Tennis Industry magazine

 

Your Serve: Become a tennis champion

The USTA president outlines initiatives that will keep this sport a winner in the years to come.

By Alan Schwartz

As USTA president, my top priority has been to help tennis grow, to realize the vision of “30 by 2010” — 30 million players by the year 2010. Both my volunteer life with the USTA and my working life as founder and chairman of Tennis Corporation of America have been dedicated to growing this sport. And now, as my two-year term as USTA president comes to a close in January, I pledge to you my continued active involvement in helping this sport and this industry thrive in the years ahead.

The USTA is tied to its industry partners by two common denominators: a love for the game itself, and a resolve to grow both the number of tennis players and the number of frequent players. In fact, “growth” is a key word both in the USTA mission statement and in the mission statements of our PTR and USPTA partners.

To achieve the growth to realize 30 million players (of which 6 million are frequent players) by 2010, three things must happen: We must build upon the present momentum; we must identify challenges facing both the Tennis Welcome Center initiative and the aging and declining frequent-player base; and we must commit at all levels, but especially at the community, club, and individual levels, to be active and responsible parts of the solutions to these challenges.

The present momentum is the direct result of solid partnerships between a focused USTA and its industry allies. The success of the US Open Series, the adoption of an inclusive and welcoming diversity statement, and movement toward a marketing culture all have added to the momentum.

The growth of tennis requires marketing. The single most powerful and promising marketing vehicle to attract newcomers is the TWC initiative. Possibly the single most powerful tool to create and retain frequent players will be Cardio Tennis, a new pro-taught drill-based program designed to deliver a great cardiovascular workout on court in 60 minutes or less. We can build momentum by generating TWC successes and by embracing Cardio Tennis.

In 2004, thanks to a dynamic partnership between the USTA and the TIA, more than 4,000 TWC sites registered — an incredible first-year response. According to preliminary studies, about 20 percent had excellent results, 40 percent had fair to good results, 20 percent need improvement but want to learn, while 20 percent perhaps should not participate. I am disappointed that too few commercial TWC facilities took advantage of the free marketing tools sent to them. Those that did (and supplemented the tools with local promotion) had record numbers.

The challenge ahead is to bring TWC to the next level, which includes 1) upgrading the teaching quality at TWC parks and schools; 2) intensifying marketing efforts locally to piggy-back on national marketing; 3) reinvigorating May as Tennis Month in concert with Tennis Across America; 4) advertising earlier in the spring; 5) better leveraging television spots and signage during the US Open Series and the Open to promote TWC and the fitness benefits of tennis; 6) implementing effective transition programs to bridge the gap from tryer to player; 7) leveraging pro tennis events to maximize community tennis exposure; and 8) better utilizing Community Tennis Associations, clubs, and volunteers at the local level.

Given these TWC challenges, here are some solutions:

  1. Increase the number of teaching pros. The USTA is working closely with the PTR and USPTA to train new pros who will generate a positive initial tennis-lesson experience, particularly in the parks. Consider this research finding: 18 percent of first-time tryers become players if there is no teaching pro involved, versus 54 percent if a teaching pro is involved.
  2. The industry should continue annually to mark 25 million ball cans, 2 million entry-level racquets and a million pairs of tennis shoes with instructions to visit tenniswelcomecenter.com to locate the nearest TWC.
  3. TWC must be addressed as a continuing multi-year initiative.
  4. The marketing messages must stress the fitness benefits of tennis and learning to play fast.
  5. TWC sites need to make more extensive use of the free marketing tools supplied to them.
  6. Clubs should have their best pros available to make that first experience positive.

What about solutions to the challenge of Cardio Tennis?

  1. Everyone involved must be receptive to change. Programming for Cardio Tennis is being refined and tested now for rollout this spring.
  2. Getting fit and looking fit are powerful motivators. Cardio Tennis will help maintain existing frequent players while building others.
  3. Clubs, the core of the frequent-player base, need to be early adopters and endorsers of Cardio Tennis. The point person for Cardio Tennis is Jim Baugh, president of the TIA and a USTA board member (JimBaugh@sbcglobal.net).

Beyond the TWC and Cardio Tennis initiatives, I’m looking for a special group of volunteers. Within two years, I’d like to have 250 individuals (including those affiliated with a CTA) and 50 commercial clubs to each “adopt” a park. What these “adopters” do for “their parks” will be an individual decision. It could be helping with physical improvements, on-court programming, creating social events, getting former players back into the game — anything that will help grow tennis at “their parks.”

Recently, the board members of the USTA Midwest Section and its 14 districts made plans to adopt 25 parks in 2005. What a great start. If you, either individually or on behalf of a club or organization, want to volunteer to adopt a park, reach me at Schwartz@usta.com.

You can make a difference. Be an active part of growing the game. Adopt a park and join the ranks of community tennis heroes.

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About the Author

Alan Schwartz  is the founder and chairman of Tennis Corporation of America and has adopted parks in several cities.

 

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