Axes and alcohol and assemblies, oh my! Mitigating risk for one of America’s growing entertainment pursuits

What do you get when you mix axe throwing, alcohol consumption, and assemblies of people? Although the combination sounds risky, it may not be all that different than insuring other forms of entertainment venues.

One of the up-and-coming trends in experiential entertainment is axe throwing bars. Yes, you read that right. Axe throwing bars.

The phenomenon is thought by some to have started in Toronto in 2011 where Matt Wilson opened an arena where you could come in, throw axes, and drink alcoholic beverages. Since 2011 Wilson’s company, Backyard Axe Throwing League, has spread to over a dozen locations in Canada and the United States. Generally, these facilities have a gathering or seating area near the entrance. Further back the facilities have multiple lanes, not unlike bowling, where customers throw axes at targets identified at the end of the lane. Visitors come in for hour to hour and a half long sessions where they are first trained on axe handling and safety and how to properly throw an axe before they take turns throwing axes at the targets. The National Axe Throwing Federation, the worldwide organization overseeing the sport of indoor axe throwing, has established regulation measurements for these lanes and targets.

Other companies have capitalized on Backyard Axe Throwing League’s success and have opened establishments across the United States including those in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Denver, Detroit, Charlotte, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, to name a few.

The patrons of these establishments might surprise you. According to one establishment, Kick Axe Throwing, located in Brooklyn, New York, a majority of the people booking lanes at the facility are women. Very few individuals book lanes and most of the Kick Axe Throwing’s revenue comes from groups and work outings. The minimum age of patrons is eight years old, but most patrons are usually between the ages of mid-20s to early 40’s. For those under 17 years of age, Kick Axe requires adult supervision: one adult per three kids aged 8-14, and one adult per range for kids 14-17.

On its face, a business allowing its customers to fling axes after drinking alcohol sounds like a liability nightmare. Indeed, these businesses, almost across the board, have encountered difficulty convincing insurers that they are a risk worth taking on.

So what aspects of the axe throwing business should insurers examine during the underwriting process? Axe throwing establishments have undertaken a variety of precautions in order to more easily obtain insurance. One of the universal features of these establishments is that each visitor is required to sign a mandatory waiver before throwing. Such agreements usually include hold harmless agreements in favor of the owner and operator of the facility and include terms and conditions the participant agrees to follow. In locations where patrons are likely to speak languages other than English, it is preferable to have bilingual waivers on-site/online.

Another common feature is on-duty supervision of all participants. Supervisors (also known as trainers, axe-perts, or coaches) commonly have first-aid training, provide lessons prior to the throwing session, and take the axes with them should they leave the throwing lanes to ensure no axes are left unattended when a supervisor is not present. After an axe thrower is done with his or her turn, they are required to place the axe into a stump before leaving to prevent the axes from being handed off between patrons.

Operational restrictions such as having floor to ceiling partitions between lanes or prohibiting patrons from bringing their own axes are also typical. Some locations are equipped with fences between lanes or in front of spectator areas to allow visitors who aren’t throwing to take in the action. Another precaution is checking customer ID’s upon arrival and posting visible post warnings throughout the facilities. Clothing requirements such as close-toed shoes, a prohibition on high heels, and loose-fitting shirts permitting a full range of motion are customary.

When it comes to alcohol consumption, these establishments consider themselves “axe-throwing venues where you can drink,” as opposed to “bars where you can throw axes.” Some prohibit alcohol entirely or refuse to sell and instead allow visitors to bring their own alcoholic beverages. Those embracing the sale of alcoholic beverages and having a liquor license mitigate risk by limiting the sale of hard alcohol and serve only beer, wine, and malt beverages. Bartenders and staff are certified and trained to identify intoxicated patrons (who, once identified, are not permitted to throw). Limiting customers to a certain number of drinks or offering limited drink tickets to each group assists in monitoring consumption. Physically separating where alcohol may be purchased or consumed and the axe throwing lanes is another feature common at these establishments.

Perhaps to the surprise of many, very few axe-related injuries have been reported at these establishments. Those that are reported arise out of mishandling of the axes themselves, and not the axe throwing. Examples of injuries reported range from a patron who dropped an axe on her foot, breaking her toe, to minor cuts or splinters from the wooden targets.

In most cases these businesses are eager to get up and running and are willing to compose a long list of safety regulations so that their operations are insured. Ultimately, these types of businesses appear to present no more risk to insurers than any other type of entertainment establishments.

Read other items in Coverage Digest - February 2019