If you build it …
Court builders, coming off a busy 2005, are optimistic that the new year will bring more of the same.
If you happened to be wandering among the court builders at the recent American Sports Builders Association Technical Meeting and Trade Show in Tampa, you would have come away with a huge sense of optimism. These guys have been busy — repairing courts, resurfacing courts, building new courts. Some court builders say that 2005 was their best year ever. Most say they expect 2006 to be another great year, too.
“We’ve been in business for 35 years,” says Pete Smith of The CourtSmiths of Toledo, Ohio, “and 2005 was our best year so far. I’m hoping for the increase to continue in 2006. It’s tough to predict too much year to year, but something has to be going right because the last couple of years have been really good.” Depending on whom you talk to, there are a number of things that seem to be going right for the construction business. Smith says he recently completed a lot of work with area schools, which may well be a result of school administrators realizing — with prompting from the USTA and TIA — that tennis is an excellent activity to get schoolkids in shape. “New schools are being put up, and a lot of school districts have passed levies in order to spend the money [on tennis courts],” Smith says.
Public park tennis has been another area receiving attention, and money, from the USTA. More than $10 million in matching funds has been allocated recently by the USTA for repair and construction of public facilities in the U.S.
“We do a fair amount of work with public facilities,” says Gerry Wright of Court One in Youngsville, N.C., who is also the incoming chairman of the ASBA. “And we noticed a definite upswing in the amount of work that was available last year — for park and rec facilities, schools, etc. In a general sense, I’d say we’ll have at least modest growth [in 2006].”
Mark Brogan of Pro Sport Construction of Devon, Pa., has seen a gradual resurgence in interest in tennis, which he says he expects to continue in 2006. “We’re seeing a lot of communities for retirees and ‘active’ seniors adding or building new tennis courts,” Brogan says. “And we’re seeing softer surfaces becoming huge in those areas.”
Increased interest in softer, more forgiving court surfaces, such as clay or cushioned hard courts, does seem to be picking up, as well. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries recently regarding our cushioned surface,” says Tumer Eren of Classic Turf Co. of Woodbury, Conn., a manufacturer, distributor, and installer of a prefabricated rubber court surface. “People want to play without joint injuries, and facilities want to offer a surface that will encourage players to play longer and help keep their courts full.”
Even that bastion of hard courts, Southern California, has seen a number of inquiries regarding softer courts. “Southern California is still a bit unique compared to the rest of the country — we have concrete courts and acrylic coatings,” says Richard Zaino of Zaino Tennis Courts of Orange, Calif. “We’ve done some softer courts, but now I’m starting to sense increased interest — I do get calls from senior players and senior communities asking about softer surfacing. I’m not seeing the budgeting yet, but it’s happening a little bit here.”
Zaino says that 2005 was “probably our best year in repair and resurfacing. If 2006 is like it was in 2005, I’ll be happy.” One big reason Zaino is optimistic is a recent decrease in the workers compensation rate in California, which will reduce Zaino’s overhead drastically, possibly allowing him to hire another person, or buy a new truck.
Court builders in Florida and other hurricane-affected areas also are noticing increased activity, as facilities and private court owners get their courts back in shape. “We experienced a spurt of business due to the damage to tennis installations because of the hurricanes in our area,” says Jim Reynolds of Pro Courts of Pompano Beach, Fla.
But one thing that a number of court builders point to is an increase in inquiries over the winter months, traditionally a slow time of year. “I’m very hopeful for 2006, because of the volume of activity at this time of year,” says David Marsden of Boston Tennis Court Construction of Hanover, Mass. “Generally in December and January, things really slow down, but there have been quite a few inquiries, and a lot to follow up on.”
Court construction and repair in the U.S. is an area in which both the ASBA and the TIA would like to get more reliable data. While anecdotal evidence seems to indicate a boost in court building and repair, there really is no hard data, such as what the USTA and TIA gather for tennis participation, and the TIA gathers for equipment sales. Both the ASBA and the TIA have expressed an interest in accumulating data that may be able to show trends in construction from year to year.
But whether there’s hard data available or not, the optimism expressed by court builders for the coming year certainly bodes well for the sport, and can be taken as yet another sign that tennis is indeed picking up again.
|VillageWalk of Sarasota|
|Athletic Complex at Bethel College|
|Private court, Lexington, Mass.|
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.