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Team boots
Q1 2018

Winter team sport:
What players want in boot uppers

Fashions in soccer, rugby and hockey boots are constantly changing. We asked some retailers what are popular boot features with their customers

Team boots are often so attractive that they could just as well have been worn as fashion items. But, even the most functional performance boot follows certain trends — especially where the upper materials and cosmetics are concerned.

Just as in lifestyle footwear, performance boot materials, designs and colours go in and out of fashion. The modern, brightly coloured, lightweight rugby boot certainly bears little resemblance to the clunky high-cut leather clod-hoppers of a century ago.

We’ve asked sport retailers to give us a heads-up on what is currently in or out of fashion in soccer, rugby and hockey boots, based on what their customers prefer.

Soccer boot preferences

Most soccer players prefer a boot with a synthetic upper, say 62% of the retailers who responded to our survey.

“Customers prefer boots with the better quality synthetic uppers because they are durable and can be used in wet weather,” says Roaldo Gabriel of Studio 88. “Everyone is shopping price at the moment and that’s the best-priced material.”

Synthetic uppers are popular among customers who cannot afford the top of the range boots, because they often look similar to more expensive leather boots, adds Lambros Koutsoudis of Footballer and Sport in Port Elizabeth. “However, we tend to get a lot of returns on this type of boot as some of them are not as durable as the higher quality boots,” he cautions.

Besides, customers don’t have much of a choice because that is the material most manufacturers nowadays use to produce boots, adds Bruce Fontaine of Des Fontaine Sports in Klerksdorp. “In my store 99% of stock is synthetic.”

Synthetic uppers have many benefits, say retailers who responded to our survey. “It is because it is lightweight, comfortable and is what the soccer stars are wearing,” explains Hassan Mahomedy of Mahomedys Club Stores in Durban. “Most customers like (good) looks and boots from this material usually look the nicest,” says Mike Scott of Brockett’s Sports in Uitenhage.

There are, however, customers who prefer leather, say 31% of the respondents. “My customers like the smell and feel of leather,” says Mohammed Timol of Charmers Sportswear in Durban, who adds “I have 99.9% black trade”.

Waseem Mangera of Solly’s Sport Shop in Lenasia agrees: “the leather is longer lasting and the quality superior to the other materials. It also matches their (customers’) playing conditions better. Synthetic's popularity is more for the look than anything else, because youngsters want a boot that stands out.”

Then there are those who specifically ask for kangaroo leather (say 23%), like Christmas Dumezwehi from Kloppers in Bloemfontein: “Customers are going for the cosmetics more than anything else.”

Soccer players prefer a snug/glove-like fit, report 38% of the respondents. This is because a snug fitting boot provides a better feel of the ball on the boot, explains Michael Bester of Brian Bands Sport. Leather uppers stretch quite a bit and customers therefore prefer a snug fit when they buy the boot to accomodate the extra stretch, adds Dumezwehi.

There are, however, customers who prefer an upper that enables unrestricted movement, because “when running your feet swell up and players don’t want something tight that causes discomfort,” Mangera found.

Soccer players still prefer symmetrical laces, say 62% of retailers — although 38% report that their customers ask for off-centre lacing.

Symmetrical laces won't come loose during play, say Dumezwehi. “The fit of the boot with the conventional lacing system suits people better,” adds Jaap Engelbrecht of Somerset Sport in Somerset West. “It laces both sides evenly and gives a more comfortable fit.”

Although off-centre lacing is still a popular request, many customers are going back to wearing the normal symmetrical style, qualifies Fontaine.

Soccer players prefer the off-centre/asymmetrical laces, as the laces don’t interfere when striking the ball, Koutsoudis found. As Bester explains: “There is more space for kicking the ball.”

“This lacing system also tends to give the boot a more snug/glove-like feel.”

