Decathlon (technically, the Decathlon Group) is a world-wide chain of sporting-goods stores. It is, in fact, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. It was founded in France in 1976. In the mid-1980s it started to expand into other European countries. In 2003 it started to expand into China, India, and Southeast Asia. Today, it has more than 1,100 stores (many of which are large superstores that stock a wide range of sporting goods) in 38 countries. There are about 40 stores in the UK, and one in Mexico. For us petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.
Decathlon has multiple research and development facilities in France dedicated to developing new designs for sporting equipment, and, since 1986, it designs and manufactures its own lines of sporting goods. There are now over 20 “Passion” brands, each dedicated to a single sport (or to one type of sport) for 70 different sports. The “Passion Geologic” brand, or simply Geologic, was created in 2008. It is dedicated to “target sports” such as darts, archery, pool, and petanque.
Early in 2018, Decathlon opened its first store in the United States, in San Francisco, California. This was a “soft launch” that enabled the store to operate in California, and to ship products to customers within the state, but not outside California. As of February 2018 they are working to clear the regulatory hurdles that will allow them to ship everywhere in the USA. The business plan is to become able to ship anywhere in the USA, then to open stores in other states in the USA, and then (in a year or two?) to expand into Canada. Their website says that their goal is to make every Decathlon product available throughout the USA.
The web page for Decathlon France is www.decathlon.fr. The web page for the San Francisco store is www.decathlon.com. At the bottom of that page you can subscribe to a newsletter that will notify you when the store starts shipping out-of-state, or a new store opens in the USA. The San Francisco store also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DecathlonUSA. It is possible to order petanque boules via the store’s petanque page. Note that in addition to boules, you can purchase a throwing circle for about $5.
About Geologic boules
Geologic boules have a reputation for being relatively high-quality at a relatively reasonable price. Decathlon can do this by offering a very limited range of the most popular patterns (no grooves, single groves), weights (680g, 690g), and sizes (72mm, 73mm). The highest-end line of Geologic boules offers a slightly (but not very much) larger range of choices.
Geologic boules fall into three categories: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.
Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules isn’t yet available in the USA. If/when these boules become available a set of 3 will probably sell for around $15. These boules come in only two styles (no grooves, wide single grooves), and only one size/weight combination, 70mm/560g. Frankly, I think that this makes them too small and too light-weight to be an appropriate choice for most adult players. But in casual play they would be acceptable, and they might be a good choice for younger players or players with small hands. Commendably, and unusually, Geologic is up-front about the fact that these boules are filled with sand, which their web site says is 100% sand. Given that some cheap Chinese leisure boules have been known to explode because of the crap inside them, I find this reassuring.
The “Discovery” line are moderately-priced ($35) hollow (chrome-plated?) carbon-steel leisure boules. They come in only one size/weight combination, 73mm/660g, so they are normal-sized if light-weight adult leisure boules. Discovery boules come in a variety of interesting and unusual designs, including one that looks like a baseball.
Geologic offers three models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. Read more about the hardness of boules HERE.
- Alpha – an inexpensive ($43) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
- Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
- Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²).
The real winner of the three is, I think, the Alpha. It looks like a good replacement for the need that La Franc boules used to fill— an entry-level, low-cost, but certified (and therefore high-quality) competition boule. There is a Decathlon store in Singapore where you can just walk in and buy a set of these boules, and the Alpha is popular among the players in Singapore for just this reason. The downside, as I noted earlier, is that you have only a limited set of choices— four, to be precise. You can get 72mm or 74mm, no grooves or single wide grooves. That’s it. You can get any weight you like, as long as it is 690g.
Will this affect Petanque America?
Decathlon’s move into the American market may threaten home-grown sporting-goods chains like Dicks, but it is especially disturbing for American petanque vendors and players. It looks very much like what we’ve seen in other markets, e.g. books. A huge high-volume international vendor moves in and drives out small independent vendors by offering a limited set of the most popular items at much lower prices. Customers gain by getting lower prices on the most popular items, but they may lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they will lose a lot the choices that they once had.
Petanque America has been a reliable supporter of petanque in the USA for many years, as well as a consistently reliable source of high-quality boules and equipment. Without Petanque America and the
Petanque America Open Amelia Island Petanque Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self. Petanque players in the USA need Petanque America. In the future, we need to support them, and we must hope that they survive the invasion by Decathlon. But life may become harder for Petanque America, and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod.
On the other hand, life is strange. Barnes and Noble hasn’t completely killed off small independent local bookstores. If Decathon stores make petanque equipment more visible and easily available, it may actually help to promote petanque in America, and increase the number of discriminating buyers looking for the wider set of options provided by Petanque American. We’ll have to wait and see.