Featured Image – Tabletennis11.com
Recently, some of my long-time friends came home to hang out and we played some casual ping pong. We didn’t have enough premade rackets to play a doubles match so I pulled out my main competition setup.
One of my friends’ reaction was: “Woah, it looks so cool! It must’ve cost a lot, like $50!”
I told him that’s around what my forehand rubber cost. He was taken aback.
At that time, another friend chimed in and said something along the lines of “at least you just buy your rubbers once, and then you can play with the racket forever, right?”
“Umm, no, not really. I change my rubbers every 4-6 months or so. You have to replace them once they lose their grip.”
At this point, nobody could believe it. What are they even made of? Why would you pay that much when you can play with normal ping pong rackets? Does it make a difference?
I had to explain to them that it makes a huge difference to play with professional rubbers, and there are many reasons as to why they’re so expensive.
It was really hard to “justify” the cost to them, though. It’s even hard to rationalize the cost of rubber changes myself.
You’ll find out that you can get good Chinese training rubbers for as little as 10 dollars! The most modern technology will set you back more than $90, though.
Are these super high price tags warranted? And do you even need these expensive rubbers in the first place? For most amateur players, these super high-performance rubbers can even hinder their development.
After we’ve explained the 5 main factors that make Table Tennis rubbers expensive, we’ll analyze each of the 3 main rubber makers and determine what’s the best choice for you.
These are the factors that determine why most Table Tennis rubbers are quite expensive:
- The structure of the Table Tennis market.
- Research and development costs.
- Manufacturing costs.
- Marketing costs and commissions.
- Player’s needs and the psychology of Table Tennis players.
Table of Contents
The Table Tennis rubbers market
To understand the prices of Table Tennis rubbers, we must first explain the structure of this market.
The biggest demand for Table Tennis equipment is found in Asia, Europe, and North America (in that order). They’re the continents with the most players.
To provide these markets with rubbers, there are 3 main rubber manufacturer groups (from cheapest to most expensive):
- Chinese rubber makers (DHS, 729, Yinhe)
- ESN rubbers (European Table Tennis brands)
- Butterfly rubbers
Chinese rubbers are actually pretty cheap, so if you’re asking why Table Tennis rubbers are expensive, then you’re probably talking about ESN or Butterfly rubbers.
Chinese players mostly use Chinese rubbers, and that’s the country with the biggest player base.
If they want more performance, they just boost their Chinese rubbers.
Most players tend to have the misconception that Chinese rubbers are worse than European/Japanese rubbers just because they’re cheaper.
This is absolutely not the case. How effective a Table Tennis rubber is depends on what you use it for!
Table Tennis in China is played with a very different philosophy than in the west. Their techniques are molded around Chinese equipment.
Or you could say, Chinese equipment is molded around the Chinese philosophy.
If you’re used to playing with European rubbers and play with a Chinese rubber, then you might think they have no speed and they’re super hard.
If you give a European rubber to a player who uses Chinese rubbers, they’ll probably think that they’re super bouncy but you can’t control nor put real power on the ball.
It’s all about perspective. Each rubber type has its advantages and disadvantages.
ESN rubbers and Butterfly rubbers are more expensive. They’re primarily used in Korea, Japan, Europe, and the USA, with few exceptions.
This segmentation of the market makes it so that the country with the highest demand isn’t a big buyer of expensive rubbers, so ESN and Butterfly are dealing with fewer buyers.
If the whole world played with, for example, Butterfly rubbers, they could lower the price thanks to economies of scale. Having lower demand means they have to charge more for their products to get the same profit.
Each top brand, excluding Butterfly and DHS, has at best 5-10% of the market share… and the market isn’t even that big to begin with.
Research and Development costs
Table Tennis technology has evolved immensely over the years, especially when the ITTF has changed equipment rules such as increasing the ball size and the speed glue ban.
Table Tennis rubbers are highly specialized equipment.
They are composed of special combinations of foam sponges and rubber topsheets which, when paired together, create tons of speed and spin.
It’s not easy to improve on the current models of Table Tennis rubbers but manufacturers never cease to amaze us with new blade and rubber models.
To achieve these advancements, there has to be a huge financial investment into research and development.
Manufacturers need to pay the salaries of scientists, finance top-end labs, and fund testing machinery.
There are scientists that work 9-5 every day trying to improve the current rubber models, testing different rubber compositions, new sponges and how they mesh together.
Research and development is also super risky. It’s a lot more likely to get a “normal” rubber than to come up with a real, practical innovation.
Even if they come up with a better rubber, it has to be within a reasonable cost for mass production.
The Stiga Cybershape blade is a perfect example of risk in R&D. Yes, I know it’s a blade and not a rubber!
For every Stiga Cybershape there is, there are tens of similar failed blade designs.
Some even make it to production, then sales are very low, manufacturers lose money then they go back to the tried and true designs.
