Ball machines never quite took off as many would have expected. They’re often heavy and not particularly portable and even once you’ve got it on court they’re a pain to set up. Then you have the cost, which is probably the main deterrent. Reputable models come in at over £1000 with the high end machines costing up to six times that amount. On top of this, remotes to control the machines from a distance often come in at around £200 as an extra. The bottom line is that ball machines aren’t prevalent in clubs. Very few players, coaches or clubs own a ball machine and those who do probably need to dust it off. This might be about to change.
Modern ball machines are becoming more practical whilst also beginning to justify the price tag. Ball machine manufacturer, Slinger, have reaped the rewards since creating a more portable ball machine. In August they announced revenues of $11 million in an oversubscribed round of sales. In September figures showed a 349% increase in first quarter fiscal 2021 net sales with new orders totaling $3.7 million. Slinger attribute this growth to the convenience and accessibility of their machines.
Since the launch of the Slinger Bag, the majority of Slinger’s marketing has been done through their ambassador and influencer program. Partnerships and ambassador roles with the likes of Patrick Mouratoglou and his Mouratoglou Academy, Genie Bouchard, Darren Cahill and Dustin Brown as well as other tennis influencers around the world, has added credibility to the brand. This tactic also worked well for the racket company Mantis as they targeted deals with coaches as a way to infiltrate the market.
In the last few months Slinger has shown a desire to take ball machines to new levels. Back in June they bought Foundation Tennis, a software application focused on providing business services for tennis facilities. Then came the September purchase of Gameface.AI, an artificial intelligence technology that can provide instant analysis of biomechanics. In October, Slinger followed all that up with the acquisition of PlaySight, a sport video, data capture and performance analytics company. CEO, Mike Ballardie, believes their next phase of growth with come from layering technologies, such as AI, visual learning, deep-data analysis and video production as well as live streaming across the product.
"Each of the portfolio companies have experience and expertise in certain areas of the technology landscape," Ballardie says, "we are fitting the puzzle pieces together.” Through their acquisitions, Slinger also see themselves as better positioned to help clubs monetise their products. If they’re right in saying that clubs could profit from ball machines then we might see a lot more of them around soon.