Wimbledon’s tennis balls make +50,000 mile journey

Posted on 27 Jun 2013

The tennis balls used at Wimbledon will have travelled 50,570 miles around the world via 11 countries before they land on players’ racquets on Centre Court.

The official Wimbledon ball flies between 11 countries and across four continents before being manufactured in Bataan in the Philippines and then travelling the final 6,660 miles to SW19, according to research by Warwick Business School (see infographic).

Headquartered in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, British sports equipment manufacturer Slazenger has been the official ball supplier for Wimbledon since 1902, but today its balls are products that define globalisation.

“It is one of the longest journeys I have seen for a product,” said Dr Mark Johnson, associate professor of operations management at Warwick Business School who has studied the supply chain of the Wimbledon tennis ball.

“Travelling more than 50,000 miles to make a tennis ball does seem fairly ludicrous, but it just shows the global nature of production these days, and in the end, this will be the most cost-effective way of making tennis balls.”

“Slazenger is locating production near the primary source of its materials. If you look at most current supply chains today, is not the case.

“Before the financial crash when logistics costs were really high a lot of firms did this, but now it is not so common.”

The tennis ball provides Slazenger with the perfect synchronisation of materials produced at a very low cost near to the manufacturing labour in the Philippines, which is also at very low cost, Dr Johnson says.

A complex supply chain sees clay shipped from South Carolina in the USA, silica from Greece, magnesium carbonate from Japan, zinc oxide from Thailand, sulphur from South Korea and rubber from Malaysia to Bataan where the rubber is vulcanized – a chemical process for making the rubber more durable.

Wool is then shipped from New Zealand to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where it is weaved into felt and then flown back to Bataan in the Philippines.

“In the end, this will be the most cost-effective way of making tennis balls” Dr Mark Johnson, WBS

Petroleum naphthalene from Zibo in China and glue from Basilan in the Philippines are brought to Bataan where Slazenger, which was bought by Sports Direct in 2004, manufacture the ball. Finally tins are shipped in from Indonesia and once the balls have been packaged they are sent to Wimbledon.

“Slazenger shut down its factory in Barnsley in the early 2000s and moved the equipment to Bataan. They still get the felt from Stroud [Glos.], as it requires more technical expertise.

“Shipping wool from New Zealand to Stroud and then sending the felt back to the Philippines adds a lot of miles, but they obviously want to use the best wool for the Wimbledon balls.

“Apart from that part, they have managed to keep the supply chain relatively short, and centred round the Philippines.”

The route taken by Wimbledon-bound tennis balls covering the Phillipines, Thailand, South Carolina and SW19