9 – Rovers Diary

Talking to Pakistani exhibitors at the ISPO Summer in Munich last week was exhilarating this time. ISPO Summer and Winter are the two largest sports goods fairs of the world in which our enterprising businessmen participate in a big way. Around 120 exhibitors participated in this fair from 15 to 18th July and you guessed it right, all

from the export-city Sialkot.

 

Most of our exhibitors were happy because this time ISPO summer was at the heels of the football World Cup and when it comes to football manufacturing who could be the winner than Sialkot. They have been doing this right for over a century now. According to one estimate almost 85% of the world’s hand-stitched footballs are made in this small city.

 

World Cup every four years surges footballs demand world over. This naturally benefits around 1000 entrepreneurs of Sialkot. In a run up to the World Cup, Sialkot produced around 56 million footballs and earned over 210 million dollars during the year ending on June 31, 2006. Our sports goods exports also rose to 314 million dollars from 275 million dollars a year before.

 

“We had to turn down the orders of over 7 million balls, because we wanted to take on only the quantity which could be supplied in time and maintain the quality as well,” K.M. Gundra of Taj Mahal Sports told me proudly. He said that it was important to resist the temptation taking more orders than what one could produce, as “we had to protect the reputation of our company.” His company has been in this business for over 100 years now.

 

There were many other reputed football manufacturers who found it difficult to meet the massive demand, which poured in before the World Cup. Companies like Saga, Sublime, Capital and Forward Sports had massive orders from world leading brands like Adidas, Nike and Puma. But then there were many small players who could not resist the temptation and took more on their plate than they could chew. “Such companies,” Sheikh Yaqoob of Sheikhan said defaulted and brought a bad name to the country.”

 

The problem is that the trained manpower for stitching football is limited. There are about 60,000 such workers who have a limit to what they can produce. Sialkot exporters are aware that machine made balls are getting popular in some markets. Some of them have imported machines also, but “still the hand-stitched football market is bigger and has better profit margins,” Gundra explained.

 

The good trend is that many leading football exporters who have developed their own designs and patterns have got some of their patterns registered with the Trade Mark office. But the downside is that in spite of the fact that Sialkot rules the world market in football manufacturing for a century now, we don’t have a single international brand. FIFA and the Sports Goods Industry place Pakistan as a sourcing country. Developing brand needs massive investment in marketing. According to one Harvard School study the investment in promotion, advertising and packaging of a good brand is almost 40 per cent of the total cost. Even our large football manufacturers who are supplying to world leading brands have neither that kind of money nor expertise. This is perhaps where Export Promotion Bureau should be investing their money. Aren’t they supposed to be the marketing company?

 

And now a few words about Germany: Germans are happy over finishing third in the football World Cup. This is quite contrary to what I presumed before visiting Munich last week. Watching the World Cup in Pakistan I thought the Germans would be in a bad mood for not winning the cup held in their country.

 

But I was wrong. The cross section of the Germans I talked to said they were happy for reaching so far. This reminded me that unlike us the Germans are realistic people and aspire for what is possible. “We would have loved to win the cup but we were not hopeful to reach the quarter final given the recent performance of our team,” explained Mr. Mayr of Fair Planet, a hotel-reservations agency.

 

I wonder what would have been our response if we were in their shoes. Most probably many drawing room critics would have blamed the team for match fixing. Others would have blamed the politics in the selection of the team. But then the people in the East are sentimental and are often unrealistic.

 

I think one reason for their happiness is that the World Cup has spruced their economy by over 0.4% of the GDP. “Everybody made money, the taxi drivers like me, hotels, bars and cafes, food industry, sports goods and sportswear industry in the last few months, so it is good times,” a German taxi driver said cheerfully.

I have always admired the Germans for taking a broad view and measure the economic benefits while looking at national projects and events, instead of narrow financial balance sheet gains individually for all such projects. They spent millions of Euros on arranging the World Cup and their economy earned billions. Indeed that is the way to build tourism and world class events. Can we do it? We can if our drawing room critics stop cribbing about such projects.

ayazbabar@gmail.com

 

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