For CTAs and parks, gains in participation have led to full courts, new facilities, an increasing economic impact at the local level, and more.
The Florence Tennis Association in South Carolina has a problem — a very good problem. Visit any of the local public courts in the evening, and chances are you’ll see people waiting patiently for their turn to play. “Our community is seeing the boom in tennis,” says FTA President Ed Sprenger. “More kids and adults are playing, and people are coming back to tennis.”
Increases in play have been witnessed across the country, with the sport riding a wave of healthy growth unseen by other traditional sports. In fact, six years ago, as tennis was about to enter its current trend of participation increases, the FTA approached the city council to advocate for a new 30-court facility to handle the hundreds of local citizens vying for court time on its existing 16 city courts and five county courts. And they had a very convincing argument to present — tennis brings in about $3 million in economic impact to the Florence area annually.
The facility construction project is now in Florence’s proposed 2008-09 fiscal year budget, to be built on 22 acres of donated land. It’s proof positive that with tennis’ popularity on the upswing, now is the perfect time for CTAs and parks to advocate for tennis needs in their areas. “Advocacy is huge,” says Sprenger. “The community has to know who you are and what you’re doing.”
The best plan of action? “Be a part of your community” Sprenger says. “Educate them as to what you are doing, the benefits of it, and why somebody would want to be involved.”
Tennis for All
Keeping the game inclusive is key to the sport’s continued growth. Jane Hines, immediate past president of the Omaha (Neb.) Tennis Association, attributes the current growth in part to training and competition programming for all generations of players, as well as to variety that accommodates what different players want from the sport — from just a workout to national competition. “It’s not ‘Tennis, anyone?’ anymore,” she says. “It’s ‘Tennis, everyone.’”
The OTA has mainstreamed players in their adaptive programs into the tournament structure. Diversity and outreach programming serve the inner cities, and consistent participation is rewarded with tennis racquets and balls to encourage continued enjoyment of the sport. For the last five years, the OTA has given away 150 racquets a year to young players, an initiative supported by the Nebraska Tennis Association. “We know our racquets, and if you drive by the parks, you’ll see them being used on the courts,” says Hines.
Adult leagues round out the OTA’s ample tennis offerings. “If you want to fill your courts,” suggests Hines, “offer a senior rate for your facilities, include senior events and leagues. It’s a swelling population.
It’s important to cover all your bases to meet the tennis needs of every demographic to ensure their involvement will continue, and to make your organization available and accessible. Web marketing has done wonders in getting the OTA’s news out to the public and the media. “Our web page is visited quite regularly,” says Hines. We have extensive volunteer outreach posted on the website, and people really respond to that. There was once a time that I needed to make a lot of phone calls; now they’re coming to us.”
Keeping players coming back will benefit other aspects of your tennis operation as well. The Copeland-Cox Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala., recognized as the world’s largest public tennis facility with 60 courts, hosts about 20 tournaments a year, attracting 10,000 players and resulting in about $28 million in economic impact to the city.
The busy tournament schedule ensures that inventory in the facility pro shop is constantly revolving for visitors and members of its tennis community. “The local players love it because there’s always something new coming in,” says Tennis Director Scott Novak.
In terms of tennis’ ever-increasing popularity, the numbers speak for themselves, and are something that parks, organizations and programs can use to market the sports’ accolades to new and returning players. “We’re trying to say that tennis is the ‘in’ thing right now, that this is where you need to be,” says Novak.
Twenty-five million people have already found their place on courts across the country, and now is the perfect time to make room for more.
Playing to the Crowd
Tennis can help keep a community healthy and vibrant. For public parks and CTAs, here are a few ideas to help you bring tennis to all, and keep it thriving on the local level.
- Cater to all groups. Create and market programming to serve every demographic in your community.
- Advocate for tennis needs in your community. Use the news of tennis’ participation increases and rise in equipment sales, as well as all what the sport can offer to your community, as part of a convincing argument to local officials.
- Take advantage of technology. A website is a great way to market your organization and its programs, and to get people involved and on your courts.
- Partner with your Parks and Recreation department. The Omaha Tennis Association’s involvement in the Metro Omaha Tennis Alliance with the city helps ensure that tennis needs are met as they arise.
- Keep your pro shop stocked. Make sure you have the latest tennis equipment and apparel to ensure return visits from local players and tournament participants.
Tips from the TSRs
- Ensure that there is relevant tennis programming in place to serve your community.
- Capture casual players by providing social and team-based opportunities.
- Engage young, new players with the QuickStart Tennis format. “A pro and park director can build any program around that format,” says Mark McMahon.
- Most players begin playing tennis in the parks. Be sure there is appropriate programming to serve beginners and any overflow from local clubs.
TSRs: Helping the Game to Grow
Tennis’ success can’t be attributed to just one program, initiative or organization. The resource pool is wide and deep, and now easier to navigate with the help of USTA Tennis Service Representatives.
“TSRs have two charges, to learn how we can help providers with the need that they express, and to help them uncover unrealized opportunities,” says Mark McMahon, USTA national manager of Tennis Service Representatives. “They represent a philosophy that the USTA is advancing — we’re not looking to go out and sell USTA programs, we’re going out asking, ‘How can we help you?’”
In Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., tennis is so successful “that private clubs are saying they need more courts and more pros to handle all the business at their facilities,” says Cindy Benzon, the TSR for southeast Texas. “With the public facilities having more courts than most clubs, they can have more programming to get more people playing tennis.”
Low-cost beginner programming for juniors and adults at Houston’s parks are getting players hooked on tennis. In fact, two local NJTLs are seeing increases in participation as a result.
Benzon says that the industry’s focus in the past has been on “the tip of the iceberg” — the top, high performance players. A focus on beginner recreational players is what is sustaining tennis’ recent growth, and what will continue to do so in the future.
According to TSR Jim Amick, who serves Ohio and part of West Virginia, introducing the new QuickStart Tennis format for kids is proving important to tennis’ growth at the local level. “Use of the QuickStart format in many of my markets recently has resulted in new courts being built or courts being resurfaced,” he says.
And QuickStart Tennis, Amick notes, is not just attracting young players, but also adults. “Both age groups are now seeing more of that instant success, and it’s keeping participation numbers growing.”
“Once you get recreational players hooked, you’re going to have them for years,” Benzon says. “There’s only one direction they can go, which is up.”
At this rate, the same will be said about the sport itself in coming years.
See all articles by Kristen Daley
About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.