Saturday, 31 January 2009

Yonex Badminton Rackets and the All England

The All England is just around the corner and no doubt it will be as popular as ever, with tickets selling out for the finals day, as has been the case for the past few years. This is good for our sport, but what is not good is the fact that Yonex have virtually taken over all the selling of badminton rackets and goods at the tournament. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but i got an e-mail from Apacs UK he other day that highlights this problem.

Apacs applied for a space at the all england to show off their rackets and stuff, but no sooner has they got permission than Yonex pulled the plug on them, and would not allow them to even have a stand there. Understand that even if they had been given a space, they were not allowed to actually sell anything, just have a presence is all they were allowed. Now they cannot even be there at all. This has also happened to Inflight Sports in the past, and no doubt other companies.

Is this good for badminton? Nope, not in my eyes. Yonex will have a mass selling project underway at the all england, headed by central sports, who are the only authorised yonex retailer allowed to sell yonex goods. This is great for central sports, this will be the week when they sell the most rackets and goods of the year. As well as selling stuff, they will have their business infront of all the people that matter, the buying badminton players from all over the world, but most importantly the buying public of the UK, who will remeber the central sports name, and no doubt think of them when they come to buy their next badminton racket.

The point is that the all england is the biggest badminton tournament on the circuit in terms of tradition and prestige. It was going along long before yonex came along to sponsor it. It is a badminton tournament first and foremost. The fact that yonex have sponsored it for so many years has helped it a whole lot. But why on earth should they be allowed to have a stranglehold on it just because they sponsor it? Why can they decide who has the right to show their products, and not even allow other companies to sell their rackets?

If the all england was sponsored by a company that had nothing to do with badminton, let's say it was sponsored by Barclays Bank. You would expect this company to have a strong presence, with stands offering their services. But you would also have other companies there too, like badminton manufacturers selling and promoting their stuff as well. The all england used to be like this, there were loads of stands on the concourse, and it was a buzzing atmosphere behind the scenes, with contacts being made, and companies selling rackets and other stuff. This has gone now, it is just a big yonex monopoly, you have no choice but to buy yonex.

This is crap. A badminton tournament should be a place where everyone can sell things, and badminton players can look at all the many different companies out there, and touch and feel the latest badminton rackets. Yonex should not be allowed to do this, and the ba of e should certainly have something to say about this, if they dare. They are the one's who have the ability to change what is going on here, but do you think they would risk upsetting yonex bu telling them to stop. Can you imagine what would happen if yonex pulled out of their sponsorship? The tournament would carry on no doubt, because it sells out, and they do have tv contracts with sky and others. But in my eyes they are yonex slaves, and i would welcome the ba of e to comment on this if anyone is reading this from the b a of e. I am a paid up memeber, so i think i have the right to know why this happens. I want a choice, and i reckon many other paying badminton players do as well.

As far as Apacs go, they are quite rightly gutted at being cut out of the all england completely. Other companies have felt the same in recent years, and this monopoly is not good for the tournament. The ba of e organise the all england, it is their tournament, they decide who sponsors it, they must surely have a say on what goes on at the tournament, and how it is run. So come on badminton england, you have the best badminton tournament in the world, so please make it a fair playing field behind the scenes as well.

To make this a bit more interesting, i am going to write me a letter to badminton england to find out what is going on, and get their side of the story, just to clarify this situation.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Another Badminton Racket Experiment

I have been messing around with my badminton rackets recently, in particular i have been testing different tensions and different amounts of lead tape and the effect it has on my singles and doubles play. What i have done is have two different string tensions in two of my carlton airblade badminton rackets, one for singles and one for doubles. I have also added different amounts of lead tape to these rackets.

The singles racket has a lower string tension, about 24-25lbs, and has more lead tape added to it. The doubles racket has higher tension, about 27-28lbs and less lead tape added. My reasoning is this..

In singles you are playing an all court game and you are hitting more shots overhead, and more shots from the back corners when you get in trouble, which happens all the time in singles. If you want to succeed at singles then you need to be able to get out of trouble because no matter how good you move around court, you will at some point, get put into the extreme points of the court.

To get out of this trouble you need your racket to help you out. By lowering the string tension it helps you get a bit more power, it makes it easier to hit a more powerful shot. By adding the lead tape it also makes it easier to get some power from your badminton racket. These two factors combined help you. The trade off is control. Lower string tension gives less shuttle control.

Using these two factors i find it easier to hit the shuttle. I have mentioned this in previous posts when i did the first experiment with the lead tape. It worked for me, and i have used lead tape ever since, and will continue to do so becuase it costs hardly anything but you gain so much. I find i can get a good length on my shots from baseline to baseline, and also when i end up in the deep corners, both forehand and backhand corners from below net level.

