The Great Divide
A longtime tennis observer says the USTA, with its diverse goals, may better serve the industry if it splits in two.
By Kent Oswald
Do you think the USTA knows what business it’s in? And, do you think its business fits with yours?
The USTA’s mission statement is pretty simple: “to promote and develop the growth of tennis.” That would seem to imply its aim is in part to help you achieve your goals. However, at a time when business consultants buzz about the need to slim down to core competencies, the monolith based in White Plains, N.Y., certainly seems structured at cross purposes, at odds with its own “business,” not to mention yours.
Half of the USTA’s operations and goals involve Professional Tennis, headed by Chief Executive Arlen Kantarian. The other half concern Community Tennis, led by Chief Executive Kurt Kamperman. (And let’s not mention that third half, which focuses on player development, diversity, the USTA Tennis & Education Foundation, and everything else. There just isn’t room here for the “third half solution.”)
Professional Tennis seeks to turn a profit through the cultivation of an international audience of spectators who shell out money for tournament tickets and merchandise. The buying power of the tennis audience also appeals to sponsors and advertisers, who are often ready to pay big money to reach this high-end demographic.
Community Tennis, on the other hand, has a nonprofit mindset. Its success is measured by raising the number of recreational players in the U.S. — most likely your audience — whether or not they send money to the USTA.
Hypothetically, this sounds like it might make for a good fit. But marriage counselors are a good source for stats on how often partnerships made up of such diametrically opposite types fail.
A simple, obvious example of this confusion can be found at the website www.USTA.com. When you have one site that is supposed to cover every single aspect of an organization — from selling US Open tickets and merchandise, to promoting Davis and Fed Cup, to offering tips on strokes, to being a place for tournament sign-ups, etc. — things can get confusing, especially since the target audiences are so different.
I won’t speak for everyone, but if I don’t know the click stream to where I am going on the site, my experience is that I probably am not going to get there anytime soon.
The obvious solution here is to split USTA.com into distinct sites mirroring the diverse goals of the organization. When you land on USTA.com, you can either click to a USTA Professional Tennis site, where you can find out all about the US Open or US Open Series, Davis and Fed Cup, USTA Pro Circuits, and more; or you can head to the USTA Community Tennis site and learn all about USTA League Tennis, how to get involved in the game, Rec Coach Workshops, etc. Clean it up, make it easier for everybody.
But let’s not stop at the website; let’s carry this through to the organization as a whole. Trying to be everything to everyone, the USTA has gotten so huge that it’s often extremely inefficient and wasteful. It’s time it splits itself up. Professional Tennis should be a for-profit entity; Community Tennis, a non-profit organization.
The Pro side can maximize the money it makes from tennis — and of course would need to be set up with the USTA as a major stakeholder so some of the money could still flow back into America’s recreational game. As a separate entity, the Community side will no longer be a junior partner in its own building, which might allow for a clarity of mission and an improvement in defining a viable working relationship with the USTA’s sections — a working partnership currently akin to 17 spokes with different ideas and priorities each trying to set the direction for the same hub.
Given the dysfunction that has grown like kudzu as the USTA resists organizational change, it could well be worth asking how much will it help your business if the USTA changed its own, in recognition that tennis has evolved since it was organized 126 years ago as a lawn tennis association for East Coast gentlemen.
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.