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Quarantine Play of Backyard Games Could Shape Tournament Landscape

5 Jul, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
…And in Some Cases, it Already Has, with Virtual Competitions Going on Now

While there have been plenty of quarantine-induced jokes about “Taking my next vacation in Puerto Backyardo,” the truth is that a lot of people are starting to explore backyard games like cornhole, kubb, bocce and others. And that could feed into more players ready to try their hand at tournaments once they resume.

And that, says Frank Geers, founder and president of the American Cornhole Organization, is driving interest in the larger version of the sport.

“I certainly think there are people gravitating to backyard games with the pandemic going on,” he notes. “It’s something you can do with your family.”

And, with social distancing measures taken, it’s possible to play friends, neighbors and others. Cornhole, which is already popular at the state and senior games levels, is one of the few sports where skills can be honed in quarantine.

Another sport whose enthusiasts say is custom-made for backyard play as well as competitive tournaments, is bocce.

"Bocce is one of those sports that is easy to come out and do,” says said Joe Helleny, President of the Herrin Bocce Club, in an interview with WSIL-TV in Carterville, Illinois. “It’s easy to play and easy to social distance from one another. This is a sport that can be played by 5-year-olds or 85-year-olds. Anybody can play this game. Anybody can play this game throughout their entire life. So it's easy to come out as a young person and an old person and play with your family during backyard games or during a major tournament and have a good time."

Kubb (rhyming with “tube,” not “slub”), a Nordic lawn game sometimes called “chess for Vikings,” is also having a moment. It’s governed by USA Kubb, and according to one news article, the U.S. National Kubb Championships have taken place in Eau Claire, WI since 2017. (You can find out more about kubb here).

website dedicated to the championships says that during its first year of existence, 35 players took part, but over each of the last four years, that number has grown to 450.  (Unfortunately, this year's championships were canceled by the great equalizer that is COVID-19, but next year's event is already scheduled for July 9-11, 2021).

And according to Mashable.com, kubb is the "must-have game" of the summer. Competition versions of the game have teams of specific numbers but as with many games, when played in quarantine, those rules don’t apply quite as firmly.

What else is big in isolation? Horseshoes, apparently. In fact, it had already gained a digital foothold that simply snowballed during quarantine. The Facebook group, Horseshoe Pitching Online, was created by enthusiasts in Salt Lake City, Utah back in Dec. 2018 and today, has members around the world, including in South Africa, Norway and Japan. And in quarantine, the group grew 400 percent.

The concept is simple, notes a news article: prop up your phone, start a Facebook Live, and pitch your games. Judges watch where your shoes land and keep score throughout play. 

At the bare minimum, you need two horseshoes, two horseshoe poles or stakes in the ground, and they need to be 40 feet apart," Mathew stated. "The idea is just to encompass everybody."

In fact, Horseshoe Pitching Online has a sister account where youth members can learn more about the sport and even crowdfund to help pay for equipment. The group also offers an unofficial mentorship program, where those new to pitching can learn from state champions who are also members.

And, like bocce, the sport is easy access. "You don't have to wait for a tournament," Mathew Johnson, one of the group’s administrators says "You don't need friends who know how to pitch. Find a local park, check out some horseshoes, and give it a try."

Or you can get your own equipment and use the backyard. In fact, that side of the industry is booming, according to Kevin Muellerleile, President of Yard Games, an Internet-based business that sells supplies.

“The multipliers have ranged from 1.5 - 3X increase in sales from last year for Kubb, Ring Toss, Scatter, Giant Ring Toss, Yard Pong and other outdoor tossing games, notes Muellerleile. “There has been uptick in demand for our items and the challenge has been keeping them in stock. We usually have to start production on our summer inventory in March, and our factories in China were delayed the entire month. So we are now running out of stock of many of our products and are hoping to have them in July.”

Disruption of the supply chain had a huge impact on business, he adds.

“The other major change caused by the pandemic was the shift from Amazon.  We sell our products on Amazon as well as other online channels including our website YardGames.com.  Once Amazon started delaying our non-essential products, we saw a huge increase in website traffic.” 

According to an article in USA TODAY, The game company Hey Buddy Hey Pal’s Amazon sales were up 4,000% in the last week of March and in-store sales at Walmart were up 100%, according to Forbes. Puzzle maker Ravensburger’s sales were up 370% in March, Forbes also reported. Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner told CNBC the company's games have been in high demand since March.

While in some cases, backyard sports like Horseshoe Pitching Online, have managed to seamlessly integrate play and technology, others are heralding the interest in kubb, cornhole and others as a way to lessen screen time in quarantine.

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