of Lowry’s “Going to the Match”, I still would venture that it would cause something of a stir if a £9,000 set of darts were included in the 2012 Unicorn catalogue!
And now, having dropped a nine-thousand-pound bombshell into a murky pool of contention, I’m off to the dart forums to look out for some real price indignation!