And don’t forget that off-center laces are fashionable, points out JP Schoeman of Pêrel Sport in Paarl. Customers want to mimic the look of the famous soccer stars on the field with off-centre laces, confirms Mahomedy.

Low-cut soccer boots are preferred by their customers, say 62% of respondents, because they are more affordable. “Customers are not going to buy a R999 boot because of the design, they take the entry level boots with a low-cut design, which will retail for R599 or R699,” Gabriel experienced.

This cut fits more comfortably and doesn't interfere with a players' ankles. “They cause less ankle twisting,” says Dumewhezi.

There are, however, customers who do prefer a boot with built-in sock, report 15% of respondents, mainly because it is fashionable says Schoeman. “They see that in the boots that Ronaldo or Messi are wearing and aspire to that,” adds Mahomedy.

Soccer players like colour, say 70% of the retail respondents.

“Customers prefer bright colours and just don’t like black boots,” explains Scott. “Bright boots are also more visible on the field.”

According to Mahomedy “it's mostly colour, colour, colour” that players want. “Some schools do require students to wear black boots, but social and club players want colour.”

There are, however, relatively few school soccer leagues and most school-age soccer is played at clubs.

His sales ratio will be about 70% colour and 30% black — and the colour must be “as bright as possible because parents want to see their kids stand out on the field,” Fontaine found.

There are, however, dissenting voices. “Four to five years ago there was a massive call for colour and all the major brands brought out coloured boots. The fashion trend is now more back to basics and for us black and white options do really well,” qualifies Gabriel. “Customers are going back to basics and want the classic kit look.

Timol has a more practical explanation: “Black boots are more popular because they require less cleaning.” His customers, however, also buy coloured boots, with yellow and green as the most popular.

Engelbrecht’s customers have a further condition: while they prefer predominantly black boots, they like to have some colour accents.

The colour preference also depends on the customers’ age, Mangera reports. “The younger crowd prefer colourful stuff — the neon colours are popular — but the older guys prefer black and basic colours.

Rugby boot choices

In contrast to soccer players, rugby players are more partial to kangaroo leather uppers (say 56% retailers) than synthetics. A third say their customers prefer synthetic or full-grain leather uppers, while about a fifth report that their customers like their rugby boots in calfskin leather.

“It is because kangaroo leather lasts longer than synthetics,” explains Dumezwhezi. “These materials give a softer feeling on the foot and offer more durability than others,” adds Bester. Plus, they are light and comfortable, adds Riaan Boshoff of Topsport in Vryheid.

Price is also a factor. “In my store anything under R1 000 sells, but anything over you have to convince a bloke to buy,” says Scott.

There are, however, rugby players who prefer synthetic uppers — especially the better quality materials, Schoeman qualifies.

And the big, heavy, rugby players want a wider fit in their boots to provide a more comfortable fit, say 78% of the respondents. “Props and hookers have broad feet,” points out Bester. “Rugby players just generally have wider feet compared to soccer players.”

“The North West is well-known for broader feet, children still go to school barefoot in most parts, and therefore when they play rugby they prefer shoes that don't hug the foot too tightly,” explains Fontaine. “Where we stay in Paarl and the rural areas where I do business, customers' feet are much wider than in Belville or the Northern suburbs, because the children go to school barefoot and therefore their feet are wider,” Schoeman agrees.

The traditional symmetrical lacing system works best for rugby players, because they find it more comfortable, say most retail respondents (78%).

“It depends on the position though: backline players who kick a lot will want off-centre for more kicking space and front rows who don’t kick won’t mind a symmetrical lacing system,” says Bester.

The kickers in a rugby team will often ask for off-centre/asymmetrical laces as the laces don’t interfere when striking the ball, agrees Koutsoudis. “This lacing system also tends to give the boot a more snug/glove-like feel.”

Low-cut boots are also favoured by rugby players, say 67% of the retail respondents — although high/mid cut rugby boots are almost non-existent nowadays, points out Koutsoudis. And they are lighter, adds Engelbrecht.