It takes good technique and timing to hit the shuttle out of the corners and get a good length. What i have found is that for the same amount of effort the shuttle is going about a metre further. This extra metre has come from the lower string tension and the lead tape. And this extra power gives you more choices. I will explain..

If your opponent puts you into the corners and you hit out to the baseline then your opponent has to cover for this. This means they have to move further back in court, back to their base position. If you cannot hit out of the corners to a length, then your opponent will just sit closer to the net and be able to move their base further up the court. They will be able to take a chance because they can anticipate your short return, and will know they have time to move back. This will put you in even more trouble, and you will be shuttle chasing. If you play a reply to the net, no matter how tight it is, your opponent will be there early, and you will be shuttle chasing some more.

That extra metre i now have will keep my opponent guessing, and i now have the choice of being able to play to the net because my opponent is not sitting on top of it, or hitting to the baseline. This makes a big difference in singles i can tell you. This is what i have been noticing for the past few weeks with this racket combination.

The trade off is the lack of control, especially on net shots. The lower string tension does not help control, but it is a case of getting used to the different feel from the racket. It takes a few games, but i can accept this becuase i feel the benefit of the extra power is more valuable in singles for me.

As far as doubles goes, i have been playing with high tension a nd less lead tape. My reasoning is that in doubles i play a lot more reaction shots, such as smash returns, net kills and drives. The extra tension gives me more control, and the shuttle comes off the racket faster, it feels more responsive. I also get more control at the net for playing spinning net shots, and also, most importantly, i get more control on my serve.

The trade off with this combination is less power overhead on smashes. I cannot hit the shuttle as hard as i can with the lower string tension and more lead tape, unless i put more effort in. This extra effort takes it toll after a while because it is now not as easy to hit hard. However, i feel that, for me, it is better to be able to play more accurate shots in doubles than it is to have raw power from the rear court. The difference is not that much, but it is certainly noticeable. I have less lead tape because i need the badminton racket to be more reactive and faster to move. It is all a question of getting the right balance, and this is why i have been experimenting, to find the right combination for me.

What i now have is two identical rackets, they are both carlton airblade tours, but they have totally different playing characteristics. I didn't need to go out and buy myself a new racket, i just modified what i already had. I guess what i am trying to get across is that you should take the opportunity to experiment before you rush off and buy a new badminton racket.

On a different note now, is it just me or have RSL shuttles gone downhill recently? I am a big fan of RSL, but i am growing more and more dissappointed with them every time i play with them. RSL have based their reputation on providing durable shuttles over the years, but this hard won rep is going down the pan very quickly for me. Someone needs to tell them to get their act together, so i am doing just that. The recent batches are not up to standard, so please sort this out RSL. The prices have gone up and the quality has gone down, not a good combination if you ask me, this is the fastest way to lose customers, which would be a shame because this is their life blood.

On another note, i have sent an e-mail to Forza UK to get some badminton rackets to test. The reply said that they had some demo rackets, but they were all out at the moment with customers. They said i should e-mail Forza Direct. The problem here is that Forza Direct do not sell or stock badminton rackets, it is just a company website, so how on earth am i supposed to get rackets from someone who does not sell them? I will e-mail them anyway just to see what happens.

On yet another note. If you have a badminton related site or blog, then please let me know about it, and i will link to you. There must be loads of you with an interest in badminton and badminton rackets. If you enjoy this blog and would like to link to it, then feel free to do so, just link with the text of "badminton racket" to help this blog get a bit more exposure, and then i can hold all these badminton companies to ransom, and force them to let me test more rackets, which would help us all out in the long run. Hope this random post helps you out a little.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Badminton Racket Shops

Badminton shops are everywhere on the internet, some are quite good and some of them are very lame. They all try to sell us the same thing, badminton rackets, but as i look at the listings on google it always seems to be the same companies doing all the advertising, day in day out. Here in the UK we have the big players in the online badminton market, namely central sports, uk rackets, tennis nuts, millets sports and sweatband. This lot are the main players, and it no doubt follows the 80/20 rule, whereby 80% of badminton rackets sold are done so by 20% of the shops.

Not only do these shops spend money to appear on google's sponsored listings, ie they appear on the right hand side of the search results, they also appear in the natural listings, the one's right in front of you on the screen. They do this by spending money omn optimising their websites for certain keywords, such as "badminton racket". This is the holy grail for any online shop, to be on the first page of results for that term, or others such as "yonex badminton racket", "cheap badminton racket" and so on.

