Tennis Industry magazine

 

Adding Value to Tennis

It’s easy to see the social case for embracing diversity, but consider what your business, and the sport, stands to gain, too.

By Karlyn Lothery

Ask any good financial advisor how to maximize the value of one’s portfolio, and they’ll tell you to diversify. The same is true for generating the highest return in the tennis industry. Embracing diversity is one key component to rejuvenate the prosperity of the sport.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for Americans aged 70 and older the ratio of white to non-white is 9 to 1. At the opposite end of the spectrum, for youth aged 7 and under — who we hope will be the tennis players of tomorrow — the ratio is 1.5 to 1. With data like this as a sign of the diversification of our country as a whole, the USTA has adopted its own diversity statement as the first of many signs of our commitment to make tennis more inclusive. We have to focus on making our tennis events, clinics, marketing approach and materials, staff, vendors, and the US Open more inclusive and attractive to people of all backgrounds.

While anyone can make the social case for embracing diversity, the truth of the matter is, it just makes good business sense. As the USTA’s first chief diversity officer, it is my charge to continue driving the message of inclusion and the importance of diversity when boosting the bottom line.

The tennis world is enjoying some degree of the so-called “Tiger Woods effect.” The success of Paradorn Schrichipan, for instance, has sparked a tremendous tennis boom in the Thai community. The Williams sisters have advanced the earlier steps of Althea Gibson, Zina Garrison, and Arthur Ashe as seen with the new crop of young players taking the game by storm. More black teens are playing tennis than ever before. The girls look at the Williamses and see that not only is tennis a sport of skill and power, but a sport of high visibility and good fortune. Recent junior tourney winners Scoville Jenkins and Timothy Neilly continue to excel, with help from multicultural participation grants from the USTA.

At the 2004 US Open we saw the most diverse group of wild-card recipients ever: Five of the eight were multicultural women, while two of the eight were multicultural men. The signs are all here that the sport is starting to diversify. For the first time, the stars of tennis are starting to look like the total picture of our country, those who exhibit extraordinary talent and skill are joining the more traditional faces at center court.

With this wide variety of professionals to emulate, the number of multicultural players is increasing, and the number of multicultural juniors, who at one time never considered playing a sport like tennis, are now looking at the game in a whole new light. They’re making their way to our public parks, tennis clubs, and recreational facilities to try their hands at tennis. If we look to our own communities for others who may identify with our up-and-coming stars, and show them that tennis is a sport for everyone to enjoy for a lifetime, we will continue to grow the game.

Believe it or not, people look at brochures, fliers, posters, and mailings to see if anyone shown represents someone from their community. If not, they think twice about whether they’d like to participate. If they see someone like them, they’ll be more likely to try the sport, the facility, or the product. It is with this in mind that the USTA has revamped its promotional materials and its website.

“Diversity” is now a main menu choice on the home page, containing everything from FAQs and available grant opportunities, to how to do business with the USTA. We’ve even launched a Spanish translation of the usta.com site. This is critically important when you consider that one of every four new tennis players is of Hispanic origin.

To that end, the utilization of minority vendors is an underestimated way to increase multicultural participation. Doing business with minority vendors establishes a “sponsorship-like” relationship. They will want to continue to do business with you, so they’ll take a greater interest in the overall success of our sport. They’ll talk about tennis, watch more of it on television, try the game, or play more often than before. And most importantly, they’ll spread the word that tennis is for everyone. And positive word of mouth, when delivered from a third party, is always more effective than singing your own praises.

Finally, employers who value diversity within their staff create their own network of foot soldiers to talk about tennis, play the game themselves, and encourage others around them to do so. They become the unified army to grow the sport in their communities. It’s not enough to simply have minorities on staff. There should be a diverse group of managers and executives in any organization looking to capitalize on the benefits of diversity. Only when the perception of a glass ceiling is shattered will an organization be recognized as creating an inclusive environment.

The USTA is proud to be leading the effort to create a more inclusive game and make tennis a more diverse sport. Diversity is one of the easier ways to add value to any business. It lends itself to increasing one’s market share, fan base, and ultimately the bottom line.

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About the Author

Karlyn Lothery , who joined the USTA as the association's first chief diversity officer in April 2004, is the primary driver of the "USTA Diversity Plan: Multicultural Focus." An avid tennis player for more than 25 years, Lothery has a decade of experience in public relations, marketing, and journalism.

 

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