“It's a fashion thing,” believes Fontaine. “Customers want what the star players are wearing on TV. Back in the day the popular rugby players were wearing boot-type styles and customers wanted that, now the players on TV are wearing what looks like shoes, therefore customers also want low cut boots.”

Coloured rugby boots are also popular — but, to a lesser extent than in soccer, because schools often dictate that players wear black.

“Most customers are from senior school level and these schools prefer black,” says Schoeman. “This is because they can then use polish to clean the shoe. The polish or dubbin also helps with the durability of the shoe.”

His rugby customers prefer colours like yellow, lime, red, in addition to black in their rugby boots, says Dumezwehi.

Hockey boot fashion

Most hockey players realise that they should wear a hockey-specific shoe in order to avoid injuries, say 90% of the retail respondents. But, at school level parents often can only afford to buy one shoe for all purposes, says Grant Steyl of Kloppers Bloemfontein, with the result that they sell about 70% hockey specific and 30% trail running shoes to hockey players.

“Trail running shoes are multi-purpose and can be used for casual, running and hockey purposes,” Fontaine explains why trail running shoes are often bought by hockey players.

About half his hockey playing customers buy trail running shoes, agrees Engelbrecht. “The ratio for hockey-specific shoes has improved. Previously, trail running shoes were more popular because they were more comfortable, but hockey shoes have been upgraded and are now as popular as trail running shoes. Hockey boots are also very fashionable and youngsters want to show off their brand of boots.”

“Most customers play on astro turf and prefer hockey boots,” says Schoeman. “Those that play hockey on turf fields at primary school level may, however, use soccer boots because they offer better grip in wet conditions.”

Generally, the more serious hockey players prefer the hockey shoe, says Alan and Di Paton of The Hockey Shop. “Junior hockey players are, however, purchasing affordable shoes as the hockey boot has become unaffordable to many families.”

Soccer boots should never be worn on astro turf, because they tear up the artificial surface, cautions Mike Brown of Online Sport.

Like their soccer counterparts, hockey players also predominantly buy shoes with synthetic uppers, say 70% of the respondents.

That is because “these boots can be used for both field and astro turf hockey,” says Koutsoudis. Synthetic uppers prevent water from the astro entering the shoe, adds Brown — and for the same reason leather or textile uppers are not suitable.

“Although many customers want synthetic or mesh material uppers, it differes depending on the conditions the customer will be playing in and the surface they will be playing on,” says Steyl.

Hockey players want a snug/glove-like fit say half of the retail respondents. Although this depends on their gender: girls like a snug fit, but boys a wider fit, says Schoeman.

But, a too snug fit can damage the toe nails, Brown warns. He recommends a shoe that is wide and 1 or 1/2 size bigger than normal to give some relief on the toe nails.

“A low cut design is preferable as hockey players need to have ankle space for the shin/ankle guards,” say the Patons. The fitting is generally a comfortable fit with the junior players often purchasing for growth.

And hockey players like bright colours on their feet say the retailers. “The manufactures have brought out some amazing colour combos,” say the Patons. “We have found that again there is a mixed bag, as some schools prefer a black or a plain colour, as opposed to the bright colour.” Club hockey and above players often prefer the brighter the better.

“Bright colours are popular, which is also partly why some hockey players prefer trail running shoes,” Engelbrecht. “Not as colourful as soccer, just blue and regular tones,” Schoeman differs. “Schools don’t allow colourful shoes because on the field it causes confusion as the balls for hockey are also different colours.”

Hockey players are slightly more conservative than soccer players and won’t necessarily look for bright colours, but colours are still more popular than black, says Fontaine.

“Any colour, as long as it is not white,” adds Bester. “Last season pink and blue for girls and blue and orange for boys have been popular. “The brighter the better. Customers don't buy a particular colour, but rather what is attractive to the eye,” Steyl found.

That is, if the school does not insist on black.

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