What started out as friends throwing axes at a target in Matt Wilson’s backyard in Toronto, Canada, to kill time has turned into a national sensation – and now Scottsdale is joining in on the axe-hurling fun.
Over the past two years, axe-throwing bars have sprouted rapidly across the nation. Here in the Valley, Lumberjaxes brought the first indoor axe-throwing club to Tempe in early 2018, and now Scottsdale has BATL: The Backyard Axe Throwing League.
BATL was founded by Wilson in 2006, although it wasn’t until 2011, before he opened up a second location, that Wilson decided to go full-time with it.
“2011 was when we started doing private events and parties, and that’s when I was, like, ‘Wait a minute, this could be a thing. This is pretty great,’” he said.
Since then, BATL has grown to 14 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1.25 million people have thrown an axe at one of their facilities.
“I am proud and excited to see BATL at such a pivotal time in our history,” Wilson said. “I never imagined when we started throwing axes in 2006 that BATL could grow into what it has become today.”
BATL Scottsdale opened earlier this month on the southwest corner of Thomas Road and Hayden Road.
It offers 16 axe-throwing targets with digital scoring, and its arenas are like a cross between a batting cage and bowling alley. The facility can host over 100 people at a time.
Axe throwing is for people of all ages and skill levels.
BATL breaks down its demographic as 53 percent male and 47 percent female, and 44 percent between the ages of 25 and 34 years old. Nineteen percent are over 45.
“We’ve had everyone from 18-year-olds walking by with their family to 70-, 80-year-old females, males – and everything in between,” said Straun Riley, BATL Scottsdale’s general manager. “There is no specific market. We’re just trying to get everyone in here trying it.”
Plenty of axe-throwing expert coaches are around to show you how to properly throw. And arguably the best axe-throwing coach is located right here in Scottsdale – Riley.
Riley, who moved from Toronto to take on the position, is a national axe-throwing champion and winner of the 2018 Wilson Cup. He picked up the sport three years ago.
“Outside of the competition in the sport of it, the community is unreal,” Riley said. “The amount of people and friends I’ve met is unreal. Everyone’s so friendly and welcoming.”
BATL’s mission is to use the axe as a tool to build a community.
“That’s kind of like our motto is just be good to each other and everyone’s welcome,” Riley said.
Since the Scottsdale location opened about three weeks ago, Riley has seen a positive turnout. His No. 1 goal since moving to Scottsdale, though, was to start a couple of leagues early.
“It was a little bit of a squeeze, but we managed to get two leagues put together. We have a Sunday league and a Tuesday league,” Riley said. “It’s great turnout; roughly, I would say 50 people per night every Friday and Saturday for the last three weekends in a row.”
Wilson, who pioneered urban axe throwing, is the commissioner of the National Axe Throwing Federation, the preeminent governing body for competitive axe throwing.
NATF grew exponentially since its inception in 2016. Currently, there are over 60 member locations on four continents with over 4,500 league members.
“I believe we’re just scratching the surface of BATL’s potential and how far axe throwing can go as a mainstream sport,” Wilson said.
Walk-ins and league members aside, Riley said BATL’s No. 1 clients are businesses booking arenas for team building events.
“I would say that’s our company’s bread and butter. It’s what we’re constantly knocking out of the park, those corporate events,” he said. “We do full-facility buyouts all the time with those corporate groups and the energy in here, it could be quite infectious when one of those is going on.”
Guests come in to BATL to celebrate birthdays and bachelorette parties, too.
According to Wilson, interest in axe throwing has grown through awareness. He said once people have gotten over the initial reaction of shock and understood the concept and how it works, it has become a much more accepted and mainstream form of entertainment.
“It started in Canada probably in 2016 and really just the last 18 months to 24 months is it really taken off in the US,” Wilson said. “Every time another location opens up, the awareness gets out there and more people hear about it and more people try it. And it’s just the time to see that growth take off right now.”
Reactions of shock are common, especially considering many axe-throwing clubs, including BATL, mix sharp, pointy objects and alcohol.
BATL Scottsdale doesn’t currently offer alcohol, but it will come February, as they’re currently waiting for their liquor license to be approved.
“We wouldn’t be in business the way we are if we weren’t able to run a safe and organized facility that promotes awareness and safety and an entertainment in the right way,” Wilson said.
“Our focus has always been about safety,” Wilson added. “Once people walk in the door, they see how things are organized and what our venues look like and the safety involved in the equipment, as well as the attention to detail from our staff.”
BATL has had a handful of accidents, mostly minor injuries, since its inception. None, however, were injuries to walk-ins or one-off attendees.
“We’ve seen small injuries to the fingers and hands of our league membership,” Wilson said, adding that the hatches aren’t fully sharpened for the average guest.
“They’re not in a position to cut themselves even if they do happen to make contact with the blade of the axe,” he said. “They’re not actually dangerous, so there are no injuries there.”
It’s the league members – with their own, sharpened axe – who injure themselves.
“Every once in a while they might nick their finger a little bit while they’re sharpening their ax. That’s really when it happens, never during the throwing of the axe,” he said.
In terms of pricing, one- to two-and-a-half-hour private axe-throwing events cost $40.99 plus tax per person, with discount pricing of $35.99 available on Tuesdays.
Public walk-ins, which take place only on the weekends, are $22.22 plus tax per hour per person.
To celebrate its opening, however, BATL Scottsdale offers free axe throwing from 6-10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through Jan. 26.
“We’re excited to be in Scottsdale and looking forward to having people come out and say hello and getting ourselves ingrained in that neighborhood,” Wilson said.