Tennis is a sport that has grown around the world with the end of isolations due to the pandemic, but today it runs the risk of losing many followers and even ceasing to be practiced in Argentina because of a fact as unexpected as unimaginable, the lack of one of its essential elements: the ball.
The reasons for the shortage of balls are various and raised the alarm among those who play tennis in the country. One morning, players, teachers and club regulars discovered that they could not find a way to replace that crucial element that they enjoy traveling from one place to another over the net. If even Guido Pella (a member of the Davis Cup champion team) said in August that it was very difficult to train in Argentina: “Besides the cold, there are no balls in the country”.
Tax issues, import blockages, anti-dumping filings, the problem of international transport, lack of investment and the exchange rate threaten the possibility of meeting the needs of local consumption.
In Argentina there are two national companies dedicated to the manufacture of tennis balls. Mafer, with a production line that reaches about 5,000 units per day, and Penn, the most important, which could reach a production of about 26 thousand per day, today it is working at half capacity, due to delays in component deliveries.
Although it is recognized that a greater investment is necessary to update the production lines of balls and lead them to generate a greater number of balls per month to achieve self-sufficiency, the truth is that, in many cases, these products do not reach the standard of competition professional and must resort to imported brands with representation in the country. Professional players and juniors who compete internationally need that quality of balls to train and what comes from abroad is not enough.
This is one of the reasons why several minor and youth tournaments within the calendar of the Argentine Tennis Association have not been carried out, as in Corrientes.
But what is the disadvantage of bringing them or manufacturing the necessary quantity? Companies that have the representation of foreign firms in the country, such as Babolat, Wilson, Dunlop and Head They are not promoting their products, since they are unable to maintain regularity in the entry of merchandise. This is related to issues of a monetary regulation, tariffs, protections and the waiting time until the merchandise can be removed from Customs.
When importing any type of product, the purchase must be made in dollars and the amount transferred abroad in that currency, something that is to be avoided at this time. What’s more, Protection laws apply to certain products that are manufactured in the country, regardless of their quality, which requires a double request for an exception before the Secretary of Commerce, in order to have the import authorization, since the automatic license does not apply in the event of a lack of response from the institution. And that response, in most cases, has a strong delay.
To further understand the problem and the context, products such as tennis balls, sneakers and textiles are part of the protected industry in Argentina, which causes even more delays and a higher tariff cost. For this reason, tennis balls enjoy double tariff protection in the country, because the payment of anti-dumping duty is added (Customs trade defense measure that is imposed when an imported value is lower than the price that applies when manufactured in the country itself), requested by the Argentine company before the Justice.
This is why the licensees go to the “appeal for protection”, to be able to get hold of the merchandise. But, so that the container with the balls (about 24 thousand tubes) can cross the barrier of the Customs warehouses, not only do you have to have that import permit, but also with patience. The delay is between 3 and 6 months to release the merchandise. In between, expenses must be paid for the storage time until it leaves Customs and the corresponding insurance, all values that are added to the tariffs that make the product more expensive. For example, only for anti-dumping duty corresponds the payment of 25% on the tax base of the imported product. In the case of balls, the incidence would be about $ 0.60 per tube, to which should be added customs duties, insurance and storage.
“But once the merchandise is in the hands of the importer, it is sold immediately,” they say from one of the licensees, and the same happens with these products when they reach the retail businesses.
To have a comparison of prices, regarding the cost to the public in Argentina and abroad, Three loose balls (in bulk) are sold from 900 to 1,100 pesos (about USD 9 or 10, official exchange rate), while the cost of a tube of three balls (pressurized), depending on the quality and brand, ranges from 1,250 to 1,950 pesos (USD 12.50 and USD 19.50, respectively). In the United States or Europe, the cost of the first type of balls is less than half (USD 4.28) and that of tubes varies between USD 6 and USD 15, the highest quality on the market.
That is why national manufacturing becomes important. Tennis was one of the first sports allowed to be played, as the world’s governments eased the quarantine. The distance between the players and the fact of doing it in the open air made many more jump to practice it and this caused a greater demand for an industry that was stopped and that was accommodating with the weeks and months. Much more accentuated occurred in Argentina. Located in the La Cantábrica Industrial Park, in Haedo, the factory Penn “It was stopped from March 20 to July 24, 2020” and it was very difficult to put it back into normal operation due to the negative consequences generated by stopping the machines and facilities ”.
The balls consist of two elements: rubber and cloth, which come from England and Thailand. All manufacturers acquire the cloth there, what’s more, many brands manufacture them with the same production line of the same Asian company and only change the seal and the packaging of the company that will put them up for sale. “The great global demand for tennis balls post-pandemic caused an over demand for the product,” says Daniel Lucchetti, president of the Argentine company. This caused much longer than normal shortages or delays in cloth deliveries from factories. In addition, in the context of a pandemic, the security protocols to be complied with made normal port operations difficult and international transport was affected by serious delays that aggravated the delay. If before 2020 the cloths were a normal part of a load, now they had to wait for the load capacity of the transport to be completed or, failing that, the ship made different stops along the way, to collect more containers along the way. Another fact that added to the problem of the transfer was that ships of Chinese origin could not enter the port of Buenos Aires, so the cargo went directly to Brazil and, after a cargo pass to another vessel, left with destination to Argentina. Which generated more time and increased the cost of shipping, so it was difficult to rebuild the cloth stocks.
“Before the pandemic, the delay time from the moment the cloth was requested until it was received was 3 months, maximum. But now, this process can take up to 6 months ”, comenta Padlocks.
The other component for the manufacture of a ball is no less important, since the compound of the rubber determines all the properties that the player experiences when playing. In the case of the plant in Argentina, this point was “one of the main benefits of the technology transfer contract that we signed with the world’s leading tennis ball manufacturer,” the company assures that, after purchasing (in Argentina or the outside) all the ingredients of the compound, it mixes it in its own rubber mixing plant. As for the ink used to stamp the brand on the cloth, it also comes from China, since it is special and cannot contain lead.
Once all the elements are gathered, the time that elapses from the beginning of the manufacturing and quality control process until the consumer receives the product is 48 hours. Although, as in any manufacturing process, there are imponderables, such as when any of the machines – due to their age or use – requires some maintenance or repair, or also that of the tubes. On one occasion, the Argentine company received tubes to pressurize with a few millimeters less extension than necessary to be able to close them, so the machine in charge of the operation could not carry the process properly and the tubes were thrown without being able to seal . At this time, for a greater speed of distribution, the chosen form is the so-called “bulk”, simply loose in a bag and in no less than 20 units.
Definitely, The unsatisfied Argentine tennis market requires approximately between 700 thousand and 1 million balls per month, but at present it does not meet that need continuouslyTherefore, academies, tennis teachers, players and fans look with concern to the future not only of competitions, but also the practice of tennis in Argentina.