If you haven’t updated your party packages lately, here’s a new birthday party idea to consider for your sports complex: Nerf Wars.
DNA Sports Center, the sports facility I used to own, recently started offering Nerf Wars as one of its birthday party themes. When I looked into the idea, I noticed the popularity of Nerf birthday parties has risen sharply recently (see the Google Trends chart below). A web search for “Nerf birthday party” yields plenty of images on Pinterest and elsewhere of Nerf-themed party invitations, decorations and more.
This is good news for us sports center owners. We can usually host these types of games easily, and they can be great for business. Kids love them and parents can even join in, which makes it a good potential weekend event in addition to a new party package.
All About Nerf
I’m sure you’re already familiar with Nerf blasters, which shoot soft foam darts or arrows or other soft projectiles. You probably either bought them for your own kids or played with them yourself — they’ve continued to be popular toy choices, especially for active kids (aka your target market), since the 90s.
Thanks to the internet, there seems to be a growing community of kids who not only play with their friends, but gather online to discuss weapon modifications and organize even bigger events or “wars” in their communities.
Nerf is so dominant in the market for kids’ dart guns that their brand name is almost synonymous with toy dart gun, which is why most party-hosting facilities refer to the Nerf brand in their marketing materials.
However, consider clarifying that you’re not officially affiliated with Nerf, which is owned by the toy company Hasbro. (This Irish facility I came across did a good job making that distinction.) You can also make sure your clients know that your parties are not brand-exclusive and that any toy dart gun can be used.
How Games Work
There are several Nerf games that can be played with groups of kids.
Basically, teams can win three ways: by working to hit all the enemy players with darts until they’re eliminated, by capturing the opposing team’s treasure, or by earning points in an or defense of a certain territory or point.
There are variations on each type of game, and they’re not unlike variations you’ve probably been playing with dodgeball and capture the flag.
Typically you need 6 or more kids for least two teams of three, which isn’t usually a problem at birthday parties. Most of the age suggestions on Nerf toys are 8 and up.
As far as space, most indoor and outdoor sports fields provide plenty for a moderate-sized war — if anything, there’s a risk of making the playing field too big. I’ve seen forums suggest a maximum of 25 square feet, but that might vary based on the number of players.
What You Need to Do
First, establish at least a few rules for both games and behavior. Make sure your staff understands the rules, and choose a few game variations to choose from so they can adjust for the party’s size, skill level and interests.
Behavior rules for Nerf wars will probably overlap with your general facility rules, but make sure kids know that they can’t throw guns or aim for other players’ heads or faces — those hits don’t count.
From my reading, the biggest issue that comes up during Nerf Wars seems to be kids complaining or arguing about whether a player was hit, so prepare your staff for that scenario and how to call it if they didn’t see it themselves.
Besides moderating the games, your staff will need to set up the facility and clean up afterwards, which will depend a lot on what equipment you choose to use.
Here are a few things you’ll need:
- Blasters and Darts – The simplest option is to have kids can bring their own blasters and ammunition. If you go this route, make sure parents understand upfront that none will be supplied at the party. Alternatively, you can keep all or some blasters and ammo on hand. Darts are relatively inexpensive online and extra ones can keep games running more smoothly. Make sure to mark facility-owned darts to identify them and encourage parents and kids to mark theirs, too.
- Safety Goggles or Glasses – Safety goggles or glasses for kids don’t cost much and can even be fun for kids to wear. I’d suggest keeping some at the facility and requiring their use, but either way, update your waiver regarding use of the protective gear so players and parents understand the additional risk if they choose not to wear them. (Related: Sports Facility Waivers)
- Team Identification – Colored vests or arm bands are nice to make sure kids know who is on which team.
- Cover and Obstacles – Some facilities use huge inflatable mazes designed specifically for dart gun play that can take up the entirety of a multi-court floor. However, I’d opt for some less complicated options, such as inflatable bunkers and netting popular for activities like paintball. The inflatable bunkers DNA uses are weighted down with water and cost as little as $20 each.
If you’re not sure whether this concept could work for your facility, ask some families who have hosted birthday parties with you in the past, or who have kids in the 8-12 range. You could even host a free trial run for some of your Nerf-loving clients to see how it goes.
Once you’re ready to host a Nerf themed party, make an announcement in your next marketing email, add it to your website, add some signage, and start mentioning it to families. Remember to follow the best practices for hosting birthday parties at your sports facility.
Have you already tried holding Nerf birthday parties or events? I’d love to hear how it went for you. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email.
And, as always, if you’d like to try the software my company developed to run sports facilities, including birthday parties, click here and request a free custom demo.
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