The Cybershape was one of the only exceptions to this rule.
It’s quite similar to rubbers. Every year, lots of new rubbers are released, though few become successful products that will sell over the years.
It takes a lot of effort to discover these new technologies, and to put them into production, manufacturers need to invest in new machinery every few years.
The cost of research and development is factored in the price you pay when you buy that sheet of the most modern, spinny rubber.
Manufacturing costs are very high when it comes to Table Tennis rubbers.
There are 2 main reasons in the manufacturing process that drive the price of rubbers up: workers’ salaries and the cost of machinery.
In our day-to-day lives, most of the stuff we buy – our cell phones, our televisions, our clothing – are made in China, Taiwan, or countries where lower salaries are paid.
Table Tennis rubbers, in comparison, are either made in Germany (ESN) or Japan (Butterfly). These are first-world nations in which salaries are a lot higher than in the aforementioned countries.
The second reason is that the cost of developing, buying, and maintaining new Table Tennis machinery is quite high.
These are highly specialized robots and machines that are designed to treat the rubbers and sponges in very specific ways. Every time a new rubber technology comes up, they need to be updated, and this happens very often.
Marketing costs and commissions.
Probably the biggest costs that drive the price of Table Tennis rubbers up are marketing and commissions.
99% of players won’t even know the new releases from the Friendship brand because they don’t do any marketing.
Every major Table Tennis brand sponsors at least one high-ranked player in the world.
Butterfly and DHS sponsor most of the world’s best players, and that’s a huge reason as to why they’re probably the 2 biggest brands in Table Tennis.
If Ma Long started playing with a different brand of rubbers, then I’m sure lots of us would buy them to see what he’s playing with. If he uses them, they’re surely the best out there, right?
This effect is why the DHS National rubbers are so expensive. They’re perfect for the best players out there, but they aren’t really better for the average player.
Coming back to the Cybershape, its Google searches peaked on November 29, the day Truls Moregardh played the final of the World Table Tennis Championships using it.
Before the World Championship started, the Cybershape wasn’t really talked about. After Truls got to the WTTC finals with it, there were lots of forum threads, videos and reviews about it!
Higher sales followed shortly thereafter.
Apart from marketing costs, there’s also commissions in Table Tennis.
Every equipment retailer also has to take their cut.
With ESN rubbers, there’s even more complexity!
ESN rubbers get their name because they’re made in a German factory called ElaStomer-Neuheit.
The most popular Table Tennis brands such as Yasaka, Donic, Nittaku, Tibhar, Andro, and many others are made by ESN. Butterfly and Chinese rubbers are made in-house.
These brands outsource their products to be produced in the ESN factory. ESN takes care of the R&D, then presents each brand with many different rubber prototypes.
The brands choose the rubbers they like, brand them, and ESN starts producing them.
This is also why there are different “rubber generations”. Whenever ESN comes up with a big advancement, all of the makers get to choose their prototypes for the new generation.
For example, Donic’s development was like this: Coppa, then Acuda, then Bluefire, and Bluestorm.
For Andro, it was Impuls, then Hexer, then Rasant, and Rasanter.
This “generations” approach is the same for all main ESN rubber makers because they all share the same rubber developer. This is also why their rubbers play relatively similarly.
Then, for ESN rubbers, i.e. the ones most of us use, the company has to take their cut, ESN has to take their cut and the retailers also take their commission.
This explains the rubber prices around $40-60 for most rubber sheets.
Now we can also understand why Butterfly’s products are always the most expensive.
They research and manufacture everything on their own, and consistently come up with the best products, even better than the efforts of all the other brands combined. It’s truly remarkable.
Player’s needs and the psychology of Table Tennis players.
Every time a new, better technology comes out, it will benefit those players who are using it.
Tenergy was released in 2008, and it is still viable to use at the highest levels until this day.
The new technology Tenergy brought into play made it so virtually every professional player used it on at least one side of their rackets.
Then, every player who didn’t use this new, better rubber, was at a disadvantage.
This is the first reason rubber makers can charge so much for their products.
Most Table Tennis players are super competitive, and they’re always searching for ways to improve.
If there’s a better rubber out there, but it costs 20 dollars more, most Table Tennis players will try to make the effort to buy them.
This doesn’t mean that rubbers with more speed and spin are better for you, though, but knowing that you could get more speed and spin on your attacks is often perceived as something very important by most players.
Thus, if players don’t buy these newer rubbers, they’ll feel at a disadvantage.
Having more control and consistency is a lot more important than a 10% increase in speed and spin, so you should use rubbers that you can master.
Once you’re comfortable with those rubbers and you are super consistent with them, then you can switch to something faster and more spinny if you feel you need it.
If you can master a certain rubber and you can finish points when playing opponents at your level with its level of speed and spin, then keep it.
Only upgrade when it’s evident that you need more performance out of your rubbers.
