Your new tennis partner, Slinger Bag
Distribution agreement with FK Nordics
The Norwegian American
Coming with you to a tennis court near you, your new partner. Joe, meet Slinger Bag. Slinger Bag, meet Joe. Slinger Bag is an affordable, lightweight, transportable bag that includes a tennis ball launcher with a built-in control panel on which the player can set launch speed, frequency, and angle; a remote control and capacity for 144 balls. It became available globally this month.
Slinger CEO Mike Ballardie’s gut tells him there are a lot of Joes—and Joans—tennis players like Joe Kalfa out there. Kalfa is an avid tennis player who tries to get in a few hours a day.
“All good products come out of trying to solve a problem,” said Ballardie during a Virtual Investors Fireside Chat webinar on June 17, moderated by Jenene Thomas, CEO of JTC Team Investor Relations and Integrative Communications.
“Joe’s problem was he couldn’t find regular tennis partners. He tried his club’s traditional tennis ball machines. He found it difficult and cumbersome to use. He had a eureka moment where he came up with the concept of a tennis ball machine inside a wheeled trolley bag.”
That was 2016. During 2017 and early 2018, different concepts were developed. In May 2018, a Kickstarter campaign was launched, raising $913,698 from 3,302 backers, 3,000% above the goal, one of the most successful sports Kickstarter campaigns of all time. Then Ballardie heard about it.
“Joe checked to see if other tennis players around the world had a similar craving for such a product,” said Ballardie. “The Kickstarter campaign created an instant market for 3,500 Slinger Bags. One of the main reasons players quit playing is the ability to find regular playing partners. Slinger solves the problem for the sport itself by making a product available that can be your 24/7 playing partner.
“It also solves the problem for the tennis player with a product that is lightweight, transportable, versatile, and affordable. When I saw Slinger, my tennis gut told me it was something that could make a difference in the tennis world. I got in touch with Joe within a few minutes, arranged to go visit him within a few days. I tried out Slinger on the court to find out for myself how it worked. A few days later, I signed up to run the company as CEO. I have a passionate belief that Slinger is going to make a significant inroad into the traditional tennis market and become a significant player in the category.”
That was February 2019. Ballardie had been CEO of Prince, a major tennis brand; worked for Wilson; was a player, coach, and member of the board of directors of Tennis Industry Association. He added CFO Paul McKeown, former CFO of Wilson and Ameri Sports Canada, and COO Thomas Dye, former COO of Wilson International, Coleman Outdoor, and Prince—“between myself and those two guys, we have a combined 100 years’ experience in the sports, and particularly, the tennis industry”—and CMO Juda Honickman, who has extensive experience building and running social media and sales marketing campaigns.
“We’re a small group of highly skilled, highly talented individuals with tremendous experience in this industry,” said Ballardie.On June 10, Slinger, based in Windsor Mill, Md., announced an exclusive five-year distribution agreement with FK Nordic, which will bring Slinger Bag to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. They also have deals in Japan, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Switzerland. “This is an important distribution agreement for Slinger to secure, as the Nordic countries are key tennis markets and form an integral part of our European growth plans,” said Ballardie in a press release. “FK Sports Nordic are an ideal partner for Slinger Bag as they are an established tennis distribution business with a strong and wide-ranging connection to Nordic tennis players, federations and key clubs and academies. Importantly, for me, they fully appreciate the scale of the opportunity that Slinger Bag brings to their brand portfolio.”
“We believe that the Slinger Bag is an innovative new product that can be used by tennis enthusiasts at any level, and based on the initial reaction from players around the world, we anticipate tremendous demand throughout our distribution network, which includes tennis dealers, coaches, clubs, retailers, federations and consumers,” said Palle Bank Andersen, Partner of Denmark-based FK Sports Nordic.There are 100 million tennis players globally, 20 million considered “avid,” who play several times a week to once a month, says Ballardie. Slinger will directly target consumers in the avid group. According to the Norwegian Tennis Federation there are 146 clubs (five paddle tennis) with almost 30,000 members affiliated with the federation.
“This is the highest figure ever recorded in NTF and shows a total growth of 6.3%,” said Arne Sartz-Knudsen, senior consultant at NTF on its website. “Tennis alone saw a growth of 5.4%, while the paddle more than doubled its membership from last year.”
There are four packages to choose from. Slinger Bag ($550) includes a launcher and remote control. The popular Grand Slam Pack ($675) has the launcher, remote, oscillator, telescopic ball cube to pick up the balls after the session, and camera holder. The Grand Slam Player ($765) provides 72 Wilson Triniti tennis balls plus everything in the Pack, while the Grand Slam Champion ($850) includes 144 balls.
The Slinger Bag has room for rackets, towel, water bottle, and it can charge your phone. It can be set up in less than a minute for any level of player. The empty weight of the bag is 33 pounds, launch speed ranges from 10 mph to 45 mph with match level topspin, and the battery life is five hours. You can use Slinger Bag on serves as well as volleys. It easily fits into the trunk of a car.
Slinger has received endorsements from doubles brothers Mike and Bob Bryan and coach Nick Bollettieri, who has coached and trained 10 world No. 1 players but has never endorsed a product.
“I’ve been involved in tennis a long time and I’ve dealt with many of the world’s top tennis players over many, many years, and I can tell you that Mike and Bob are the most professional tennis guys on the tour in terms of being brand ambassadors,” said Ballardie. “They don’t get involved with many companies, but the ones they do, they have a deep affection and passion for.
“They were the first people I called because I wanted to get their input into the product itself. I wanted to understand if it is something that players at their level would use on a regular basis. We’ve been building a great partnership with them over the past year, where they’ve helped us with social media advertising to personally delivering some of our Slinger Bags to our Kickstarter crowdfunding backers,” Ballardie said.
“Slinger is a training or teaching aid for tennis so it’s important for us to have tennis coaches involved with us that can help educate, identify drills and practices for tennis players to use. There isn’t a greater advocate in tennis than Nick Bollettieri. I’ve known him for a long time. I made a direct contact to him. He never endorsed because he had his own methods and ways of teaching,” Ballardie said.
“After he tried Slinger Bag, he became one of the most passionate advocates for Slinger Bag because he believes it could be the greatest training aid ever. For tennis teachers around the world, it allows them to stand next to their pupil, talk to their pupil and see small things that they can’t see from the other side of the court. So, we’re making teaching easier and more effective.”
Another coup was Slinger sponsored Schroders Battle of the Brits, a “behind closed doors” tennis tournament of the U.K.’s top-ranked male players including Andy and Jamie Murray, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund, June 23-28. Co-organized by Jamie, it hoped to raise more than $125,000 for NHS Charities Initiative.
Given the current times, the question of Slinger as an aid in social distancing arose.
“No company likes to take advantage of what is a terrible situation around the world,” said Ballardie. “Slinger lends itself to being used in an isolation kind of situation. If you look at our Slinger Bag Instagram page, you’ll see a host of videos that have been posted by people who have found incredibly interesting ways to use Slinger, to still practice some of the things important to them for tennis. We’ve seen a great uptick in interest in Slinger over the last couple of months.
“I expect it to increase dramatically after the social distancing is lifted. We’re running a presale campaign in the United States, which we started about two and a half weeks ago. We’re using this presale campaign to test all our social-media advertising. We’re finding that in the last week, the numbers are running about $15,000 a day, and increasing, week on week, the average purchase per day. I have been all over the world with Slinger in the past year-and-a-half and been on so many tennis courts. No one has said they’re not interested in buying it. When I tell them that the entry price is $550, they nearly bite my hand off. You’ve got to grab them while you can.”
Grab them at www.slingerbag.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.