This is very important if you want to sell more rackets. You need to be visible, you need people to know you exist. You can have the best online badminton shop around, that looks really great, and offers the best deals, but if nobody see's it, it is worthless. This is big business indeed, and the competition is fierce. The term "badminton racket", or badminton racquet, depending on how you spell it, gets around 40,000 searches every month, and if an online shop is ranked in first position it will take the lions share of this, it will have more visitors than any other shop.

Now how many badminton rackets do you think a shop could sell if it had 40,000 visitors every month? A lot is the answer. Now also, those sponsored results, the one's on the right hand side, these people have paid google to appear there. The number one position will cost more than the number two and so on. Every time someone clicks on their advert, they have to pay money to google for it. The cost can be up to £1 per click on google for the number one position. This money will be paid even if the visitor does not buy anything from the store. This is how google makes it's money.

The whole game is based around getting people to visit your store and buy badminton equipment. Another way is to have an affiliate program. This works by allowing website owners to advertise products for an online store. If someone clicks on the advert an then goes to the shop and buys a badminton racket, then the affiliate gets a commission of the price. The store gets a sale, and the affiliate gets a cut of the sale, everyone wins. The other big incentive for the shop is that it gets a backlink to their website. Backlinks help to rank websites, so the more backlinks that point to a site, the higher it will appear in the rankings, and the more rackets you can sell. This is how it works.

This ugly little blog follows a different path. I have around 150 people visit every day from google, sometimes more, sometimes less, but on average it is about 150. People find this badminton blog by typing things related to badminton rackets in google. I rank nowhere for the term "badminton racket" but i rank all over the place for hundreds of other keywords, such as "apacs badminton racket" browning badminton, badminton string tension, badminton racket guide, etc, these are the long tail keywords. I do this because i have a lot of content on this blog, with over 50 posts all related to badminton rackets, and google cannot help but rank me for obscure terms because this blog contains these words somewhere in all the text, on all the pages.

I get visitors by sheer content, and google loves content, the more i post, the more visitors i get, the more people can read what is on here, and perhaps learn something about badminton rackets. Can you imagine the complete horror if this blog was to rank in the number one position for the term badminton racket? Those online shops would be horrified. I would be taking away their business, instead of having their flashy looking website appear first, this ugly looking blog would appear, and they would not be happy at all.

I would then have 40,000 visitors every month and not them. Now in my opinion, this blog is more valuable to badminton rackets than some online shop is becuase there is information on here, and it is all independant. If a racket is crap, i will say so, but have you ever yet seen an online shop mention the fact that a racket is crap? They never will, because they are trying to sell you them, it is not independant at all, so what use are they?

If this blog ranked high for the main badminton terms then those online shops would be sending me e-mails asking if they can please advertise on this blog. The only reason they would do this is because i get visitors, and visitors means sales, and sales mean profits and money. The online shops don't really care about you and your game, they care about your money.

Central sports has cornered the UK market for Yonex. They are the recommended yonex retailer at the All England championships, and this really does stink. Why? because they have a total monopoly on what is sold at the all england. Yonex does not allow other retailers to even have stands at the all england, and central sports just cash in on this with yonex. This is a disgrace to me. When i used to go to the all england there where loads of stands with all kinds of different manufacturers selling stuff, and it was great for the badminton players to have the opportunity to see all the latest offerings from the manufacturers. These days it is just a big yonex selling monster, and it does the game no good at all. The badminton association of england should hang it's head in shame becuase it is just a yonex puppet, but does it even have a choice?

Yonex are the big sponsors of the all england for god knows how long, and the ba of e needs yonex to keep sponsoring this flagship tournament, because i doubt that anyone else would. I am pretty sure that our association could have some say in the running of it to allow other companies to trade on the concourse, but they will not do it in case yonex pull out of the sponsorship deal. The real losers in all of this are us, because we have little choice but to contribute to the yonex machine at the all england.

Central sports must absolutely love the all england, this is the time when they sell most stuff, anf get their name out to the masses. This is why they can afford to promote their online business on google first page day in day out. Do have a problem with central sports? No, they are just doing their job, it could be exactly the same with any other shop. Do i have a problem with Yonex? No, badminton needs yonex, they have a total grip on badminton worldwide, they sponsor more international tournaments than any other company, if yonex pulled out of badminton, who would fill their place? I don't think there is anyone else to do it. So badminton needs yonex, but i just wish everyone would stop kissing their arse, and stop being their puppets.

And back to badminton rackets... So we have the main players all advertising on google for a share of the spoils. At the time of writing this the number one sponsored listing is, guess who? yep, it's central sports, and the advert tells us that they are the premier uk yonex stockist. They sell the yonex stuff. Also ranked high are sweatband badminton for the term "badminton racket". Sweatband sell cheap badminton rackets, but it is only very recently that they have started selling yonex rackets, they have concentrated on other brands such as carlton. So they are up there for badminton racket, however, they do not appear for the term "yonex badminton racket". Why is this?

