Three years ago, Forbes called it a “hot trend.” Now, in 2021, it’s an explosive, industry-dominating force, capturing imaginations and elevating parties across all of North America. Half a dozen franchises are busily selling licenses, snapping up old warehouses to retrofit into cozy bars, and hosting increasingly competitive leagues under the auspices of several international sports organizations.
Welcome to axe throwing, the modern, astonishingly lucrative combination of alcohol and edged medieval weaponry that’s become one of the most popular options for newly opened family entertainment facilities.
In fact, axe throwing is one of the fastest-growing sports globally as well as one of the hottest consumer trends in the US. What sets it apart as an option for entertainment venues is that it isn’t just a sport. It has a high “skill ceiling,” meaning that the best players are incredibly good: two years ago, only three people in the entire world had recorded a perfect single-game score of 81. But it also has a low “skill floor,” meaning that absolutely anyone can quickly learn to hit the target and have a good time, even on their very first time out.
That accessibility is a huge part of what has helped axe throwing spread. Its growth is driven primarily by millennials and Gen Xers—those old enough to drink and handle weapons, but young enough to enjoy hurling them at the wall. What draws them in varies: like bowling, it has enthusiastic local leagues of amateur competitors who make weekly or biweekly visits to their favorite spot. Like golf or archery, it has well-organized professional events for the best league players to aspire to, with cash prizes in the tens of thousands of dollars.
But in some ways, axe throwing is closer to darts than it is to competitive sports or other popular group activities like paintball or escape rooms. Many venues are casual, bar- or restaurant-style environments built for socializing and relaxing. And that means the activity offers an almost unparalleled opportunity for food and beverage sales. One major chain, the cottage-chic Stumpies, reports that despite ticket prices ranging from $20 to $40 their per-customer revenue is above $60. The difference comes from beer, pretzels, hot food, board game rentals, and other goodies: everything you need to stay entertained as you wait your turn to throw. The activity isn’t intense enough to get you sweaty or uncomfortable, it’s extremely safe (with lower injury rates than bowling alleys and driving ranges), and it’s almost as fun to watch as it is to do.
For all those reasons, another major driver of industry growth has been axe throwing’s popularity for corporate events. More novel than golf, more entertaining than an office party, more sociable than a show, it offers a blend of fun, low stress, friendly environments, and a chance to blow off some steam.
The biggest barrier the industry faces right now is, in most cases, excessive demand. Because most facilities have can accommodate only a few groups at once, and because average visits range from 70 to 120 minutes, walk-in customers can easily encounter wait times of several hours.
In most cases, the solution has turned out to be state-of-the-art online booking platforms, which allow guests to track availability online and adjust their plans accordingly. Online booking also facilitates cross-selling and upselling for multi-activity locations, smooths out revenue, and adds to the overall sense of professionalism.