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Hockey | Hockey market growth | Hockey products imports increased
September 2014

Hockey on a high

Hockey is becoming an increasingly popular sport in South Africa. Hockey product imports have increased in the last few years, and many retailers and distributors are reporting increased sales volumes, reports Johann du Toit

While the sales in many other sporting codes have been dropping off, import statistics show that there has been a gradual increase in the number of hockey sticks imported over the past three years. Overall, hockey stick imports have grown in value by more than 35% between 2012 and 2013. However, imports don’t necessarily translate directly into sales.

Many hockey specialist retailers have reported growth in hockey stick sales. It does seem that hockey sales are increasing yearly, even though many players are still purchasing hockey products from coaches and other players instead of from retailers.

“For us sales certainly have increased despite the increase in boot sellers,” says Alan Patton from The Hockey Shop in KwaZulu Natal. Steve Gallienne from Brand ID emphasises that it is imperative that suppliers and hockey retailers stand together to combat the onslaught of boot sellers.

His sales have also increased, confirms Jack Thonissen from The Hockey Shop in the Western Cape, who is also part of the executive board of the South African Hockey Association (SAHA). “I’ve sold a helluva lot more over the past three years,” he says. “New hockey shops are opening and brands are entering the market at rapid speed. Unfortunately, these are mostly brands that sell direct via agents and not through the formal market.”

Hockey equipment suppliers are also optimistic about sales figures. “Our sales have increased because market participation has increased,” says Shane Schonegevel from OBO SA, distributors of Gryphon. More players participating in the sport means a bigger market and more sales.

“Kookaburra hockey continues to grow each year,” says Nicola Ludlow from JRT Crampton, suppliers of Kookaburra.

There was a significant growth in hockey players over the last three years, from 150 000 to about 250 000, says Rassie Pieterse, who serves on the SAHA Athlete Commission and is the local distributor of TK. This would translate to more than 6 000 new hockey teams being formed and the number of teams countrywide growing from more than 9 000 to over 15 600.

Growth at school

The reason for the increase in sales seems to be mostly due to hockey becoming more popular amongst school children.

“We have noticed that most affluent schools have recently added astro turf to their grounds,” says Ludlow.

“Hockey is an alternative to rugby, which is perceived to be dangerous,” says Brett Burnill from Leisure Holdings.

Parents are well aware of the injury dangers that rugby poses to young players, and are more likely to approve of their children playing hockey, which is perceived as safer.

“It would not surprise many of us if hockey overtakes cricket in popularity one day, with the trend towards a more fashionable code of sport played and supported in a massive way by both ladies and gents,” says Gallienne. Hockey has especially grown in Afrikaans speaking schools and amongst boys, says Rassie Pieterse.

He mentions the example of Affies (Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool in Pretoria), which used to be a traditional rugby school, but now has 18 boys hockey teams, playing at a high level. Their first team is in the top five teams of the school hockey league.

More media attention to the men’s and women’s national teams is also having a positive impact on youngsters. “Hockey is now considered a cool sport,” says Burnill.

School level still comprises the bulk of the market and most sales are made to young players entering the sport.

“The entry level market is the biggest, but small retail shops won’t sell as much as Mr Price Sport or Sportsmans warehouse in this price range,” says Thonissen. High school players mostly purchase middle level hockey sticks. “For high school players, middle level sticks priced around R1 500 are common.”

Middle to upper level players, however, don’t always need to buy the most expensive equipment.

“Good quality sticks can retail at under R1 000 and give sufficient performance characteristics to the club and up and coming players,” says Steve Gallienne from Brand ID, distributors of Slazenger, which have expanded their patented stick shape offering this season.

Ludlow agrees that most hockey equipment is sold to younger players. “60 % of all the hockey sticks we sell, are junior sticks. Each year a new group of young players enter the market, resulting in the player needing a new stick, protection and hockey bag. Older players tend to ensure that the equipment lasts and thus only purchase when necessary.”

“In terms of volume, primary school is where we sell a lot of entry level equipment,” says Schonegevel. “If we are talking value wise, the bulk is definitely from high school player.” School level participation still far outnumbers club level.

“I sit on the SA hockey executive board so we know there are between 120 000 and 150 000 hockey players in SA. There are fewer than 10 000 club players registered in SA, so clearly it’s a juniors market with primary and high school players dominating purchases.”

The future of the sport

Even though the sport has grown, there is still a lot to be done to develop the sport. “I believe that enough can never be done for the development of any school sport,” says Ludlow.

“More needs to be done collectively by schools and clubs in order to correctly nurture and develop players. The focus needs to be on the junior future players of South Africa.

Patton agrees that young players need to be the focus of development. “There could still be an improvement in the nurturing of the talented.”

Schonegevel thinks school hockey is very well developed in South Africa. “We have a very good school hockey system, which is well structured, and SA hockey is doing a good job with limited resources.”

Not all hockey players play at school level though, and many hockey players leaving school hockey are not receiving the support they need to continue playing. “There is a lack of support structure in players leaving school hockey. We don’t nurture our top-end players as well. If our national teams had more support and resources, we could be much more competitive.”

A shortage of coaches is a substantial obstacle in the development of the sport. “Hockey relies solely on volunteers to coordinate and administrate the sport. Volunteers (often teachers) are overburdened with a lot on their plate, with some tournaments just falling away due to lack of manpower,” says Thonissen.

Like many other sports, sponsorship is the key to develop the sport. “Hockey would benefit from more sponsorship to turn mini-hockey into something like what cricket has done with KFC mini-cricket,” says Thonissen.

Promoting the sport

A lot of the growth in school hockey popularity has been in more privileged schools. Promoting the sport in underprivileged areas seems to be the current focus.

“Government funding seems to be working in pockets. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape has employed six hockey coaches to work with underprivileged schools in certain zones to develop their school hockey, along with support of equipment,” says Thonissen.

More facilities in poorer areas would also help.

“The building of more artificial fields in the less fortunate areas would help grow hockey participation,” says Patton.

Gallienne agrees: “As more and more artificial fields get built, more youngsters will be attracted to the sport”.

It seems as if hockey in South Africa has a positive future, and many people in the industry are optimistic. If the sport can be continued to be promoted especially among young players, it can grow even more.

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