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The Price of Fame

Posted by UniBoffin at 11:49 on 12th October 2010 in UniBlog

The Price of Fame

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!

There are 17 comments to this post

Posted by jMad John at 14:59 on 12th October 2010

Good dart sets can be certainly had for half the price of the top ranges. All I can say is that my game improved a great deal when I made the leap to Black Titanium, Sigma, and Phase 5. If the 2011 Sigma Super Pro Range ever gets to America I will get them. So if the Uniboffin would please help get them loaded on the boat we will sing his praises albeit softly

Posted by David Hartley at 12:28 on 13th October 2010

what a ridiculous comparison.
A famous painting against a set of darts.
one has been painted by a renowned artist, with all his skill and talent.
the other is a set of darts with a signature on them.

R+D = £90 for a set of darts, utter rubbish.
phil taylor is using the same barrels (with his own grip) the same stems and very similar flights to John lowe was using 20 years ago.
what research and development was there exactly?
please explain, i'm waiting with baited breath, Mr Uniboffin.

Posted by The UniBoffin at 23:24 on 13th October 2010

Dear David,

As it would be a bit much to expect you to bait your breath until my next Uniblog, herewith a bit from my recent "Secret of the Unicorn" blog (there are also earlier ones such as "The Good, the Bad, and the Ungainly" with similar references) which I hope will help answer one of your points:

"Yes, you did see John Lowe play with Sigma-style flights on TV in the 1980s. But it was still me that designed them. Yes, I’m THAT old and that’s how long it’s taken for Sigmas to be developed from small-batch prototypes to the finished article you can buy in the shops today."

As for your other complaint about the inaptness of comparing a Lowry with a Lowy (if you get what I mean!), I can but agree. However, my comparison was meant to be between two Lowry prints, one signed and one unsigned. The link to endorsed and non-endorsed darts was then by analogy with this comparison.

So I won't apologise too much for that, or indeed (whilst I'm at it) for putting "forums" and not "fora" (which would have been be both clumsily pedantic and possibly not even correct), although I will say sorry for improbably confusing a song by Status Quo with one featuring the Tintwistle Brass Band and St Winifred's School Choir and putting "Matchstick" instead of "Matchstalk"!

Anyway, David, (and, indeed, jMad John!), please do keep those comments coming - whether positive or negative. It's nice to know someone out there is actually reading this stuff and if no-one posts comments I won't know what questions people want me to answer!

Kind Regards

The UniBoffin

Posted by john wilson at 05:25 on 14th October 2010

your telling me, that phil needs all that money, to travel the world when hes ,winning nearly all the majors except the lakeside and winmau lol.

Posted by The Flower at 15:14 on 15th October 2010

The Rosso Phase 5's are without doubt a finely engineered dart and great to use if you don't need a large grip (look to Sigma's if you need that).

Worth the money?

Like any endorsed product, you pay a premium, but with that premium comes the knowledge that there is no compromise in quality and they're proven. Doesn't mean the darts will suit your game or make you better just that there already used by the best.
On a practical level the coating gets dinged off quite quickly, but what are you going to do, put them in a frame on the wall?........... hmmm, now there's a thought.


Posted by robert at 20:27 on 16th October 2010

engineering yes does cost time and money but what about the materials used also would you pay the same for the barrel if the pros werent winning and does that add to the cost well i think it does but that wont make me support the pie man instead of barney just to get cheaper darts if you see where im coming from

Posted by David Hartley at 16:32 on 20th October 2010

Thanks for your eloquent reply mr Uniboffin, but in your search for fancy words and a witty comeback i fear you may have not answered my crirticism fully (or was that your plan).
How do Unicorn justify charging a stupid amount of money on a dart/shaft/flight design that has been around for years.
It certainly wasn't on R+D. It can't be materials or shipping costs, otherwise all your other products would have seen a similar price hike.
That really only leaves sponsorship and profit.

please tell me i'm wrong....

Posted by The UniBoffin at 19:55 on 20th October 2010

Dear David,

Firstly, my genuine thanks for commenting again - as I said, feedback like yours does really help me to identify and address the issues that concern the people that matter here - dart players and enthusiasts.

Secondly, although I did try to make my reply entertaining, I did also take your concerns seriously and tried to answer your criticisms fully. However, I suspect that whatever I said wouldn't have completely mollified you about the price of top-end darts!

But that is your prerogative, all I can say is that many years of R&D effort have gone into developing the darts in question and that has to be - I think not unreasonably - reflected in their price, as does the cost of endorsing player sponsorship. As to profit, it would be an unusual manufacturer that sold products without looking to make some!

But in that context I'd like to add that I have worked with manufacturers in quite a few sports and the profit element in darts is a lot less than in many! Nonetheless, although £90 for a top-of-the-range set of darts* may not seem that much next to a $1000 golf wood, I realise it will still be too rich for many folks' pockets and one of the beauties of our sport is that, as I said, less than £20 will still buy what I described as a "perfectly adequate" set.

