Enter the Packabocce court – an inflatable bocce court featuring a lightweight but highly durable design that makes set up quick and storage easy. Invented in 2013 by Packaworld International, this revolutionary court has been helping organisers pump up bocce participation in many parts of the world.
“The inspiration for a portable bocce court came about during what I can only describe as a lucky chance meeting,” says Peter Roberts, CEO of Packaworld.
“I was presenting Football Packagoals to a group of schools in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and I just so happened to run into Special Olympics New Zealand Sports & Coaching Director Mike Ryan. He told me about bocce and the challenges of transporting big weighty courts to different competitions and it struck me that a highly portable bocce court could be an absolute game-changer for the sport. It was a real Eureka moment.”
Full-sized 60’ x 12’ Competition Packabocce courts are used for top-level competition at international events including major Special Olympics tournaments, while smaller 30’ x 8’ Recreational Packabocce courts are in use on cruise ships and in social leagues. There’s even a Mini Packabocce court, measuring 22’ x 6’, created so retirement villages and others with smaller areas don’t have to miss out on the fun.
Bocce is growing in popularity and some form of the sport is played in more countries than any other ball game, with the exception of football. Bocce is a social sport that relies on skill rather than physique, which makes it highly accessible to people of all abilities and ages.
At its core the game is about getting your team’s bocce balls as close as possible to a small target ball, called a pallino, which is thrown onto the court at the start of the game. Players take turns to throw or roll their bocce balls down the court and points are scored by the team that has the closest ball or balls to the pallino at the end of the round. The game is similar to English lawn bowls or pétanque, but bocce is played using different balls and with slightly different rules.
Breaking down barriers at the Special Olympics.
One of the organisations seeing particularly strong growth in bocce playing numbers is the Special Olympics. The number of Special Olympics athletes playing bocce has more more than doubled in New South Wales, Australia, following the use of Packabocce courts at the Special Olympics Asia-Pacific Games in 2013.
New South Wales Bocce Coordinator Mary Greig says the courts used at that event have since been made available to clubs and volunteers across the state to help with bocce competitions and beginners’ coaching days.
“The sport has grown since the Asia-Pacific Games and Have a Go days. Other regions have taken up bocce thanks to this success. I suppose it’s down to the ease of being able to go anywhere and play bocce,” she said.
The courts were also used at the Latin American Special Olympic Games in Panama in 2017 and more recently at the Special Olympics Florida National Summer Games at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, USA. More than 5,000 athletes, coaches, family members and volunteers attended the Florida event, with bocce ball competitors competing on the 10 Packabocce courts set up on turf within The Arena indoor facility as part of the Games’ bocce competition.
Introducing bocce to a younger generation
One of the other challenges for bocce globally has been encouraging younger players to play. Much like lawn bowls, the sport has developed a reputation in many parts of the world as a refuge for the elderly.
But that too is changing. In the USA, hundreds of social leagues have sprung up in city parks, chic clubs and hip bars, enticing a younger generation of player to throw a bocce ball and enjoy a few drinks with friends in a social setting.
One such league organiser is the American Bocce Company, which uses Packabocce courts across more than 50 leagues in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin and Florida.
American Bocce Company President and Co-founder Alex Gara says the courts have been instrumental enabling his organisation to bring the game to fresh audiences.
“Packabocce courts have allowed us to bring bocce to settings that appeal to a younger crowd looking for a social night out. We’ve got leagues running indoors in breweries, outside in town squares, and even on rooftops in central city bars.”
As well as using the courts in its leagues, the American Bocce Company has signed on as a US distributor of Packabocce courts.
“These courts are really changing bocce in the US”, Mr Gara said. “You can’t help but feel like bocce is booming.”
Mr Roberts said the use of the courts across the USA and at high-profile events brought home the progress made since that chance meeting in Palmerston North that sparked the idea.
“There’s now lots of media interest and tens of thousands of people competing on our courts every year. It’s pretty humbling and shows how far things have come in the five years since the Packabocce courts were invented.”
The future of Packabocce
Mr Roberts says his vision for the future of Packaworld involves taking his revolutionary new courts to new countries, events and communities that want to offer an outstanding bocce experience to participants. He’s currently fielding enquiries about the courts from all around the world, including the UK and Ireland, where bocce is just starting to take off.
Packaworld has also recently invented high-quality inflatable goals for the blind and low vision sport of Goalball and full-sized inflatable posts for Blind Rugby. Mr Roberts said he expected to see significant demand for both once people became aware of them.
Packabocce - the first five years
Packabocce around the world
Packabocce courts have been particularly popular in the United States. There are now hundreds of Packabocce courts in use across the country supporting everything from social leagues to Special Olympics competitions. The World Bocce League, established by former US National Singles Champion Phil Ferrari, estimates that there were now more than 25 million US bocce players.
The growing popularity of bocce in the USA is spreading to Canada. Packaworld made its first sale of Packabocce courts to Canada in 2015 and more sales have followed as word of the courts gets out.
Packabocce courts were used at the Latin American Special Olympics in 2017 and there is growing enthusiasm for the sport among many of the participating countries. Argentina already has a strong bocce culture and the game is gaining popularity across the continent.
The United Kingdom is an emerging market for bocce. Special Olympics UK has announced it will place more emphasis on growing the sport in future, and Packabocce courts are likely to provide an ideal solution to help grow the game on British soil.
Continental Europe is the home of modern bocce so it is no surprise Packabocce courts are proving popular among European players. The German market is currently the biggest European buyer of courts.
Dozens of Packabocce courts are in use across Australia. The largest single purchase was by Special Olympics New South Wales, which bought 24 courts for the Asia-Pacific Special Olympics in December 2013. These courts have been made available to clubs across New South Wales in the years since the event, leaving a lasting legacy that has contributed to growth in the number of Special Olympics athletes playing bocce.
Bocce is growing in popularity in New Zealand, particularly among the Special Olympics fraternity. The number of bocce athletes competing at the Special Olympics New Zealand National Summer Games 2017 was up by 28 per cent compared to the same event in 2013, the year in which Packabocce courts were invented.
The rest of the world
Organisations in Israel, Malaysia and a range of other countries have also purchased Packabocce courts, and they have have even taken to the high seas. There are currently more than 40 Packabocce courts in use on cruise liners, including on ships operated by the world’s largest cruise ship company Carnival Cruise Lines.