If you play with slow rubbers against intermediate players, you’ll find that it’ll be very hard for you to hit winning shots.
The same if you’re advanced and you’re using medium performance rubbers, your opponents will find it easy to block the ball back to you.
The better you get, the more performance you’ll need out of your rubbers. However, do keep in mind that rubbers are relative to your particular strengths, not your overall level.
If you’re a good player with a weak backhand, don’t put a high-performance rubber on your backhand side. It will make matters worse.
The second reason as to why the psychology of players affects rubber prices is that lots of Table Tennis players blame the equipment.
We’ve all seen Table Tennis players who miss an easy attack, then look at their rackets as if it was its fault.
These players will always look to get the best equipment out there.
There are lots of good affordable rubbers though. You can get a pretty decent pair to train with for as little as 30 or 40 dollars.
While I was doing research to write this article, I came across the opinion of a forum user.
I think Butterfly will always be expensive. They are the Ferrari of table tennis. It’s supposed to be expensive and exclusive!
I think he has a very good point. If you want the latest cutting-edge technology and the best quality out there, then it’s going to cost more. The same goes for the latest releases from ESN rubbers.
If we’re being honest though, you probably don’t even need these expensive rubbers in the first place.
Do you need an expensive rubber?
Yes and no, depending on your level of play. For most players, I’d say no. It also depends on what you define as “expensive”.
Beginners can play with rubbers of any price point, intermediate players should play with rubbers for around $40 a sheet and advanced players can play with rubbers from $40 all the way to $100.
If you don’t want to spend that much, there are also other less expensive alternatives for every level of play.
You can play with $25 Hurricane 3 neo or other Chinese rubbers all the way to advanced, but you’ll probably need to boost it at some point to get extra qualities out of it.
You can check out a very useful article on how to choose the perfect Table Tennis rubber for you here.
If you’re a beginner or even an intermediate player, then you most likely don’t need the latest technology. It really depends on your playstyle and preferences.
Using the fastest and spinniest rubbers that professional players use will only cause you to make more unforced mistakes and lose confidence if you’re not at the level where you can handle this equipment.
There are some exceptions to this rule, though.
Some advanced players prefer using slower rubbers because they have longer strokes (like most Chinese players), and there are also beginners and intermediates who can control fast equipment.
As a whole, I think that 95% of players don’t need the latest rubbers. Rubbers like Rakza 7, Fastarc G-1 and Rakza Z are super competitive for around $40. Some professional players still use Fastarc.
Beginners can use good premade rackets such as the Killerspin JET400, and when they’re more comfortable with that, they can move to a blade with professional rubbers that are not so fast.
If they are fine with playing with Chinese equipment, then they can get Friendship 729 Super FX rubbers or Palio CJ8000 rubbers for $15 a sheet or even less.
These are very spinny and fast enough to finish points if used properly. They’re also super controllable.
I have used the 729 Super FX previously and I could use it for tournament play if I adapted to it. It’s probably 70-80% as good as Rakza 7, my rubber of choice, for just a quarter of the price.
Rakza 7 is around $45, compared to the $12 the 729 Super FX costs.
However, I keep choosing Rakza because I don’t think the price is bad for what it offers, and 20-30% more performance is definitely noticeable. I can also control Rakza 7 very well.
Though if I were to face an opponent who was better than me and used the 729 Super FX, they’d still beat me.
This brings me to my next point: The law of diminishing returns.
For each extra dollar you spend, you’ll get fewer performance increases.
When you’re more advanced, you’ll need these little performance boosts to test the limits of your Table Tennis abilities.
If you’re a beginner or an intermediate, it doesn’t really matter what racket you play with as long as it provides good grip on the ball and has relatively good speed to it. What matters is that you know how to use it.
Pro tip: Speed is greatly influenced by your blade, so if you plan to use cheap Chinese rubbers for an offensive style, then you can get a faster blade and you’ll have a super spinny and fast enough racket for very little money.
Table Tennis rubbers can be expensive
In conclusion, Table Tennis rubbers’ high prices are warranted for the most part.
Rubber makers have to pay for sponsoring, marketing, research and development, manufacturing, and commissions.
Though, as we already said, most players wouldn’t necessarily benefit from using super high-performance rubbers.
You should get the best rubber for you that you can afford, and the best rubber for most players is not necessarily that expensive.
I know the best rubber for me is Rakza 7, that’s around 40 dollars. However, I could play with $25 Hurricane just fine, and even $12 729 Super FX if I really wanted to save money.
I tried Tenergy ($80) many times and I play a lot worse with it, even if it’s faster and more spinny. I struggle with it because it’s too bouncy and spin-sensitive for me.
So don’t worry about the price of rubbers. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, remember that what matters most is your ability, not the racket.
A great player using a cheap racket is still a great player if he knows how to get the most out of it.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!
Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Nittaku Fastarc G-1 | Backhand: Rasanter R42
Playstyle: Forehand Looper