Babolat made a big coup at the Roland Garros tennis tournaments ended last Sunday, where it was the official supplier of the balls under a new five-year contract as well as the sponsor of the winners of the men's and women's finals. Elated by the sixth victory obtained at the French Tennis Open by Rafael Nadal, who has been using its racquets since the age of 12, Babolat is also hoping that the Chinese tennis market will get a new impulse from the victory of a 29-year-old Chinese player, Na Li, in the women's final. A very popular player in her own country, she may give tennis in China the kind of kick that Gustavo Kuerten, also sponsored by Babolat, gave to the Brazilian market through his victories in the 1990s and that many other prominent Russian players have given to their own market.
A total of about 160,000 tennis authentic and branded racquets were sold in China last year, according to Babolat's estimates, but the market is double that if one adds imitations and unbranded items or the racquets sold by big retailers such as Décathlon under their own labels. When it comes to racquets alone, which have come to represent 53 percent of its total sales, Babolat claims a market share of 25 percent in China, coming behind Wilson.
Babolat has been sponsoring Na Li for 10 years. A local company, Pro Legacy, has been distributing Babolat's products since the late 1990s. The French company dispatched one of its own employees to China a year ago to assist in trade marketing and to work more intensely with specialty tennis retailers and tennis instructors. It is sponsoring many clubs and many junior players in the country, as it does in the rest of the world.
The Chinese market has been growing by 10 to 15 percent a year lately. While Na Li cannot aspire to the wider appeal in China that a man would enjoy in her position, there is hope that her victory will lead public authorities to allocate more land in their urban planning decisions to tennis courts. The strong development of shopping malls and residential real estate in the big cities has driven up the price of land and made it unprofitable to set up tennis courts in the country.
Among the emerging markets, China is probably followed by Argentina in the world tennis market, with sales estimated at 150,000 in 2010. Brazil comes next with 125,000 units. A smaller country such as South Korea is probably next in line with sales of 110,000 racquets. Sales in the two other so-called BRIC countries – Russia and India – are estimated by Babolat to have reached 79,000 and 60,000 units in 2010.
Based on these estimates, Babolat has market shares of 27 percent in Argentina, 36 percent in Brazil, 26 percent in Korea, 35 percent in Russia and 22 percent in India. It is No. 1 in Argentina, Brazil and Russia, on a par with Wilson in Korea and No. 2 after Wilson in India.
Expansion in the faster-growing emerging markets is one of the goals that Babolat is pursuing in trying to maintain its current growth rate over the next three years, along with its diversification into footwear, which has come to represent 13 percent of its turnover, the same as its original stringing business. The company is still budgeting a sales increase of about 8 percent to €125 million for the financial year ending June 30, with increases in all its product lines and all the major markets.
Babolat is investing €4 million in a new robotized distribution center that is set to start up in September or October near Lyon. It is expected to double the speed of its deliveries in Europe, where it can already dispatch any quantities anywhere within 48 hours.