Don't Expect a Magic bullet
Something came up at the last TIA board meeting in March, held during the USTA’s Annual Meeting in La Quinta, Calif., that got me a little concerned. As TIA President Jim Baugh was updating members about some key programs to increase tennis participation, it was noted that among the general tennis industry, there was some confusion about whether the Tennis Welcome Center initiative was still a priority.
As all of you probably know, the TWC program was started last year to give lapsed and potential players a “welcoming” introduction to the sport, in an effort to turn around stagnant participation numbers. Since its inception, and continuing to this day, the program garnered unprecedented support and cooperation from all parts of the industry. (Over 4,000 facilities signed up initially, but since then, the more stringent renewal process has brought that number down to about 2,600 TWCs for 2005 — which is actually a good thing.)
To try to put to rest any lingering doubts you may have, the Tennis Welcome Center program is still a priority in the industry. It is not “last year’s program,” and it is not over. And, more importantly, it most likely will continue for many years.
Growing this sport is a long-term commitment. No program, no matter how well conceived and executed, is going to solve all of tennis’s participation problems overnight. Plenty of organizations, companies, teaching pros, and facilities have committed time, money, and effort into making the TWC program successful. But it’s going to take time.
And the new programs that are under way this year — such as Cardio Tennis and the Tennis in the Parks Initiative spearheaded by USTA President Franklin Johnson — are also going to take some time before results start to show. Baugh and Kurt Kamperman, the current USTA chief executive of Community Tennis (and former TIA president), along with dozens of other leaders in this business understand that these programs need to be given time to work.
It seems like things in this industry are beginning to pick up. In 2004, ball sales were up in units 3.6 percent, racquet sales in units were up 16 percent and in dollars up 7.7 percent, junior racquet unit sales were up 27 percent, and racquets under $99 were up nearly 20 percent. “I think we’ve hit bottom and are starting to move up again,” Baugh told the TIA members.
But keep in mind, it will be a long haul, with no quick fixes.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.