That’s the Way the Ball Bounces!

By Peter Malcomson

Spring 2019

Go the Distance… with the Penn Marathon Tennis Ball!

As tennis players, most of us take the tennis ball for granted – an afterthought. We obsess over our racquet, our strings, our grip, our shoes, our apparel, the weather, our opponent, the upcoming league match etc., but we’re used to simply picking up a can of balls at our club or a local retailer, opening them up for a game and then either putting them back in our bag for another day or throwing them into the lesson hopper. Most of us don’t care too much about which brand we use or whether they are new or not – some of us don’t even bring any at all, (hint, hint).

The funny thing is though, the quality and condition of our tennis balls actually does matter. We spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars on the best equipment, apparel and tennis clubs –all in the name of improving our game and increasing our enjoyment - and then end up using sub-standard balls that do not perform optimally; either they’re not bouncy enough, i.e. they’re dead, or they have barely any felt left or they’re dirty and dull. You’d think that after investing so much time and money in our games, we’d spend five dollars or less for new balls. In fact, relative to the price of all other tennis equipment and apparel, the price of tennis balls has remained relatively low over the years – players in Europe pay twice as much for balls as we do here in Canada.

Penn Marathon; the Official Tennis Ball of the OTA since 2016!

Over the years the OTA has had several brands that they have had the pleasure to partner with in the capacity of “Official Tennis Ball of the OTA”. Beginning in 2016, that brand became Penn, particularly the Pro Penn Marathon premium tennis ball. So, what does it mean to be the Official Tennis Ball of the OTA? Well for starters, it means that any OTA sanctioned tournament in the province is required to use the Pro Penn Marathon ball, either the extra duty model for hard courts or the regular duty model for clay courts. As well, OTA member clubs can purchase the Marathon ball through registered retailers, like official OTA retailer Merchant of Tennis, receive special club pricing and acquire “Penn Points” which they can redeem for products and prizes.

Of course, most importantly, players will enjoy the benefits of playing with a high performance ball that lasts an average of 22% longer* Jeff Bardsley, Vice President of Racquet Sports for Head/Penn recently stated: “Our organization is pleased to have a partnership agreement with the OTA – since the beginning of the agreement we have seen a significant increase in the sale of our balls – we look forward to continuing to get the word out through the various OTA channels and to have more players in Ontario enjoy our high quality product line”. Kartik Vyas, OTA Manager of Player Development, commented on the Penn Marathon at a recent OTA junior tournament: “the OTA has been really pleased with the performance of the Penn Marathon ball at our sanctioned tournaments. With the way the game is played today, long rallies, lots of spin and power, it’s important to have a ball that combines durability with playability – the Penn Marathon ticks both boxes”.

Recently, both parties were pleased to ink a 4 year contract extension - continuing until at least 2023.

So, what’s the Penn story?

Founded in 1899 in Erie, Pennsylvania, the original manufacturer of Penn Tennis balls was the Pennsylvania Rubber Company of America, Inc. Initially a tire manufacturer, the company relocated to Jeanette, Pennsylvania in 1903 and in 1910 began producing rubber balls for a wide range of sports including tennis. The first “Pennsylvania Tennis Balls” were packed in metal tubes and sold across the US. The first “Hermetically Sealed” or “Pressure Packed” cans appeared on retail shelves starting in 1922, ensuring a “fresh” ball when opened. In 1945 the Pennsylvania Rubber Company was purchased by United Tire but continued to produce tennis balls and operate as a separate division.

Of course, over the years there were several other upgrades in the evolution of the tennis ball – and the company contributed several innovations, including among other things, an upgraded, more durable felt in 1960, the first fluorescent yellow tennis ball in 1968, a plastic pull ring can and optic orange balls in 1972 and the first Titanium tennis ball and a pressureless tennis ball for training in 1998.

In 1999, the company, then known as Penn Racquet Sports, was acquired by Head T M out of Austria, with the result of creating a strong tennis partnership by combining two of the leading companies in the racquet sports industry. In the ensuing years the company continued to expand its tennis ball offerings with the introduction of several new and improved SKU’s including lower pressurized QST 36, QST 60 and Control + tennis balls for kids, the Premium Penn Tour ball and, of course, the Pro Penn Marathon, which, as mentioned, is the Official Tennis Ball of the OTA! Since its beginning the company has seen other manufacturers rise and fall but Penn has been the number one selling brand in America for years. It is also now the number one selling ball in Canada! For a more detailed view of Penn’s history, visit

The manufacturing process…

The creation and packaging of a tennis ball is a lot more complicated than most people think. It involves many steps, specialized machinery, some advanced science and lots and lots of felt and rubber! As recently as 2010, Penn manufactured its tennis balls near their head office in Arizona. With rising costs in the ultra-competitive North American market, Penn decided to relocate its manufacturing to China but, interestingly, actually decided to move the entire ball assembly operation overseas piece by piece, where it was rebuilt. This allowed Penn to maintain quality control over the manufacturing process – a competitive advantage over competitors that use third party suppliers.

Please enjoy a short, entertaining video detailing the Penn tennis ball manufacturing process below!

Follow the bouncing ball...

Here are some fun facts about the Penn tennis ball.

  • In 1910 (Penn’s first year of manufacturing), the company produced a grand total of 13,000 tennis balls. Now, more than 100 years later, Penn’s state of the art factory produces more than 13,000 tennis balls each hour.
  • If you drop a new Penn tennis ball onto pavement from 100 inches it should bounce back between 53 and 58 inches. Try getting that kind of bounce from a used ball from your tennis bag!
  • Over 25,000 Penn balls were used at the 2018 US Open
  • Over a 10 year period more than 150 million square feet of optic yellow felt is used to produce Penn tennis balls. A blanket of this much felt would cover almost 6 square miles of area.
  • In 1970 a can of 3 tennis balls cost $2.25 Cdn – today you can buy them for as little as $4.99 Cdn. Based on the annual rate of inflation, the can should cost $14.80 in 2019.

It’s not a sprint; it’s a “Marathon”!

Tennis has been called the sport of a lifetime; so many players start the game while in their school years and continue to play it, either competitively or recreationally, for many years. The Penn brand has been around longer than anybody who is playing the game today and continues to lead the way in quality, value, performance and innovation. Don’t underestimate the value of playing your next game with “fresh” tennis balls. Make sure you give the Pro Penn Marathon a try!