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Combat sports in South Africa| 15 000 registred combat sports participants| boxing and martial arts(Left) Photo: Ruby Wolff.(Right)Two locally trained MMA fighters, Luke Michael and Nathan ‘Shake ‘n Bake’ Fredericks, made their debut in the Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC) Africa 30, in Cape Town in June.
July 2014

Can combat sports

grow retail sales?

Combat sports, like boxing and martial arts, have more than 15 000 registered participants in South Africa, all needing special clothing and equipment. RHIANAH FREDERICKS asked associations if this is a potential growth market for retailers

There are more than 15 000 members of martial arts and amateur boxing associations in South Africa. This is a sizeable potential customer base. Yet, combat sport gear like gloves, suits and weapons occupy very little space on retail shelves. Many retailers don’t stock boxing or martial arts products at all.

Are retailers missing a golden opportunity? Or are there other reasons why members of this potential lucrative customer base don’t buy their essentials from sport stores?

One of the main problems is that while gloves and other gear for combat sports may be placed in one category on a retail shelf, they actually represent many different sports, each with their own specialised needs.

Martial Arts South Africa (MASA) represents approximately 300 clubs with about 10 000 participating members, says president Louise Viviers.

The International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) has thousands of members throughout the country, says SA president Shihan Paul Cave. This body regulates amateur karate, kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The SA International Taekwon-Do Federation (SA-ITF) has 600 members, says deputy general secretary Michelle Rahl. The governing body was established in 1967 and has affiliates in almost every province.

Amateur boxing, represented by the SA National Boxing Organisation (SANABO), has members in all nine provinces, says president Andile Mofu. This regulatory body is an associated member of University Sports South Africa and the South African National Defence Force.

“According to the resource matrix of 2013 — which is indeed not accurate — we had 5 138 resources,” he says. This included boxers and officials.

Where members buy

While some participants are likely to walk into retail stores to buy gear, many of them receive, or buy, their equipment directly from the organisation.

Boxers are encouraged to buy from retailers or distributors and SANABO does not sell to its members. The association also does not prescribe where participants are to buy products for training.

But, their competition gear and national colour clothing or equipment are bought from specified suppliers with the necessary expertise, says Mofu. They purchase these from a local distributor or manufacturer who customise them specifically for SANABO.

There are a wide variety of disciplines in martial arts says Viviers, who has found that although their association allows its members to buy from retailers, retailers do not always stock the correct equipment.

Most retailers mainly stock karate equipment, and although members participating in taekwon-do or other disciplines can use the head gear and uniforms, the rest of the equipment does not match the other disciplines.

“The difficulty is that retailers lack the knowledge to stock the correct equipment,” she says.

People who practice taekwon-do buy their suits from local suppliers, while those in disciplines such as muay thai, which is very specialised, buy their equipment privately in order to avoid spending a shiny penny on the wrong items. Kickboxers, for example, only use gear from one international brand, because it is designed to a certain approved standard.

Some instructors also buy equipment and sell to their members themselves because they can ensure the correct equipment is purchased as well as receive a discounted instructor price, she adds.

SA-ITF members can buy their taekwon-do equipment and clothing from retailers if they want to. The association does not specify where their members should buy. “But we do make suggestions,” says Rahl.

If they sell directly to their members they also provide products that have been purchased from a local distributor or manufacturer.

“In my club I prefer to get a group order and pay for it at once, which brings the freight price down from Cape Town, and I know I order the correct goods,” she says.

Other associations, such as ISKA, on the other hand, prefer to supply their members’ equipment and clothing themselves. The association’s members have to purchase everything in house, says Cave.

They supply customised kit with personalised logos, etc. that are specifically made for their association, and that is why they supply directly to their members, instead of asking them to buy from a local retailer, he explains.

Another reason is that equipment sold by retailers doesn’t always meet the minimum safety standards set by their international affiliated organisation.

ISKA buys the clothing and equipment they supply to their members from a distributor or manufacture in South Africa.


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