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Sports ball makers boost quality, production efficiency

New materials and updated processes yield better-performing sports balls.

China suppliers of sports balls are stepping up efforts to meet the specifications of various user and geographic markets amid fierce competition. Many companies are boosting product functionality and visual appeal. Manufacturing systems and other business functions are also being upgraded to raise efficiency and manage costs.

Soccer ball

Shanghai Zhensheng's model SS-659 soccer ball has a PU cover and a butyl bladder.

In soccer balls, several suppliers are laminating EVA with PU, TPU or PVC leather. Adopting covers in these combinations results in models with better rebound and feel than those with exteriors made entirely of PU, TPU or PVC.

Among basketball manufacturers, many are employing microfiber PU leather in high-end designs. The material has good absorption capability similar to genuine leather, but yields a smoother surface and enhanced rebound. It is also easier to source, compared with animal hide, because of the “green” trend.

For greater convenience during nighttime plays, Wuxi Baida Sporting Goods Co. Ltd is rolling out luminous basketballs, which are popular in the EU and the US. The maker is one of the few enterprises that can offer this product, which combines glitter and rubber.

Entrants to the line are limited for two reasons. First, in contrast to the systems used in the manufacture of basic models, which require maintenance once a month, those used for luminous basketballs need cleaning every two or three days. Further, sourcing the transparent rubber can be costly and difficult, leading some to employ PVC leather with glitter.

Besides improving product performance, many companies are enhancing aesthetics. While solid hues are typical, pieces in various color combinations are on the rise. Sports balls going to Africa and South America, for example, are in dark yellow and red.

Some makers feature cartoon images on the covers. Models with large prints are also in style. For soccer balls, in particular, designs are patterned after trends in the World Cup.

Under efforts to enhance visual appeal, a number of makers are utilizing TPU for a glossy finish. Bright colors and patterns can also be easily incorporated into the plastic.

The latest releases target the US, the EU, South America and Africa. Pricewise, they are 5 to 10 percent higher than conventional designs.

Operational upgrades

To gain an additional edge, many makers are improving the bonding process to enhance the roundness and durability of their sports balls.

A number are boosting operational efficiency by employing automatic equipment or working with machinery companies to lower manpower requirement and related expenses. Several enterprises are also establishing close relationships with raw material providers to keep up-to-date with the latest cost-efficient inputs and thereby generate savings.

Additionally, suppliers are taking various steps to stimulate demand. Certain enterprises, for instance, offer discounts for large-volume orders. Among these is Wuxi Zontai Intl Corp. Ltd, which takes 5 percent off the usual price for a sale of 20,000 to 30,000 pieces.

To generate high-value client inquiries, makers participate in trade shows. Several also emulate one-stop shops, providing storage and logistics services in addition to manufacturing. Constant communication with buyers is deemed necessary aswell.

Suppliers of sports balls will invest heavily in marketing and advertising activities in coming months. Many likewise intend to enhance aftersales services.

To minimize risk, a number plan on exploring safer payment terms in light of the volatile EU market.

Soccer balls dominate inflatable types


This size 7 basketball from Wuxi Baida comes with a 10-panel cover and a rubber bladder.

China’s sports balls selection includes inflatable and solid-core varieties, with the first accounting for the majority of output. Among the inflatables, models for soccer constitute 50 percent of production, and basketballs take up 30 percent.

Regardless of the type of ball, prices are mainly determined by the panel binding method and the raw materials adopted.

For instance, low-end soccer ball, which are mostly for promotional use, go for $1.55 to $3.40. These come with machine-stitched constructions made of domestically sourced 3P or 6P PVC or rubber. Their bladders are in thin rubber.

Upward to $6, the selection consists of midrange types for training and recreational purposes. Offered with butyl bladders, models usually adopt TPU or PU leather for the cover. Variants employing PVC or TPU laminated with EVA leather are also available. Handsewn, glued and machine-stitched options are on hand.

Employing similar binding methods, upscale pieces intended for professional use reach $20. These normally come with covers made of imported or EVA-laminated PU, but cowhide versions are also available. They have 2-layer latex or butyl bladders. Several designs conform to FIFA specifications.

The best-selling soccer balls are 32-panel models in size 5. Sizes 2, 3 and 4 are offered as well.

In the basketball sector, designs are between $1.80 and $20 per piece. Seventy percent of output consists of rubber-covered variants for promotions or training. Training and match balls with PU or PVC covers make up the rest.

In coming months, prices of existing models are expected to climb about 5 percent due to rising raw material and labor costs, and the yuan appreciation.

At Wuxi Baida, the validity period of quotes is only one month to account for changes in the rates of manufacturing input and the value of the currency. Previously, prices could be maintained for two to six months.

China exported $345 million worth of inflatable balls between January and July 2011. Shanghai was the top source of shipments, contributing 33 percent or $114.5 million to the national aggregate.

Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and Xiamen in Fujian province were also among the key providers. Exports of the former reached $38.8 million, while Xiamen generated $37.1 million from products sent abroad.

The US was the sector’s primary source of overseas revenue during the seven-month period. Deliveries to the area were valued at $97.1 million, accounting for 28 percent of the national aggregate.

The other key markets were Belgium, Germany, Russia, the UK, Japan and Brazil. Total shipments to these areas amounted to $75.5 million or 22 percent of China’s export sales.

Sports balls price guide

Soccer ball

Product gallery

Shanghai Zhensheng Stationery & Sports Goods Co. Ltd

Model: SS-411
MOQ: 1,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: Soccer ball; thermally bonded PU cover; size 5; 685 to 695mm circumference; 420 to 440g; meets FIFA specifications on circumference, weight, rebound and water absorption

Laminated basketball

Shanghai Zhensheng Stationery & Sports Goods Co. Ltd

Model: SB-519
MOQ: 1,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: Laminated basketball; PU cover; butyl bladder; size 7; 120 to 140cm rebound; 600g; meets FIBA specifications


Shanghai Zhensheng Stationery & Sports Goods Co. Ltd

Model: SB-010
MOQ: 5,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: Basketball; rubber cover; butyl or rubber bladder; nylon or polyester winding; size 7; 580 to 600g


Wuxi Baida Sporting Goods Co. Ltd

Model: BR932
MOQ: 1,000 pieces
Delivery: 25 days
Description: Basketball; rubber bladder; polyester winding; 12 panels; size 7; 23.8cm diameter; 600 to 620g; HR 4040, EN 71-1-2-3


Wuxi Baida Sporting Goods Co. Ltd

Model: BR968
MOQ: 1,000 pieces
Delivery: 25 days
Description: Basketball; rubber bladder; polyester winding; eight panels; size 7; 23.8cm diameter; 600 to 620g; HR 4040, EN 71-1-2-3

Machine-stitched soccer ball

Wuxi Baida Sporting Goods Co. Ltd

Model: SV1010
MOQ: 1,000 pieces
Delivery: 25 days
Description: Machine-stitched soccer ball; PU cover; butyl bladder; polyester winding; 32 panels; size 5; 22.3cm diameter; 400 to 420g; HR 4040, EN 71-1-2-3

Note: This article "Sports ball makers boost quality, production efficiency" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business- to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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