The upsurge in tennis is providing more building and renovating opportunities, but court builders need to market themselves now.
Tennis is surging in this country, and builders and suppliers in the tennis court market are already seeing harbingers of that growth, particularly at the parks and recreation level, where many new players will be starting out.
“We have seen a huge increase in inquiries and construction in the park and rec departments, as well as the school markets, since the end of the third quarter of 2007,” says Rick Burke of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based NGI Sports Inc. “The first quarter of ‘08 has already shown to be more active than the past with inquiries for tennis court reconstruction for these areas up over 300 percent.”
Fred Manchester of Manchester Tennis Courts in Lexington, S.C., has noticed an uptick in requests for bids not just in new construction, but in reconstruction of existing facilities — a better sign than wanting to turn tennis courts into basketball courts or playgrounds. “In the past three months, I have seen requests for bids from seven different government sources,” says Manchester. “These projects have ranged from top dressing to hard-court resurfacing, to asphalt overlays to new construction to enlarge existing facilities.”
Those interested in renovating or building new public courts have been calling places like the American Sports Builders Association and requesting construction documents. “Tennis is on the right track,” says Carol Hogan, executive vice president of the ASBA. “Finally.”
Making It Happen
The bad news? There is no real bad news — just a caveat, really. Those who want to take advantage of the new wave need to start now — not next season, not in the off-season and certainly not “some day.”
Richard Zaino of Zaino Tennis Courts in Orange, Calif., says his company regularly reaches out to municipalities — without asking for a return.
“We advertise and make available guidelines and specifications to the cities and schools for repairs, resurfacing and construction,” Zaino says. “We provide these free to the owners along with inspections and budget costs.” Zaino also provides recommendations and information to homeowners’ associations, but believes he “could be more proactive in promoting the game.”
If promoting the game itself seems to be outside the job description of builders and suppliers, think of the trickle-down effect: With more courts being built and rehabbed at high schools, colleges, then at homes, there will be more players (not to mention more work for builders). Then, how about more Grand Slam winners coming from the U.S.? The possibilities are there.
“We in the industry would do well to contact all types of entities to help promote tennis,” says Jonnie Deremo of General Acrylics Inc. in Phoenix. Deremo believes contractors should reach out to city councils, parks and recs, non-profit youth programs, school athletic directors, police athletic leagues, fresh-air fund camps and more.
“I think the biggest thing we all can do now is to talk about our success and think tennis as we plan meetings, promote social events and our own activities,” says John Welborn of Lee Tennis in Charlottesville, Va. “If, knowing what we know, we are not playing more and more tennis, we don’t have any chance of influencing others for the game.
“As a company, we live and breathe tennis. You have to live it to fan the flame.”
Making It Happen for You
To keep tennis on the upswing, court builders need to make sure they continue to market themselves to schools, cities and more. Here are some hints from successful builders.
- Reach out to municipalities. “I do mailings to city, county and state purchasing departments,” says Fred Manchester. “I also try to network with tennis professionals. I have found that if the director at a tennis center has a child in public school and they are in the know as to what is being considered.”
- Keep lines of communication open. Richard Zaino and Jonnie Deremo are among those who stay in contact with city and school construction departments.
- Help other programs grow. “I find myself talking to a lot of people whose wish list exceeds their budget,” says Manchester, who has donated time and equipment to facilities that have needed to do in-house maintenance work. Tom Magner of Deco Turf in Andover, Mass., notes that his company often directs municipalities to grant opportunities that they may not be aware of, including the NRPA’s Tennis in the Parks Initiative and the USTA’s Adopt-A-Court program.
- Advertise in industry publications, and in those read by your target audience. Don’t wait until next season, don’t wait until that big job comes in. Do it now.
Making It Happen for Tennis
helping to market the game of tennis, builders and suppliers can greatly influence the number of players in this country.
- Bring tennis into the schools. Supply gym teachers with court diagrams and information for programs and formats for kids, such as the new QuickStart Tennis format, and possibly with donations of blue painting tape or other tape to create temporary court lines. Hold equipment drives and donate old racquets. If the schools themselves don’t have courts, give them a list of public facilities so kids can practice their games.
- Join your local Community Tennis Association. If you volunteer your expertise in your local CTA, maybe by becoming a consultant to the group, you’ll be helping to promote tennis in your area. Also, though, you’ll be promoting your business, too.
- Promote the image of tennis. Sponsor appearances by professional athletes to give demos to kids. “For tennis to survive, even grow, it has to be fun, cool and accessible,” says the ASBA’s Carol Hogan. “The USTA, TIA and others have it right. Get it in the schools. Get it in the parks. Make inexpensive equipment available. Teach people to play at any age, but especially the young.”
- Convince tournament directors to donate blocks of tickets to rec programs, boys and girls clubs and others. Richard Zaino suggests getting kids interested by letting them see tennis played well.
- Stress the lifelong aspect of the sport. John Welborn and others recommend marketing to baby boomers, not just the new kids on the block.
- Be a player. “By encouraging friends and associates, you too can impact the growth of the game,” says Rick Burke.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.