Changing demographics are causing everyone in this industry, including facility designers and builders, to take a look at how they do business.
Every year, this game changes. Your members and players change, too. And you have to be ready to change, in all the things you do — giving lessons and clinics, running tournaments and social play, marketing your programs, laying out your facility.
“We are now in the middle of the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world,” says John Welborn of Lee Tennis, who, along with Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group, presented a seminar at December’s Technical Meeting of the American Sports Builders Association (formerly the U.S. Tennis Court & Track Builders Association) titled “Ageless Marketing/Marketing to the Baby Boomers.”
“The retirement age of 65 was established in the 1930s, when life expectancy was 68,” Welborn says of some of the “macro trends” taking place. “Now, life expectancy is over 80.”
By the year 2015, the U.S. population will match what are the current demographics in Florida — 49 percent of the population will be over 50 years old, says Welborn. “Over the next 15 years, the 50-to-69 age group will increase by 87 percent.”
From 2001 to 2010, spending by those in the 24-to-44 age group is expected to decline by $115 billion, while spending by the 45-to-64 age group is expected to grow by $329 billion, says Welborn. Currently, the 40-plus market is 45 percent larger than the 18-to-39 age group. By 2010, the 40-plus market will grow to 60 percent larger.
Welborn says that there will be an emphasis by the public sector to get this older demographic active. “A lot of things are going to change, mindset-wise — traveling, adventure, sports,” he says. “These people are going to do something. Tennis has a lot to sell, it has all the elements. So we need to start talking about it.
“What all this means,” he adds, “is that if your business is to grow in the next 20 years, you’ll need to deal with this demographic.”
Safety and Comfort
In terms of tennis facility design, Levitsky points out certain concerns of this older demographic, such as safety, comfort, maintenance, and affordability. “When we talk about the boomers, we need to focus in on safety and comfort,” he says.
Where you have active areas at your facility, says Levitsky, there should be fewer obstructions, and the flow should be more continuous. Other safety concerns include:
- Emergency communications that are easily accessible.
- Wider access points and through passages, to anticipate access by emergency vehicles.
- Smooth transitions from walkways, with adequate lighting. Often, the walkways are used as an activity in itself, when people circulate around the facility.
- Accommodating the provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Divider fences and nets that reduce tripping and collisions.
Where comfort is concerned, Levitsky says facilities need to take into account:
- Convenient and sufficient parking.
- Efficient pedestrian circulation, with signs and graphics that are easy to read and understand. “The first time you visit, you need to know where you’re going,” says Levitsky.
- Convenient water fountains and restrooms.
- Shade shelters.
- Higher lighting levels, since eyesight changes as people age.
- A variety of surfaces, which provide a variety of experiences.
- Backdrops and windscreens. Levitsky says some facilities are now looking at covering courts, but leaving the sides open.
- Socializing spaces, which allow for food and refreshment.
- Breaking up hard landscapes, and breaking up paved areas. “Softening the space is especially important in tight areas,” says Levitsky.
In determining what’s best for your facility or for facilities in your area, you need to look at demographic and market studies, says Levitsky, and, importantly, “ask your customer.” Also, make use of the internet, consult with professionals, and contact the AARP or other groups in your area that cater to this demographic.
“These mature customers are guided by their inner values,” says Welborn. “They generally share a desire to live meaningful and purposeful lives. In addition, meaningful activities, exercise, and personal well-being programs are the best way to control increasing medical expenses.”
Welborn adds that the words “senior” and “retirement” are outdated descriptors for this group, and that “aging” is no longer a metaphor for decline and dependence.
In promoting your services to this group, there are certain things you should consider when it comes to “the language of ageless marketing,” says Welborn. For instance:
- Avoid terms such as “senior” and “elderly,” which may generate negative images.
- In marketing material, use inclusive terms, and use conditional and experiential images in visuals.
- Remember that this audience will fight aging and will stay active. “The interest in fitness and wellness is growing big time,” says Welborn.
- They also have time and money.
- This group also will exercise and socialize more in retirement.
- In advertising, show the people, not the product.
- A “need-driven” strategy is no longer relevant to this older group. They don’t “need” things anymore; they need to want things, says Welborn.
“Today’s older consumer is healthier, wealthier, better educated, and more self-directed than in the past,” says Welborn. This older demographic desires programs, equipment, apparel, shoes, and facilities all designed for them. Softer courts must be a consideration, he says.
But most important, “They need a nudge from us to get tennis on their menu choices,” Welborn says. “We need to communicate how tennis can be a gateway to a more meaningful, personally enriching life.
“To reach this group, we must help them visualize themselves getting what they want through tennis.”
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.