[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2018-07-18]
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 $6.
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 offers three general types of boules: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.
LOW-END LEISURE BOULES
Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules seems to me to be rather misguided. These boules are available in only one size/weight combination (70mm, 560g) and in only two styles (smooth, single grooves). This makes them too light-weight to be acceptable for serious adult players, and too large for many kids (junior competition boules are typically 65mm). Still, they might be appropriate for some younger players. Like other leisure boules, these boules are filled with sand. If/when they become available in the USA, a set of three will probably cost around $15.
HIGH-END LEISURE BOULES
“Discovery” is a line of moderately-priced ($41) hollow chrome-plated carbon-steel leisure boules. They come in only one size/weight combination, 73mm/660g, so they are normal-sized, rather light-weight adult leisure boules. They cost twice as much as Chinese-made leisure boules, but less than Obut’s line of stainless steel leisure boules. Three designs are available: “classic” (single groove), “jester”, and “baseball”. I don’t know how they compare in durability with Chinese leisure boules or Obut’s leisure boules.
Geologic offers three models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. Read more about the hardness of boules HERE.
- Alpha – an inexpensive ($53) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in
- 72 mm 690 g striations - 72 mm 690 g smooth - 74 mm 690 g striations - 74 mm 690 g smooth
- Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in:
- 72 mm 680 g smooth - 73 mm 690 g smooth - 74 mm 690 g smooth - 75 mm 690 g smooth - 76 mm 690 g smooth
- Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²). Available in:
- 71 mm 690 g smooth - 72 mm 690 g smooth - 73 mm 680 g smooth - 73 mm 700 g smooth - 74 mm 680 g smooth - 74 mm 700 g smooth - 75 mm 680 g smooth - 75 mm 700 g smooth - 76 mm 700 g smooth
The real winner in this line-up is the Alpha, whose price should make it attractive to beginning players looking for a first set of competition boules at a reasonable price. (The downside is that you have no choice about weight and only two choices of size— 72mm or 74mm.) The Delta line doesn’t seem to offer a significantly wider range of choices than the Alpha. The Polyvalent line compares poorly with Obut’s MATCH line, which offers a wider range of choices at a lower price (as of summer 2018, at Petanque America).
Will this affect Petanque America?
When I first heard about the arrival in America of Decathlon stores, I was disturbed. I was afraid that we’d see in the boules market what we’ve seen in, for example, the books market. A huge high-volume 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 lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they will lose a lot the choices that they once had. Petanque America (and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod) is not something that we want to lose. 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 Petanque Amelia Island Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self.
Now, however, after a more thorough review of Geologic boules, I am less worried. Geologic’s low-end leisure boules are suitable for neither adult nor junior players. Discovery leisure boules cost twice as much as Chinese leisure boules and offer no significant advantages over them. Discovery boules cost less than Obut’s leisure boules, but they don’t have Obut’s reputation for quality and they aren’t stainless steel (see Are your boules toxic?). When it comes to competition boules, Obut’s MATCH line is better and cheaper than Geologic’s Polyvalent line. The only really attractive Geologic model is the Alpha; as the cheapest competition boule on the market, it is attractive to players buying their first set of competition boules. LW Cheah reports (see comment, below) that Decathlon is planning to introduce another Alpha option of 70.5mm and 670g. For players who prefer a smaller boule, that would certainly be good news; it would make discarding their old 73mm leisure boules and moving to a 70.5mm Alpha a no-brainer. Even if that happens, however, the Alpha options will still be so limited that it seems unlikely to me that anyone would buy Alphas as their second set of competition boules.
The bottom line is that after taking a hard look at the Geologic line-up, I don’t find it especially compelling. I don’t see Geologic boules posing a serious threat to Petanque America among either serious or casual players. Economics is funny, of course, and people are unpredictable, so I may be wrong. But that’s the way things look to me right now.