Bringing In the Dough
For one club in Canada, a simple promotion with a local pizza franchise is putting more kids, and adults, on court.
By Brent Johner
Good ideas are like power tools. It’s great when you own them, but borrowing them gets the job done, too. In Calgary, Canada, for example, our community tennis club borrowed a promotional idea from a bowling alley and ended up hosting our most successful promotional event yet.
The idea? Fill a ball machine with standard yellow tennis balls. Add two cans of pink balls and mix well. Line some kids up to practice their ground strokes. Every now and then, the machine will feed them a pink ball. When they return it, give them a prize.
In our case, the prize was a coupon for a personal-size pizza and soda provided by the local franchise of a national pizza chain, Boston Pizza. Based on this, my daughters quickly christened our promotion “Pizzaball” night.
We started our Pizzaball promotion late in the season with no advance planning. The total amount of time from inspiration to implementation was less than 72 hours. Our total advertising budget was zero. The first week an email was sent to a small number of people in the community. A handful of kids and their parents showed up. They were uncertain, cautious, and tentative.
Precisely at 7 p.m., our Prince ball cannon started firing yellow balls along a fixed path. The kids struggled to return them. Some parents mumbled about the chances of their kid ever returning one.
“Pizzaball!” shouted the organizer as the first pink ball exploded from the muzzle of the ball cannon. Everybody leaned forward in anticipation, watching as it arced through the air. The 8-year-old girl receiving the ball was a little too eager. She closed her eyes, started her swing too early and missed it entirely. Shoulders sagged in universal disappointment and the girl moved to the back of the line.
One by one, the kids cycled through their rotation. Each yellow ball represented an opportunity for practice and improvement. As each kid took their mark and awaited the feed, a coach gave them pointers: ready position, racquet back, wrist firm, eye on the ball.
Within 10 minutes, yellow balls started to sail over the net and land in the doubles court. At first it was sporadic. Then it became consistent. Eventually, the pink balls started to fall in too. Before the end of the night, every pink ball was greeted with joyous shouts of “Pizzaball!” from kids and parents alike.
The effects of this little promotion were instant and electric. Each week, the number of kids lined up to play Pizzaball was larger than the week before. Each week brought old faces and new faces. By the end of the season, even our 6-year-olds were returning Pizzaballs and winning prizes.
In just six weeks, more than 40 new kids came to the courts to try a sport they had never tried before. Other kids, who were previously part of our tennis community, suddenly had a reason to practice. Our tennis courts, typically vacant during the workday, were consistently busy with 6- to 12-year-olds for the rest of the season.
More importantly for the future of our tennis club, though, the Pizzaball promotion sparked an interest in adult tennis. This was unexpected bonus.
Our program did not include babysitting. We made it clear from the start that this was not a drop-them-off-now and pick-them-up-later kind of event. We expected parents to stick around and add to the excitement by shouting “Pizzaball!” and cheering their kids on.
The excitement of the moment, the fresh air, the sound of the ball on the racquet and the simple act of being at the tennis courts rekindled an old flame in some parents. They dusted off their old racquets and started bringing them to Pizzaball night. Open courts were soon filled with parents hitting balls to each other.
Through Pizzaball, parents with old racquets and rusty games found other parents with old racquets and rusty games. Together, they learned that our club hosts two practice nights weekly where adults can practice with the ball machine, practice serving with a basket of balls or practice hitting on two courts set aside for rallying.
Thanks to Pizzaball, our pros sold some late season lessons, the racquet store sold some new racquets and our community association sold some brand new memberships. And, of course, each kid who won a pizza in our little promotion showed up at Boston Pizza — parents and siblings in tow — to claim his tasty prize.
The only negative in all this is the fact that we didn’t get started until the season was nearly over. Next season will be different. We already have a plan in place. Boston Pizza Ball Night now has a permanent — and prominent — spot on our club’s weekly calendar.
See all articles by Brent Johner
About the Author
Brent Johner , who has been designing websites professionally since 1996, is a founding member of the Oakridge Tennis and Squash Association in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is currently executive director for Racquet Network (www.racquetnetwork.com), a worldwide social network for racquet sports players. He can be reached through RacquetNetwork.com.