Get on the ‘boomer bandwagon’ with your tennis programming, and you’ll find your business booming, too.
By Anne Davis
It is hard not to notice all the articles and news stories about the “baby boomers.” As the fastest-growing segment of our population, this group of 50- to 60-year-olds is changing the way things are done, the way things are sold, and the way things are presented. To say this is a hot topic would be an understatement.
How is tennis handling this phenomenon? Let’s just say that there doesn’t seem to be a long line to jump on the “boomer” bandwagon! It is not too late, and those wise enough to look at this trend will reap the financial rewards.
“Why bother? My lesson book is full. It’s more exciting to train juniors who I can mold and help become champions.” That’s what some teaching pros might say. What they don’t realize is the perception of what is “old” is changing dramatically.
People in their 50s and 60s at one time were considered to be “old”; now that is considered middle age. Every seven seconds someone turns 50. Over the next 15 years, the number of people between 50 and 69 will increase 87 percent, according to the Administration on Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If those numbers don’t impress you, how about these: The net worth of seniors is five times that of the average American, and they control 70 percent of all wealth in America. This group will account for more than 79 percent of all leisure travel spending and spend $29 billion yearly on grandchildren. In 2006, according to Boomer Marketing News, this group spent more than $3 trillion. Do these folks have your attention yet?
Life in the Fast Lane
What was once thought of as an age where people would slow down and retire just isn’t happening anymore. Many people in their 50s are raising first and second families. Look at the leadership of our country, our businesses, and the age of the individuals having the impact — there are not many 30-year-olds. Individuals in their 50s and 60s are “reinventing” themselves, according to Dr. Ken Dychtwald, in his book “The Power Years — A Users Guide to the Rest of Your Life.” Instead of sitting and watching the sunset, they are riding off into the sunset on Harley-Davidson’s (that age group, after all, is the largest purchaser of those motorcycles).
The notion that this age group is inactive and frail is just another idea we need to get out of our heads. They feel being active is critical to enjoying life. According to AARP Magazine, “So many of what we thought were symptoms of aging are actually symptoms of disuse. This means that health isn’t just a genetic throw of the dice, but a factor that is largely under our control.”
As people age, they realize this and are taking steps to stay healthy and fit. It is already known that regular physical activity reduces the risk of early death, developing diabetes, high blood pressure and many other health problems associated with aging. (See Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise, Vol. 30, # 6 1998.)
It shouldn’t be that hard to get those over 50 involved in tennis. Many in this age group remember the sport from the tennis boom of the 1970s. They have the available time and resources, are looking to increase physical activity, and want to learn new things. Can anyone think of something that might be perfect for the millions of baby-boomers looking for a healthy activity?
Don’t Lose Them
The 2005 TIA participation survey stated that those over age 50 were 24 percent of frequent tennis players, the largest percentage of any age group. In 2006, that number was down to 22 percent. That is not a good thing when you consider the growing number of people over 50 and the fact that they are getting more involved in physical activities. Can we afford to ignore half of the adult population?
You can’t hit this group if you don’t take careful aim. We need to develop specific programs targeted to this group. The Wall Street Journal sees the potential. An article in August 2006 stated, “There may yet be an untapped market, some tennis experts say, particularly among baby-boomer recreational players.…”
So what is it going to take for us to get this group back into tennis? First, we need programs designed for them. Maybe a senior version of Cardio Tennis or the USTA’s Welcome Back to Tennis Event.
Next, make sure they have equipment designed for them. Like it or not, the body starts to break down as we age — it’s not will we feel aches and pains, it’s when. So softer courts designed for older players will be important, as will racquets that are more forgiving.
Also, we’ll need teaching that is designed for them. And we need to make sure the teaching is relationship-centric. Members of this group may have had two or three professions in their lifetimes, and they expect a certain level of professionalism from those with whom they deal.
This active baby-boomer group is big, and it’s only going to get bigger. If, in your local area, you can get tennis on their menu of choices, your business will be booming for years to come.
See all articles by Anne Davis
About the Author
Anne Davis is the national manager of Tennis Organizers in the USTA's Recreational Coaches and Programs Department and also is in charge of the Welcome Back to Tennis Program. A PTR pro and past Florida Section volunteer, Davis has coached adults, juniors, and college players. She has a bachelor's degree in marketing and a master's in educational counseling from the University of South Florida.