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Netball | Product sales growth | South Africa
January 2015

Is netball losing its

Cinderella status?

The growth in netball participation numbers, an increase in competition types and styles, and growing interest from the public, has led to a growth in netball product sales, report RHIANAH FREDERICKS and YAMKELA MKEBE.

Netball has always been by far the biggest participation sport for South African women — but it has been a Cinderella when it came to media coverage, fan support and product sales. Unappreciated and unacknowledged.

The indications are that this is now starting to change.

According to figures from BMI, more than 1.9-m people in South Africa took part in netball in 2012. That is a growth of about 100 000 participants since 2007, when BMI estimated that netball had 846 600 junior and 991 000 adult participants.*

In 2007 netball, with 1.8-m participants, was the second biggest participation sport in South Africa after soccer, with 3.5-m participants — and there is no indication that this has changed. Far more South Africans therefore play netball than the 941 400 cricket or 689 500 rugby players. The sport also ranked as the most popular sport among females of all races, much more popular than other sporting activities like aerobics and tennis.

Strong schools association structures in the country have made a big difference in improving participation interests, says Martin Ferreira of Kevro, local distributor of Sevenn netball.

In many schools — from primary level to high school — netball or hockey participation is compulsory, points out Wessel Oliviers from De Jagers in Stellenbosch. The renewed efforts by the department of Sport and Recreation SA (SRSA) to introduce sport in schools that did not offer it previously, have made a big difference to netball participation numbers, especially when players become involved at a young age in primary school.

As can be expected, the growth in participation numbers contributed to sales growth of netball products over the past three years, report some retailers.

Some of them believe that more coverage from the media have contributed to their sales increasing. Netball sales at Kloppers in Bloemfontein had grown about 15% year on year, says Dirk Klopper. “I think the reason for this is more national netball shown on the television and coverage of Varsity Cup netball,” he explains.

The increased television exposure and a lot of new players from all spheres have contributed to the growth of netball product sales at Mass Discounters, says George Sarris.

The growth is, however, not universal across all areas. In places where netball products have always been sold, some retailers have found that their product sales have either remained stable, or dropped. They attribute this to a lack of new product introductions, more companies entering the netball market, and competition from sports like hockey that are growing in popularity.

In recent years netball has managed to attract big sports brand sponsorships, which is another indication of growing public interest in the sport. Sponsorships and partnerships have been driving factors in sales increases as well as creating interest in their brand, report the sponsors.

“Partnering with the National SA team has most definitely contributed to increased awareness in our products,” says Janine Stokes from Asics SA, clothing and footwear sponsor of the Protea netball team.

Being the official ball sponsor for Namibian netball and sponsor of the national team in new Fast5 format competitions, have created a demand for the Sevenn brand, says Martin Ferreira from distributor Kevro.

The fact that Gilbert first supplied the official netball ball, then Mitre, and now Gilbert again, has caused confusion and opened the market up to other brands, he believes. Their Sevenn brand, a specialised netball brand, has enjoyed big sales growth.

Media coverage

Media coverage is, however, a prerequisite for keeping sponsors happy — who in turn provide the funding to the sport to grow participation, which results in more product sales.

Netball nowadays gets much more exposure and the more exposure it gets, the more demand will be created, explains Ferreira. As the popularity, television coverage, etc. increases, the product demand will increase as well, he says.

Retailers agree and feel that due to new developments in terms of leagues and format changes, the sport will attract more attention by next year. “I think there will be special interest now that there is a professional league,” says Tumelo Mokobane from New Balance South Africa.

Recent tournaments like the Brutal Fruit Netball Cup finals, Commonwealth Games and the Fast5 World Series, etc. were broadcasted by SuperSport, SABC, etc. while radio and television shows like kykNET, Thobela FM, Five FM, etc. have interviewed prominent players from the national team.

Netball is therefore receiving more media exposure than in previous years. Like any other sport, netball will “get most of its coverage during competition time”, says Trevor Neethling, of Netball South Africa (NSA).

He is therefore optimistic that the International Netball Federation (INF) Netball World Cup held in Sydney 7-16 August 2015 will generate media interest, due to the recently improved TV coverage “netball has been able to build good relations with Johannesburg-based media, which is providing us with the bulk of our coverage,” he says.

The projected hype and TV involvement will also increase interest in netball products and kit locally, says Sarris.

But, netball matches often coincide with rugby, soccer or cricket matches and clashes in the broadcast times of TV programmes compromise viewers‘ interest in watching the sport, says Singatwa Magida, chairperson of Eastern Cape Schools Netball.