Well if you go to their online store you will find they sell just 7 yonex badminton rackets. They currently sell the nanospeed 9000X for a whopping £135. Do they not know that you can now buy this racket for around £80? Of course they do, this is the reason that they do not advertise for the term "yonex badminton racket" because they know damn well that they cannot hope to sell many yonex rackets when their prices are so high. Us badminton players are not stupid, and when we go online to find our next racket we will do a bit of shopping around to find the cheapest deal, and £135 for a nanospeed 9000X is not a good deal.

So why do they do it? Why do they insist on trying to sell these rackets for a price that nobody will buy for? Or will they? there must be some people who just go online and see a price and then go and buy it straight away. These are the people that the stores are hoping to find, and they do find them, because they keep on advertising. They would not advertise for badminton rackets day in day out if they did not sell them, it works for them, so they keep on doing it.

So where the hell do you go if you want to buy a badminton racket online? Well there literally hundreds of online stores, but only a handful that will sell rackets at a decent price, and the one's that do this, are the big name shops who spend more money on getting their name known. Honestly, some of the online racket shops are total crap, and sell stuff for stupid prices. There is no way they can hope to sell much if they sell too high, yet they still insist on advertising these high prices. What is the point?

Let's break this down a little. You want to sell rackets online so you get someone to build you a website. Not any old website either, but a flashy looking one with all the bells and whistles, that looks appealing to visitors, that makes you stand out from the rest. This will not come cheap. So you spend a lot of cash on just the right design. You then need all the rackets in place, ready to sell, so you spend a whole lot more money on your stock, thousands probably, becuase the more stock you buy, the cheaper each item will be. But you don't want to go out and buy loads of stock just in case you can't sell enough of it. You will need to get the balance right on this one.

So now you have the website and the stock. Now you need to get people to visit your shop, and so you need to market your name all over the internet, and to do this you need to spend some more money. You need to advertise your shop, so you go to google adwords and start paying for your badminton racket shop to be listed on google's sponsored listings, and you also go to yahoo and msn, and to the other major search engines, and reapeat the process.

You also want to appear in the organic listings, so you hire an search engine optimisation company, to help you move up the natural listings for the main terms related to badminton rackets. This is not cheap either, not cheap at all. These companies will then go out and optimise your website for these keywords and get you some backlinks, to help you move up the rankings for badminton terms. So far you have probably spent a whole lot of money. You could perhaps go the ebay route, and open up an ebay store, just like racketworld, and sell your equipment through ebay, or amazon. This represents a much cheaper alternative, and puts you infront of a wide audience, but don't forget that ebay will take a slice of the profits, and paypal as well.

After you have done all of this, the one thing you absolutely must offer to the customer is the best price, and best delivery, and best customer service, or else they will not buy from you. So why in the name of all that is holy do these shops still sell rackets at high prices? It defeats the whole object, and it does not make sense to me at all. If i had an online store i would be checking the other stores to see what prices they were selling rackets for, and at very least try and match that price. I would certainly not waste money on advetising, if my prices were too high, yet there are stores that do this. It is crazy. All this does is waste time, because you click on the advert, visit the website and then realise that you are not going to buy anything from them because of the price. They have lost money because they paid for you to click on the advert in the first place, and you have lost time by clicking through the website to find something you did not want to, ie a high price.

If i had a store i would only advertise for things i knew damn well i could sell cheaper, or as cheap as the competition, otherwise what is the point?

Here is another tip. If you buy a badminton racket and you get poor customer service, then go to somewhere like badminton central and name and shame them. Badminton central is a badminton monster, and by monster i mean that it is a big player in the online badminton world. It gets thousands of visitors every day, with very active forums. Badminton players go on these forums and have their say. It is mainly taken up with asian and north american players, but there are players from all corners of the globe on there.

The badminton companies also check out what is going on at BC, because it has so many visitors. They do look in the forums and see what is being said by the members, and all it takes for someone to sound out a certain company who has treated them badly and they are in there, offering an apology, because they know damn well that bad publicity will hurt their business. This is great because it helps to protect us badminton players, and also keeps the online stores in check. So next time you are not happy with a company just go on BC and let rip in the forums. It can also work the other way, if someone has a good experience with a racket and says so, or recommends a certain racket, then this will be good for business for the company, they will surely get some visitors from the BC community. The same thing goes with Badders in the UK.

I think this post has gone on long enough about nothing in particular without really achieving much! It has probably not helped in the slightest about choosing where to buy your next badminton racket, so my apologies.