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Left to right: Kovsie fullback Charl Naude lining up to kick in the Varsity Cup match against the Maties (photo: Thys Lombard); Lenize Potgieter reaches for goal during the 2018 Quad Series (photo: Reg Caldecott); Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Percy Tau practicing his moves.

Q1 2018

Team sport:
What drives the balls market?

Supplying inflatable team balls to the Southern African market can be a hazardous affair. There are 20-30 local distributors selling to retailers, almost as many international websites targeting local consumers, plus unknown numbers of manufacturers bringing in undeclared bags of balls they try to sell at a very good price. TRUDI DU TOIT takes a look at what has been happening in the ball market over the past few years

Sourcing and selling team balls is not for the faint hearted. Sure, every team needs a few balls for training and matches, and players need balls to practice — but the market is flooded and the competition is fierce.

Apart from the 20-30 local distributors selling to retail, many retailers have their own ball brands, consumers can order online from anywhere in the world and some manufacturers have been known to come visiting with bags of balls for quick sales.

Balls are often the only items with well-known international brand names that aspirational players can afford — especially the lower-level training balls that often sell for less than other, lesser-known, brands. Although, the prevalence of balls from brands like adidas, Nike and PUMA tend to drive up the price of soccer balls, especially in mall stores.

Official balls for high-profile tournaments usually come at a price — for example, the adidas Telstar retails for about R2 500, while other adidas balls would retail for under R500 and the average soccer ball would retail between R150-R350.

This would explain the higher price and/or import numbers during World Cup years when these high-priced balls would be in demand.

“Trading periods are influenced by many factors, domestic and international — for example, in a World Cup year like we are currently experiencing, there will definitely be a spike in soccer apparel and ball sales in the lead up to the World Cup in Russia which Kicks Off the middle of June 2018,” says Nick Wiltshire of Pat Wiltshire Sports, importers of Mikasa.

Endorsement by a federation would also affect price. Gilbert’s officially endorsed schools netball balls Pulse and Spectra, for example, would retail for around R250-250, while most other netballs sell for R100-200.

But, it is safe to say the quality of a ball will have to be superior to secure an endorsement — which also comes with its own costs.

Rugby balls, on average, sell at a lower price than soccer balls — even the top Gilbert Match Ball retails for around R700, with other rugby balls retailing between R150-300, some top end match balls sell for around R400.

When the previous IRB Rugby World Cup was held in 2015, the number of balls imported spiked dramatically — but the average import value was low, R19 average per ball for year —the highest import price paid was in Q3 at R24 average per ball.

In 2016, however, the lowest number of balls were imported in the past 5 years — but the average price per ball was high (R37), and quarterly average import values were between R28-48.

“The weak Rand dramatically contributed to this,” comments Evert Ferreira of Brand ID, distributors of Canterbury.

Remember how the axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in December 2015 cut the Rand/$ exchange rate by almost 50%.

“Currency volatility is of huge concern for all importers and it is this volatility which can be seen to be one of the highest risks when importing sports equipment and planning forecasts for future trading periods,” explains Wiltshire. “Maintaining and controlling pricing in the market place is of vital strategic importance.”

We also need to remember that more and more factories globally are producing balls, and although quality has often been sacrificed in the process, this drives prices down, cautions Ferreira.

The inflatable ball market recovered in the first three quarters of 2017 — during that period the number of balls imported almost doubled from 2016, getting closer to the high numbers imported in 2015. But, the Rand had recovered and the value of imports was lower than in 2016, with the average value of a ball imported R20.

Schools and club market

The schools and club market is still by far where the bulk of the sales are made. But, it has become ever more competitive, remarks Wiltshire. “We have noted more independent house brands being offered directly to the schools and clubs.”

Therefore, the keys to success in the schools and club markets are service, delivery and quality, maintains Ferreira.

While 2017 was a difficult year all round, you could always have something to sell if you have the right product at the right price, says Patrick Frank of W.E.T. Sports, whose STAR range of balls is specifically aimed at the schools and club market.

“The beauty of this market is that there are constantly new students and club members in need of new balls.”

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