She does not expect much interest from journalists in covering the Netball World Cup “as media has not covered many of our events in the past years,” she explains.

It is not necessarily that media companies are resistant to publish or broadcast news about the sport, but there is rather a general lack of media interest in netball, agrees Sonet van Rensburg from SASN.

“Invitations are sent out to about 30 different media/television bodies prior to big national tournaments or events. Unfortunately, we experience reaction and attendance from only about seven to eight of them.” she explains.

There are some retailers who share their skepticism that the interest in netball products and kit will increase come the INF Netball World next year. Poor marketing has contributed to the lack of interest in the sport, says Ashley Appleby from Excodor sports. The lack of, or the wrong advertising mediums, has also contributed to the lack of interest in the World Cup, agrees Oliviers.

Leagues and newer formats

The introduction of new leagues and formats of the game have also reinvigorated the public and media interest, say South African netball association members.

The NSA’s social media platforms’ user base has nearly doubled to 100 000 unique users since the introduction of the Netball Premier League (NPL), says Peter Boshoff, social media partner of NSA.

More than 20 national media representatives attended the launch of the NPL, says Neethling. It was the first time netball attracted that many media houses to a single event and the competition gained more than R11-m in media coverage (based on exposure value), he says.

The Fast5 format - which is a fast paced, high-intensity, and quick thinking form of the game that can be compared to T20 in cricket and Sevens rugby — has been played internationally since 2009. South Africa played their first Fast5 World Series in New Zealand in 2012.

It was a first for the general public and NSA stimulated interest by publishing the game rules on Facebook. The broadcasting of the particular format helped increase interest in netball, says Van Rensburg.

At school level, students are still playing the “normal” format of netball, but the newer Fast5 format has been introduced in other tournaments like the TUKS series - which is hosted by the sports department of the University of Pretoria in Gauteng - and she believes it is enjoyed by many spectators.

“There will be more interest, the more this format of the game is played and marketed and broadcast in South Africa,” says Boshoff. The Fast5 competitions that were held to date have been played internationally and had therefore been broadcast at times when the South African public were sleeping.

“If this tournament were to be played in Western Australasia, Africa or England it will definitely have a larger following,” he believes.

“If there was a domestic Fast5 competition as well, I’m sure the fans and media would take to it,” agrees Scott Robhof of NSA. A local Fast5 competition would also allow more sponsors to become involved, he adds.

Popular products

While netball footwear, balls, teamwear and equipment sell well for suppliers and bibs and nets are also popular for retailers, there is not yet any demand for league replica.

There is also a great demand for netball skorts (a combination skirt and short), but kits are just bought every other season, say retailers. Netball-specific shoes are also a request that many retailers get from customers. A good name, quality and lateral movement support, a durable outsole that provides grip and a non-slip sole, are some of the key features customers want when purchasing their netball shoes, say retailers. Other features like extra ankle support and cushioning are also things they look for when purchasing shoes.

As part of their sponsorship agreement with NSA, ASICS SA are conducting workshops with players to educate them why it is important to wear proper netball shoes, and not play in tennis shoes or trainers. “Netball shoes have non-marking outsoles that are created for court use and they are also harder-wearing than running shoes,” says Dawid Visser of Asics.

Netball shoes have a higher midsole density, which make them more stable and sturdy than running shoes, he adds. They also feature more overlays, such as leather and synthetics, which give the wearer increased stability, and do not have as much mesh in their uppers.

“The entire shoe is constructed to offer players more stability and to make it less possible for a player to twist an ankle during a game. Netball shoes pivot points and grip is specific for netball use in so as to give adequate grip especially in sideways and forward/backwards movements, where running shoes grip is only made for forward movement,” adds Visser.

Customer profile

Most suppliers and retailers agree that mainly school teams are buying netball products and because there are more netball players in schools than in adult teams, most sales are to school players.

Kevro has experienced a great increase in team sales because they have offered and brought something else to the market, says Ferreira. Their products are specifically developed for the netball market and wasn’t just an afterthought, he says.

While retailers mainly sell to schools, some have found that there has been a growing demand from businesses that sponsor local teams with netball apparel or team kit, or companies that buy kit for staff teams.

Other retailers don’t, for instance, keep netball stock for adult teams, due to time constraints. The team members must all come to the store, the retailer must get the right colours and style, give them a quote and make up a sample — it is an extensive process and customers aren’t always willing to wait. These teams are therefore more likely to order directly from manufacturers (see Teamwear vs Replica article p30 in January 2015 issue of SA Sports Trader).

* 2007 BMI figures collected from A case for Sport and Recreation: An active and winning nation.

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