Kerala Yet to Convert Chances into Goals in Sports Goods Sector

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala is one of the few Indian states which not only possesses immense sporting potential but is also vigorously utilising its talents on the playgrounds. Over the years, the southern state has been actively involved in all kinds of sports – be it track and field or games like football, cricket, volleyball and badminton – and producing a long line-up of well-known players having international calibre.

However, with respect to sales of sports goods, the State is trailing by quite a distance behind many other places in the country. For instance, while large south Indian cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad have seen a rise in awareness about fitness and health which has proved to be a catalyst promoting the sports retail sector, Kerala is yet to enter the same league.

Veterans in sports retailing say the growth in sales in the State is not large enough for the sector to be considered as a significant economic entity. The situation is attributed to the absence of endeavours to explore the potential of the sector here. As a result, Kerala is missing out on a major opportunity to be part of the global sports retail industry, which is worth nearly $600 billion.

Industry behemoths like French sports goods retailer Decathlon and Kerala-based Cosmos are making giant strides in the retail sector and have also contributed to ensuring the participation of segments of population – which otherwise may fall in the category of ‘fans’ – in sporting activities. Besides, the rise of a general sporting culture among office-goers is also attributed to the increased awareness about the need for fitness in urban setups. This is, in fact, what sports retailers like Decathlon have capitalised on in India.

On the other hand, the general response to the sport goods sector in Kerala has been a bit tangential. According to some sports retailers, buying habits of customers have not been influenced by bigger brands in the market. “The purchase decisions of our customers continue to be conservative and that is exactly why general and small-scale sports retailers in the State are not concerned about the entry of multinational sports retailers,” says S Gopinathen, the proprietor of Valsala sports store in Thiruvananthapuram.

“If a customer has a damaged badminton racquet, he may not invest in a fresh piece. In most cases, he approaches retailers like us and tries to get it repaired. The spending habit of Keralites is vastly different from that of buyers in cities like Bengaluru or Hyderabad,” says Subramanyan Chettiyar, who repairs sports equipment.

A skilled workforce exists in Kerala. However, an apparent laxity in encouraging the sports goods sector to grow into a full-scale industry has deterred further development. As a matter of fact, places like Jalandhar and Meerut have successfully demonstrated how a workforce having such potential can be utilised in the production of footballs, cricket bats and badminton racquets of international standards. The sports equipment produced in India are well-received in global markets and sports arenas. In the sports goods market in India, which is valued nearly $4 billion, cricket equipment holds the highest share, followed by badminton.

The sports retail sector in India is showing signs of fast growth. While nearly 40 per cent of indigenously-produced sports goods are sold within the country, the rest is exported.

“Sports clubs and collectives are coming up in large numbers across the State. Most such initiatives are driven by a desire to improve fitness and health. A number of sports clubs in Kerala are amateur and professional badminton playing groups. If we could properly channelise the potential of such collectives, they will inspire economic as well as sports success stories in the State,” says C Umar, the chairman of Peloton Sports, Kozhikode and a former Santhosh Trophy player for Kerala.

Currently, Jalandhar and Meerut are the epicentres of all sports manufacturing in the country. “But if the government takes serious efforts to promote the sector in Kerala too, it will prove to be a game changer,” according to Umar.

Sports goods manufacturing is considered to be labour-intensive and close to five lakh people are employed under various sports-related industries in the country. The quantum of export of sports goods from India shows how dear Indian-made sports goods are in the international market. According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), sports goods worth a whopping $227 million were exported from India to countries like the US, the UK, Australia and South Africa in 2016.

Many believe that global sports retail enterprises which carry a great amount of conviction could fare well in Kerala too, as the State already has a favourable ecosystem for sports and games in place. According to experts, the retail landscape in Kerala is perfect for the sports industry, paving the way for more organised and promising endeavours – mainly in the manufacture of sports goods and equipment.

Decoding the Sporting Spirit

A significant number of people in the State have taken up sporting activities following increased awareness about the importance of fitness, keeping lifestyle diseases at bay. According to a study commissioned by Destination Kerala through True Code, about 16.8 percent people play badminton and about 11.9 percent like to visit a gym.
As per the survey, 79.2 percent of participants testified that they would only spend between Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 on sports goods or apparels every year. The study says 18.8 percent would spend between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 in sports retail stores. It is only two percent of the customers who would shell out Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. Meanwhile, majority of the sports goods and apparel consumers shop online and the rest 42.6 percent of the customers visit the retail shops for purchase.

While 45.5 percent of people take part in sports and games for recreational purposes, 83.2 percent of people who engage in sports and related activities fall in the age span of 19 to 25. Study shows that participation of people aged above 51 years is the lowest. On the other hand, involvement of office goers, typically of age between 31 to 35 years, is just 9.9 percent. It also claims that about 34.7 percent of people engage in sporting activities every day during the week and most people (24.8 percent) like to play football.