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October/November 2011

Team balls:

What determines the sale?

Do the technical features of a ball impress customers buying team balls? Or do they ask for a specific brand name? Are they drawn by bright colours or cosmetics, or do they merely look at the price tag? Sports Trader recently conducted an online survey among South African retailers that sell team balls. NELLE DU TOIT reports back on the findings
Team Balls

There are more than 30 distributors that supply inflated balls for team sports to retailers listed in the annual Sports Trader Retail Directory. Every one of them will provide retailers with compelling reasons why their ball should be stocked, rather than a competitor’s.

They might mention the advanced technologies used in the manufacturing process; remind the retailer of the high profile players they sponsor, or that they supply the official ball for this or that federation; they might point to the stunning cosmetics; or proclaim that their ball offers the best value for money.

It certainly is not easy for a retailer to decide which of all these excellent features will most appeal to his customers.

Sports Trader therefore conducted an online survey among retailers to find out what clinches the team ball sale for most of their customers. Retailers that sell team balls (rugby, soccer, netball balls etc) were asked whether customers buy balls based on price, design, brand, event sponsorship, federation requirements, or the ball’s grip/handling ability.

We had some interesting results.

Retailers had to indicate if customers ‘always’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ buy balls based on the above features.

Because each purchasing decision is unique — and could be based on many factors — the majority of questions were answered with ‘sometimes’. But, there were clear indications that some factors ‘always’ play a role for a large group of the respondents.

Looks count

According to the respondents the biggest factor that determines a sale (customers ‘always’ buy based on this) is the colour and cosmetics of the ball, followed by the price.

The highest number of respondents said customers by based on:

  • The colour and cosmetics of the ball (32.3% always; 67.7% sometimes, 0% never).

  • Price (32.3% always; 64.5% sometimes; 3.2% never).

  • Purchasing a specific brand (19.4% always; 77.4% sometimes; 3.2% never).

  • Grip/handling of the ball (16.1% always; 77.4% sometimes; 6.5% never).

  • All the respondents clearly believe that aesthetics and design is a high priority for customers who are looking to buy a ball as none of them indicated that these factors ‘never’ determines a purchase.

    But, although design is very important in retail “for schools and clubs it has no influence,” comments Martin Ferreira of Xco Sport.

    Even though most of the respondents reported that price is one of the biggest factors to determine a sale, this is not true for all levels of a game, or all athletes.

    Retailers say that serious athletes are more prepared to fork out for a good ball. “Serious sports people choose serious quality, even at a serious price,” remarks Russell Sparg of Sondelani Teamsports.

    Match ball purchases are also not as dependant on price as entry level balls, says Jax Snyman of The Sweat Shop. Federation requirements would here be a bigger factor in clinching the sale of balls sold for matches.

    The brand factor

    It is interesting to note that nearly a fifth of the respondents said that their customers always request team balls from specific brands. “Certain brands are associated with certain sports, ” remarks Sparg.

    With rugby and soccer ball sales the specific brand plays a role, but with other sports it is not really that big a factor, remarks Hugo Maree of Xco Sport.

    Associating certain branded balls with specific sports is often influenced by ball sponsorships of high profile teams. “A good example of a sponsorship that has had an influence on sales is with netball — when the official ball of the SA Netball team was changed to Mitre, sales of Mitre balls went up too,” says Ferreira.

    Official status

    When asked whether customers buy balls from a brand that is the official ball for a major event (such as rugby or soccer world cup balls), 64.5% of the respondents said that event sponsorship is sometimes a factor, 19.4% said that it is never a factor and only 16.1% said that it is always a factor.

    It seems that by sponsoring a high profile event a specific target market is reached, that doesn’t necessarily filter down into grassroots school and club purchases. “Teams, schools and clubs buy to meet their specific needs, while corporates buy on event sponsorship,” explains Sparg.

    Meeting the requirements of an international sport federation (FIFA Approved or Inspected/ IRB approved, etc.) is also a deciding factor in a ball sale, though not the highest definite sale factor. “If a customer walks in and buys a non-compliant ball for a specific team sport, we would point out that the ball cannot be used for matches,” says Snyman.

    Once again the purchasing decision and sales factors depend on the needs of the individual or team. 71% of our respondents said that customers sometimes ask for balls that fulfil federation requirements, 16.1% noted that it is never a factor and 12.9% indicated that it is always a factor.

    “The buyers from government departments are not educated enough on federation requirements or specifications, they are more swayed by price and what fits in with their budget,” says Maree.

    Performance

    How a ball performs is also an influence on whether it would be bought, as 16.1% of our respondents indicated that their customers ‘always’ look for the ball with the best grip and handling.

    “Individuals who play on good grass surfaces look for a good feel and “comfortability” with the ball, whereas those who play on hard, non-grass surfaces look for durability,” says Ndumiso Zwane of Sneakers Edition.

    Nearly three-quarters of the respondents say that some customers will bounce and handle a ball in the store to test its performance.

    Nearly half (48%) said that customers sometimes test the ball in-store, while 25.8% of respondents indicated that customers always test a ball in-store, although an equal number (25.8%) say customers never test balls before buying.

    Enough stock

    We also asked retailers whether customers will wait for a specific ball to be ordered if they don’t have stock.

    A quarter of the respondents (25.8%) indicated that it never happens, customers want to walk out with their purchase. However, quite a high number of retailers (61.3%) indicated that customers will sometimes wait for them to re-stock, but only 12.9% of our respondents indicated that a customer will always wait for them to restock.

    Customers will be more inclined to wait for the arrival of out of stock official match balls, explains Anton Momberg of Sege Sports.

    Several other factors could also influence a customer’s decision to wait until stock of a specific ball — for example, if there is no other sport stockist nearby, customer loyalty to the store, etc.

    It would therefore be in the interest of suppliers of team balls to ensure that they provide retailers with enough stock as there is a 87% possibility, and 26% certainty, that they would lose sales to another supplier if their stock run out.

    To summarise:

  • Overall the biggest factors determining team ball sales are price and design;

  • Thereafter customers look at a specific brand;

  • The handling of the ball also influences a sale as more often than not customers would test a ball in-store;

  • Federation requirements play a huge role — especially in the purchasing of match balls (71% said it is sometimes a deciding factor);

  • An official event ball is sometimes bought purely because it is an official match ball 64.5% said it sometimes determines the sale);

  • Over a quarter of respondents indicated that customers would not wait for them to restock a specific ball, although a high number (61.3%) said that customers would sometimes wait.


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