And, on that note, that's all from me. It's unusual for me to reply to posts directly, but I felt the points you made were of general interest and deserved a quick response. Please keep reading and keep posting with any questions that you'd like me to answer, but forgive me if I usually wait until my next regular blog to respond.

Kind Regards

The UniBoffin

* Top-of-the-range unless I ever get my £9,000 Platinum and Iridium ones made!

Posted by mark heggie at 02:40 on 22nd October 2010

how come phil taylor purist gold darts are only twenty quid and he won numerous titles with those darts,now suddenly the phase 5 darts jump up to 70 quid??punters are no mugs uniboffin.and what about the big silent phase 4 darts.............even phil couldnt throw them lol.....if it wasnt for andy hamilton then phase 4 darts would be right up there with the titanic lol

Posted by J Mellows at 10:48 on 22nd October 2010

Like uniboffin says, if you dont like the price, then buy something else. I know people who spend £70 on beer on a night out but then moan about a £70 set of darts! I'm by no means any good at darts since purchasing my sigmas but it was my choice to do so and I think they are great. I have more confidence throwing them than a cheaper set even though i doubt they improve my massively innacurate throwing by much. As an engineer, the quality and look of the darts is important to me and because I understand about the processes and quality control I can appreciate why the high end darts cost what they do. Unicorn is a business and is entitled to make a profit, the margins are not exactly up there with Ferrari's. I just cant understand why profit making even bothers people. Stick to the budget brass darts if price bothers you. If you cant afford the expensive darts then tough. I want a Bugatti but i have to drive an Astra!

Posted by John Khong at 08:25 on 25th October 2010

R&D? You guys are not taking much chances. Look at the Sigma range. Radical changes? More of slight adjustment in the barrel length and circumference. I threw in afew hundreds of quid to try them out. I end up with Peter Manley eventually and I am into the 3rd set of it from all the abuse(or poor quality of the darts). The Tungsten series was a joke. It didnt last me 3 months of play. It started peeling. You guys should look East and take a leaf from the Japanese darts maker. Bold in dart design and concept. btw, I had my hands on some of them too.
Be bold. Dont just change the material. Come up with something fantastic.

Posted by The UniBoffin at 22:08 on 25th October 2010

Dear Johns (one Mad, two presumably sane!), David, The Flower, Robert, Mark, J Mellows, and anyone else who posts comments subsequent to to this message,

Well, I did say deep breath required! But many thanks to all of you for making this much my liveliest UniBlog. As I said to David, I don't usually reply to posts directly, but as he is not the only one who has raised issues - whether agreeing and disagreeing with my proposition - that merit detailed replies that I felt I should post once more just to reassure you all that I shall try to answer your comments as best I can in my forthcoming Uniblogs.

In the meantime, may I suggest Mark might be interested in my early "Sigma to the Power of One" Uniblog (it can still be found on the Unicorn website) and I'd be interested in what John Khong thinks of Sigma XLs - and, just for his Mad namesake, I'll chase Unicorn about getting them on the boat to the US!

Kind Regards

The UniBoffin

Posted by John Khong at 03:10 on 26th October 2010

Yo UniBoffin.
U think 2 is insane? I forgot to mention. I got with me Kevin Painter, Ray Carver, Colin Ros. James Wade.... seems like I am collecting them... I am such a sucker for Unicorn....
I do alot of soft tip darts, Thus I have to cross my finger u guys will come up with one from the Sigma XL for the soft tip.
btw, I am from Singapore :O)

Posted by Warren Ackary at 06:06 on 3rd November 2010

Hi Uniboffin, I hope all is well in the Unicave!

I am looking forward to seeing how long the Rosso coating lasts on some of the other player branded darts

Take care

Posted by Mad John at 16:48 on 9th November 2010

Supposebly the Sigma Super Pro XL darts have arrived in America but are being held up in customs. Did the Uniboffin violate British National Security by exporting sensitive technology?

Posted by Bob at 14:10 on 24th November 2010

I have a question, which may not be relevent to this discussion, but still niggles in my mind and a comment on this page reminded me of it. On the Unicorn site (and all darts retail sites) the Phil Taylor Phase 4 is given as Sigma Pro 970, i've always wondered why as on the videos i've seen the darts Phil used in 2008 were deinitely more like the 950s as they had the grip all the way to the back of the barrel as opposed to the 970s which have a smaller grip section. Also they wouldn't have been the Pro version as he used short XLTi shafts and slim Maetro flights.

I know it's not an important thing, but i've always wondered why the 970s were marketed as Phase 4 when the darts he used were quite different.

Posted by Warren at 07:24 on 9th December 2012

Costly or not costly

I know who I would put the care of making my darts iin regardless

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