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VOL. 42 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 4, 2018

Axe throwing? Why not

Fast-growing Canadian export finds home in Music City

By Joe Morris

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Throwing dishes is a loud, cherished and time-honored way to relieve tension. If you’re loathe to part with the family china, however, BATL Nashville has the answer.

Located in a former Nashville Auto Diesel College outbuilding at the corner of Douglas Avenue and Gallatin Pike in East Nashville, BATL, or Backyard Axe Throwing League, provides the opportunity to hang out, grab some food and a drink – and hurl axes at targets with friends, coworkers or even in league play.

It’s the second East Nashville location for general manager Jonathan League, who became intrigued with the sport after stumbling across some online information a few years ago and folded it into his business-school studies at Belmont University.

“I got laid off five years ago from a job I took after my military service,” says League, who served for more than seven years in the U.S. Army, including three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an aviation mechanic.

Axe throwing coach Jason Augspurger helps Aubrey Galbraith, left, and Rebecca Smith as they prepare to unleash axes fore the first time at BATL Nashville.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I chose to move to Nashville to go to business school and also served as the president of the student veterans’ organization there. I stumbled cross the BATL site and read up on what they were doing, including some Facebook posts of axe throwing in Canada that talked about how great it was for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and I realized it might work for a school entrepreneurial project that focused on those groups and how they were coming to Nashville.”

What began as a class project quickly morphed into a bona fide business thanks to his having access to a friend’s events venue in East Nashville. The space hosted all kinds of private events, and through relationships League made there, he soon was in the process of creating Throw Nashville, his own axe-wielding operation.

Axe-throwing terminology

Match: Sometimes referred to as a game, is a set of three rounds totaling 15 throws.

Round: One set of five throws, three of these make up a match.
Drop: An axe that does not remain sticking in the target, and falls out before being retrieved, resulting in 0 points.

Perfect round: All 5 throws are bullseyes, totaling 25 points.

Lane: One target setup from block to bullseye.

Perimeter wall: The four-foot wall that separates throwers from spectators.

Fencing: 9-gauge, heavy chain link fencing to separate the lanes from one another and the outside social area.

Target: Five 2x10 boards screwed to a backboard comprising four-point areas.

Block: A small block that some throwers may place on the black line to position their lead foot while throwing.

Helmet: There is a lower and an upper helmet on each lane. The upper is made of high density rubber and the lower of wood mounted below the target. Helmets protect axe heads from damage on a missed throw.

Yellow (perimeter) line: Represents the separation of the throwing arena and the viewing area. Spectators are not to cross this line.

Axe: A hatchet used in all standard competition

Big axe: The full-size felling axe used for tie-breakers. Big axes are 2.5 pounds with a 27- to 28-inch wooden handle.

Head: The metal blade portion of the axe.

Device: A set of Vernier calipers used in measuring the point score for instances when an axe sticks between two ring values on a target.

Source: National Axe Throwing Federation

“I almost failed out of Belmont in my final semester because I was going so deeply into getting the business put together,” he acknowledges. “It was marketing, the business plan, all of it. I did finish my degree, and the day I finished class I was at Home Depot sourcing materials to build our first targets.”

His belief in the concept’s viability was further enhanced by an afternoon spent with a friend he ran into that same day. After hearing the friend wasn’t feeling well and was slightly depressed, League asked him over for some throwing.

“He was having a blast, and I watched someone go from depressed to relaxed by throwing axes,” League recalls. “That really pushed me to pursue this even harder and offer it to more people.”

Not long after opening in April 2017, League began corresponding with Matt Wilson, the founder of Toronto-based BATL, about how they could get Nashville on board with leagues and other activities. A partnership was struck, and the search for a new venue began. The Gallatin Pike site was chosen, and it has been undergoing extensive renovation in recent months ahead of a May opening.

The expansion into Nashville is an exciting development for Wilson, who says that BATL, along with the National Axe Federation (NATF), which created a standard rule system for play and competition and has more than 3,000 league members in more than 50 cities and five countries, is finding a welcome home in many communities in the lower 48.

“What began in the backyard of my house in downtown Toronto, throwing axes with some friends for fun, has grown all over Canada and now in the United States,” Wilson says. “It’s an incredibly satisfying activity that anybody can do. Any size, shape, gender … you can succeed at this fairly easily, and we’ve got fantastic coaches to help that process happen.”

As a sport, axe throwing fosters camaraderie through physical activity. Wilson says the social aspect is just as engaging as the hurling itself. Hence, the leagues.

Matt Wilson, left, CEO and founder,  and General Manager Jonathan League at BATL Backyard Axe Throwing League in East Nashville.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“It actually started as a league, and that formed the backbone of BATL as a business,” he explains. “It was a weekend activity, then some evenings during the week, and the competition aspect grew.

“As we developed it we saw the idea for an entertainment space grow, where people could learn to throw, where round-robin tournaments could be created and where we could also have food, drinks, some pool tables and video games and be a great destination, as well.”

So: axes, liquor … insurance?

“We’re obviously insured,” Wilson points out, quickly adding that “we have a very thorough staff-training process and safety regulations related to both the equipment and the space layout. Coaches and staff manage groups within the entire space, and it’s proven to be an incredibly safe activity, even with alcohol involved. People know how to be safe, responsible and still have fun.”

The Nashville operation will be BATL’s southern-most outpost, at least for now. That’ll change when new spots in Scottsdale, Houston and Jacksonville open, joining other sites in Detroit and Chicago.

That kind of growth is encouraging to League, who learned in his first year of operations that there’s plenty of interest in axe throwing here in Music City.

“I started out thinking just about the bachelor and bachelorette parties, but the opportunity came up for corporate team building and private parties and we’ve just kept going,” League explains.

And, he adds, the more varied the clientele, the more people learn that axe throwing isn’t any more dangerous than, say, bowling.

“Growing up, I went to the bowling alley with my mom, and there you’re walking up a slick surface, stopping on a dime and hurling a heavy ball down a slippery alley,” he says. “What makes sense about that?”

All fretting aside, League says he is certain that BATL Nashville can not only hold its own as a local entertainment option, soon it will lead the pack as far as revenue and activity across the growing chain.

“I want to be the No. 1-producing BATL venue, and so I’ve got to work on building relationships in the area,” he says. “But there are 1.6 million people in and around Nashville, and even more visit, so if I can get 100 people in for a three-hour block, that’s 400 people throughout the day … I can get some pretty big numbers.

“We don’t have to cast a huge net, just provide a great experience to people who are wanting to do something different. It’s pretty simple.”

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