M I K E B A L L A R D I E
Interview} Ken Waller
Photography by} John Russo
Clothing by} Boast
Location} Montecito California
KW: When did you first get involved in the sport of tennis?
MB: I started to learn tennis at the age of 4. I grew up back onto a small tennis facility in Liverpool, England. I won my first junior event at 14 and progressed through the ranks as a relatively highly ranked junior. From 18-21 I played some satellite circuits across Europe and was scouted to play league tennis in Germany. I initially went to play 6 matches and ended up staying 6 years as the club coach. At the age of 26 I decided to get a ‘real’ job in Tennis and was hired by Wilson to set up their tennis promotions team across Europe. The rest is history as they say!
KW: How would you describe the Slinger Bag to most people?
MB: The ultimate tennis partner! Slinger is the world’s most affordable, portable and accessible ball launcher for the global tennis community. At its core, Slinger has solved an age-old problem for players of all levels – delivering a 24/7 playing partner – empowering players to practice on their terms and unlocking game improvement opportunities anytime and anywhere. Used by tour players to beginners it is the perfect hitting partner. Coaches love it as it allows them to teach next to their pupils rather than ‘shouting’ across the court..
KW: How does the Slinger differ from other ball machines in the marketplace?
MB: Firstly, we made a very conscious decision NOT to call Slinger a Ball machine. Ball Machines are the traditional heavy, user unfriendly devices that have been around for 50 years. Slinger is a BALL LAUNCHER. We are creating a new category of tennis product – targeted at tennis players and as opposed to facilities or institutions. Tennis players are considering Slinger as a piece of equipment they need – just as they do rackets.
Slinger is unique in its space as it’s portable, compact and reliable. Unlike many other ball machines, Slinger Bag can fit in the trunk of most cars and be easily transported to your local court. The Slinger community of users sets the company apart from anything else in the market. It’s a community that we’ve taken great care to curate around both the Slinger Bag product and our brand. Slinger owners feel a deep connection towards our mission and values as a tennis company and this shows in the level of user generated content that is being created across social media, which has been further nurtured to create a movement in the industry that is both new and exciting.
The Slinger community has a wealth of expert coaches, tennis legends and dedicated players. We’ve built a substantial portfolio of drills, tips and inspiration, which can be found on the community area on the Slinger website. (here)
KW: Will other products come out from Slinger that are tennis-associated?
MB: In the near-term, we are gearing up to launch our innovative Slinger app, an AI led game improvement app which is going to be first of its kind in the tennis world. The app will provide access to personalized analysis linked to specific core tennis fundamentals aimed at helping players of any level improve on their game. The new app will go well beyond the traditional, undifferentiated coaching apps currently on the market.
In addition around July we will bring our new Pickleball and Padel Launchers to market. Over the past few months these have been extensively tested around the globe to rave reviews.
KW: You’ve been the CEO of Slinger for over two years and Prince for several more. Can you foresee the company adapting Slinger to another sport?
MB: We are always looking to grow and we have a clear vision of how to do that in the near and long term future. Initially there is a clear market opportunity for Slinger’s innovative technology to be used across additional ball sports such as Pickleball and Padel. Both markets are burgeoning, and our products are already in circulation for the final stage of consumer testing. Thus far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for both sports and we can’t wait to introduce them to the global community.
After that we are already well into the development and testing process for a revolutionary Baseball / Softball Launcher that will hit the market in early 2023. We are extremely excited at the feedback we have had from college level baseball players for this so far.
KW: The typical ball machine has many moving parts; Slinger has made it easy for any tennis player to adjust and use. Tell us a bit about the technology behind Slinger and how it will revolutionize this business?
MB: Like any good product, the development stems from a deep understanding of the market and the consumers in Tennis. Over 30 years in the tennis industry I have been a significant part of bringing to market 4 major innovations that have changed tennis for the better and with that changed the fortunes of the brands behind those products. At Wilson that was Pro Staff Classic, profile and Ultra series racquets. At Prince that was O3. Now a similar success is being seen with Slinger Bag.
The concept of Slinger was always to create a one-stop training partner for tennis players of all ages. The product was the culmination of years of research and development led by tennis players who were able to uniquely understand the needs of a product like ours. We wanted to ensure that the product was reliable, affordable, and incredibly competitive within the market. Our focus has always been to increase accessibility to tennis and empower players to be able to play anytime, anywhere.
As we target the next phase of our ‘Watch, Play, Learn’ strategy with the release of the Slinger app and the recent acquisitions of Foundation Tennis, Gameface.AI and Playsigh,we are primed to continue the growth of our brand as a leading connected sports company.
KW: Tennis is a worldwide sport played by thousands of people daily. Has the Slinger reached a market outside of the United States?
MB: Whilst our roots lie in North America, Slinger Bag is available to purchase in over 70 markets globally with global distribution deals valued at over a cumulative $250M (consumer value) over the next 5 years.
KW: With Patrick Mouratoglou on board as one of the most famous tennis coaches globally, can we expect to see another legendary player or coach involved withSlinger?
MB: Of course, we’re always open to aligning with industry-leading talent who share our values and our mission to make the sport more enjoyable and accessible to all.
Patrick forms a key part of our global ambassador team that also includes the world’s most decorated doubles duo, the Bryan Brothers, Tommy Haas, Genie Bouchard, Dustin Brown, Darren Cahill,Nick Bolletieri and others. Each ambassador brings something unique to Slinger and their expertise and advocacy has been extremely valuable to the brand in its infancy and will continue to be during its growth.
KW: Considering there are various age groups in the tennis community, as far as marketing goes, what’s the overall strategy when targeting your audience?
MB: Our strategy is simple – go wide. The benefit of having a Ball Launcher that is accessible is that it can be enjoyed by tennis players of every age and skill level. We are seeing Slinger being adopted from players as young as 5 years old, all the way up to the 60+ community who are looking for a way to continue hitting without risking playing a live match. We have seen incredible success with our social media marketing program. This is fuelled by the engagement we have across the globe with our Slinger community and over the past 14 months we have not slipped below a 10X return on our social media advertising investment return.
KW: What is the Slinger aimed to do for the average player?
MB: Re-inventing Tennis. Making tennis an easier game to play. Eliminating the frustration of having to constantly find a hitting partner.. Not just any partner but somebody of a similar play level.
Slinger is the ultimate playing partner for players at every level. Consistency and repetition are key to becoming a better player and Slinger is all about unlocking improvements in your game.
To learn more about the Slinger follow them at @Slingerbag