Tennis on the Beach? New Sport Can Help Attract New Players
By Liza Horan
Want an innovative and affordable way to attract new players to the game? Marc Altheim, a New Yorker who quit his job to back this new method 15 months ago, has the solution. There’s only one catch: Sand.
Altheim is the creator of Beach Tennis USA (BeachTennisUSA.net), a new sport that borrows a court and no-bounce rule from beach volleyball, and its format and tools from tennis. Played as doubles with no-ad scoring, participants use tennis racquets to hit a slightly depressurized ball over the elevated net.
The Beach Tennis USA team introduced the sport to more than 30,000 people since the first event in May 2005, and the response has been overwhelming. Bottom line: It’s putting tennis racquets into the hands of kids and adults alike for the first time.
“You have all these barriers of entry to the [traditional] game — getting to the court, reserving court time,” says Altheim, who himself plays tennis, squash, table tennis, paddle tennis, racquetball, and the beach paddle game Kadima. “Teaching pros can use beach tennis as a way to leverage their own tennis universe.”
The recreational game offers fun and fitness in a cool setting. And the pro game — yes, there’s a tour circuit of 11 events in six states and a Top 10 ranking — offers competition at all levels and has found a niche among teaching pros.
Heinz Haas, who works at Tennisport in Long Island City, N.Y., says playing the sand adds a fresh dimension to tennis. “It’s definitely a great workout,” he adds.
“I didn’t think it would catch on as fast with the top tennis players,” says Altheim, noting that the playing field currently is male dominated. “It’s been universally embraced at the highest levels of tennis.”
And volleyball. Sinjin Smith, a beach volleyball legend and former president of the Association of Volleyball Professionals, is an avid beach tennis player. “I’m a huge tennis fan, and of course can’t get away from the beach and volleyball,” says Smith. “So it was only natural that I try beach tennis — and I loved it.”
Each tournament, which provides free registration and free use of racquets and balls, includes demonstrations so bystanders can try out the game. Another bonus: Men work as “ball boys” for the women’s matches, and women return the favor for men’s matches.
In May, the Beach Tennis USA tractor trailer, carting signage and equipment, rolled into Bradenton, Fla., for an event, which made a great field trip for 45 students of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. “These kids licked it up,” says Altheim, who founded Beach Tennis USA LLC last year with Fredric Finkelstein and Sjoerd de Vries.
While the game is played in places as diverse as Aruba, Brazil, and Holland, it’s never been quite as organized as what’s happening here. This summer marked the start of the sport’s governing body in the U.S., the National Beach Tennis Association.
Also this year, Beach Tennis USA began licensing the product, as tournaments created more and more buzz about the sport. In 2007, Altheim says he hopes to add more tournament dates, higher purses, and TV coverage.
The 2005 season-ending championships, held in Long Beach, N.Y., drew 100 players from eight countries and a purse of $15,000. The prize money for the 2006 event was $18,000.
“Our big challenge is to harness the demand,” says Altheim, who notes that more than 30,000 people have tried beach tennis. “Our dream is to have four beach tennis trucks — one in each part of the country.” In the midst of this burgeoning growth, Beach Tennis USA secured HEAD Penn and Cobra systems as sponsors. There’s an opening for an overall sponsor like a car manufacturer, Altheim says, because “this is a great vehicle for them to activate their product.”
For those whose “product” is traditional tennis, it’s also a great vehicle. And, yes, Beach Tennis USA can refer sand suppliers for those land-locked.
How You Can Play In the Sand
Any tennis facility, beach club, or park and rec department that wants to run the sport locally can become a licensee. Licensees have use of the Beach Tennis USA logo, a net and lines kit, an operations manual, and support from the New York office. All events by licensees are sanctioned by the National Beach Tennis Association, which means those players can be ranked and participate in national events. Go to BeachTennisUSA.net for information.
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