Hitting the Bullseye

Darts is an activity that has attracted growing interest over the past few years, both in participation and viewership. Increased demand for products such as signature and branded darts, dartboards, jerseys, and flights (the plastic or nylon stabilizers on the darts) has followed, with rights mostly granted to specialist licensees.

The game of darts was invented in England in the Middle Ages as something for soldiers to do in their leisure time, and the U.K. remains the leading market today. All told, broadcasts of darts competitions in Britain saw 33% higher viewership in 2023 than 2022. And the 2024 Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) World Darts Championships (held in December 2023) attracted an average audience of 3.68 million, up from 2 million in 2023 and double the level of 2022. The peak of 4.8 million-plus who viewed the finals made that the most-watched non-football/soccer sports event ever on Sky TV.

The World Darts Federation counts the organizers of darts competitions from more than 70 countries among its members, and darts have become increasingly popular over time in places like Australia, the Netherlands, and Germany, which have produced numerous high-performing pro players.

In the U.S., the game is not as established, but it is on the rise, professionally, in viewership, and as a participant sport. Global competitions are starting to be held in the U.S.; the World Series of Darts has had an event at Madison Square Garden since 2022. More pro players are American than in the past, although few have reached the world rankings yet. And, according to the National Sporting Goods Association’s 2023 Sports Participation in the U.S. report, the fastest-growing segment of participation sports in 2022, up 8.4%, was indoor sports, with the increase driven by darts-throwing along with billiards/pool and table tennis. The NSGA estimated that 17 million people in the U.S. played darts in 2020.

Several factors have contributed to the the sport’s recent rise. COVID led broadcasters to turn to darts programming as one way to fill their airwaves during production stoppages, and consumers picked up the game as they looked for new ways to fill their time while locked down. The rise in tournament prize money and betting opportunities have intensified pro rivalries and added excitement for viewers. And many of the current top players have gained strong followings due to both their play and personalities.

A case in point is 16-year-old Briton Luke Littler, who earned second place in the record-setting 2024 PDC World Darts Championship. His quick ascension in the sport and appealing presence in the media has resulted in speculation, especially in U.K. darts circles, on how much he could potentially earn from endorsements and sponsorship agreements. In 2023 he signed a licensing deal with Target Darts, with some of the products—identified with his nickname, “The Nuke”—selling out before his championship run.

Licensing in the darts category is dominated by signature products tied to the leading players. But sports properties (including soccer/football clubs, the U.S. major leagues, and colleges), streetwear brands, musicians, and other property types are also present. Some of the key licensees include:

  • Winmau. In addition to working with many of the leading players, including Michael Van Gerwen, Florian Hempel, Joe Cullen, Simon Whitlock, Danny Noppert, and more, on darts, flights, boards, and jerseys, this company has ties with organizations such as the PDC and various national darts associations. It has also licensed streetwear brands such as Supreme and Palace for limited-edition dartboards.
  • Target Darts. Littler is joined on this company’s roster of players by Rob Cross, Scott Williams, Chris Dobey, Nathan Aspinall, Raymond Van Barneveld, and many others. In addition to their signature darts and flights, offerings include special collections, such as the current Barney25 limited edition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Van Barneveld’s first World Championship.
  • Darts Corner. This company offers darts and dartboards under license from 12 U.K. and European football clubs, including Arsenal, FC Barcelona, and Liverpool; darts, dart flights, and dart boards with musicians including Kiss and Def Leppard; ranges of darts, boards, and accessories for the 1980s U.K. darts-based game show Bullseye and the gothic and alternative art and lifestyle brand Alchemy; and player shirts with Alan Soutar, Ryan Searle, Eric Bristow, Mensur Suljovic, and others.
  • Red Dragon Darts. Signature darts are available for players including Luke Humphries (the current PDC World Champion), Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price, Jonny Clayton, and Gian Van Veen. As a sibling company of Winmau, Red Dragon also distributes Winmau-branded dartboards and darts, including Winmau’s player-licensed products.

In addition to darts specialists such as these, a number of companies that focus on tailgating and recreational activities—billboards and pool, bag toss, foosball, home arcade, ping pong, and the like—also sell licensed darts, often tied to the U.S. pro leagues and colleges. Examples include Imperial Billiards and Victory Tailgate. The latter also offers dartboard cabinet sets for properties including marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey and the U.S. Army.

The global market for darts products is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.93% from 2023 to 2030, according to Cognitive Market Research, which pegged global sales at $518.1 million in 2021. Growth will be driven by the increase in players (pro and amateur), it says, as well as a desire for new and improved products that enhance precision play.

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