Tennis Industry magazine

 

Advancing its position

After the initial push, the Tennis Welcome Center campaign is refining — and improving — its offerings.

By Peter Francesconi

Make no mistake, the Tennis Welcome Center campaign that began successfully a year ago is alive and well — and looking to make some improvements for 2005 and beyond.

Tennis Welcome Center

Last year, nearly 400,000 unique visitors went onto the TennisWelcomeCenter.com website to find out where they can learn to play tennis in their local areas. More than 4,000 tennis facilities and parks signed onto the TWC campaign, exceeding the initial goal of 3,000 tennis venues. Research by the industry shows that last year, 51 percent of TWCs saw an increase in new players at their facilities, and 63 percent felt the national marketing campaign was effective.

“In terms of wholesale industry acceptance, the Tennis Welcome Center initiative has been the most successful initiative we’ve ever launched,” says Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis.

The TWC campaign is a joint USTA-Tennis Industry Association initiative that saw the active involvement of all the different groups in tennis — teaching pro organizations, manufacturers, associations, retailers, tournaments, media, and more. TWCs are designed to get new people into the game and to bring back players who have left the game by providing them with a local “friendly” facility where they can “learn to play tennis … fast.”

“There were a lot of successful parts to the Tennis Welcome Center campaign,” says Kamperman. “But there are clearly some areas we need to improve. And we’re taking the steps needed to make the TWC initiative even stronger.”

Focus on Customer Service

One concern, following the rush to get facilities on board as TWCs, was that there was a wide range of customer-service issues. In 2005, to remain a TWC, “facilities have to reapply, and there is an application and renewal process that asks for specific criteria to determine eligibility,” says Jim Baugh, president of the TIA. “Also, we’ll be doing more and better-defined ‘secret shopping’ of TWC sites, to make sure they meet certain service criteria.”

The more stringent application and renewal process is expected to whittle down the number of TWCs. “It would be great to maintain 4,000 nationwide, but if we have 2,500 quality TWCs signed up, we’d be quite happy,” says Kamperman.

Also planned are TWC seminars and training workshops across the country, especially dealing with customer service and local tennis marketing.

“One of the things we learned,” says Kamperman, “is that in our overall tennis delivery system, like any service-oriented business, we have ongoing customer-service challenges. There are a lot of facilities — private, commercial, and public — that are not prepared to appropriately take on new customers.”

Kamperman explains that usually, players walk into their club or facility, wave to the desk person, then breeze on by to the assigned court. “With a Tennis Welcome Center, it’s a different dynamic,” he says. “You have people calling for the first time, not knowing what the procedures are like, what they need to wear, etc. We need the facilities to take a hard look at how they can make that first impression as inviting and as friendly as possible.”

Another key area for 2005 is local marketing. “Our national marketing proved to be successful,” says Baugh, “but we clearly need to get more local facilities active in marketing efforts. We’ve come up with a really easy-to-use, turn-key marketing package for local facilities.”

Lesson Plans

While the initial TWC program encouraged all facilities to have certified pros, there seems to be an acknowledgement that many facilities, especially parks programs, simply don’t have access to a PTR or USPTA pro. The USTA is expanding its Tennis in the Parks program, working with the NRPA to provide grants to park and recreation agencies to help them hire certified pros, say industry sources.

Also available starting in 2005 will be “generic” entry-level programs that TWCs may use, if they desire. “The USPTA and PTR are offering entry-level lesson plans if pros want to tap into them,” says Kamperman.

Other important enhancements for 2005, says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer, include enhancing the two main TWC websites, TennisWelcomeCenter.com for consumers and Partners.TennisWelcomeCenter.com for the trade. “We’re also developing a ‘Get Connected for 2005’ plan of benefits that will include individual websites, hosting, e-mails, online registration, a find-a-game feature, and more,” says de Boer.

On the quality-control side, the two teaching organizations will add educational certification and develop specialty courses for TWCs, says de Boer. In addition, a TWC project manager position has been established, and the USTA is looking at tapping into local USTA volunteers to help with TWCs in their areas.

In terms of marketing support, the USTA is expected to commit about $3 million to support the program this year. Inserts are again planned for newspapers and national magazines, and the ATP and WTA Tour will provide signage and other marketing opportunities at pro events.

In the tennis trade, there will be an increased effort to make sure manufacturers have TWC mentions and links on their websites. Also, retailer involvement will be promoted in local markets, along with links to “Welcome to Tennis” events leading up to National Tennis Month in May and the US Open.

“We want to raise the bar and have more high-quality Tennis Welcome Centers,” says Kamperman. “For consumers, that means a better first impression of tennis, and a stronger likelihood they’ll stay in the game.”

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About the Author

Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.

 

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