An Open Letter About Regional Tennis Magazines
By Paul Fein and Jim Martz
Dear USTA and TIA Leaders:
Thanks to your programs and initiatives, tennis participation throughout the U.S. in 2008 continued its growth on every level. More players (nearly 26.9 million) took to the courts last year than at any time in the past 15 years, according to annual research by the TIA and USTA. Total player participation in 2008 grew by more than 7 percent from the previous year, continuing a trend that has shown a nearly 12 percent increase since 2003.
Unfortunately, while the number of players has increased, the number of regional tennis magazines serving them has not. Like newspapers throughout America, regional tennis publications are struggling to survive amid declining ad revenues and increasing operating costs. Several, such as Northeast Tennis Magazine, Tennis Midwest and Play Tennis Florida, have already died. Some have suspended publication, such as Sun Tennis Magazine. Tennis Week discontinued printed editions and appears online only.
The survivors are reducing staff, assignments and payment to contributors, pages and frequency of publication. USTA Magazine, for example, which at one point was published 12 times a year, now has only four smaller issues a year, offering minimal local and state coverage. It carries occasional 8-page inserts for the New England, Southern and Eastern sections.
The rapid decline and possible extinction of regional tennis magazines would be a great loss to American tennis.
Why? Because only these magazines cover tennis players, officials, events, issues and trends in their respective states, sections or regions with depth and breadth as well as skill and passion. To increase participation and retain players, tennis must do it on the local level, and that’s exactly what these sharply focused magazines do.
As a key part of the “tennis infrastructure,” they run stories that bigger national magazines won’t run. And they promote programs on a much more personal, grassroots level. In short, they help bring in players, and they keep current players “engaged.”
Moreover, regional tennis magazines typically are the most effective and economical way for local tennis shops and facilities to advertise and stay in business. And national advertisers can place co-op ads in regional magazines listing local shops that carry their products.
“The real leaders, the real heroes of tennis are at its grassroots,” former USTA President Alan Schwartz wrote in the January/February 2005 USTA Magazine. “This sport, this association, evolves from the ground up.” Regional tennis magazines have chronicled these grassroots tennis heroes and their vital work since the 1970s.
Tennis Hall of Famer Bud Collins once pointed out that if it weren’t for the tennis media (writers, broadcasters, PR people and photographers), no one would even know about pro tennis players. Bud’s powerful point applies even more to amateur tennis.
Millions of players, their families, volunteers and fans are involved in recreational tennis, high school and college tennis, sectional tournaments and more. The most effective way to publicize these areas is through regional magazines. This medium becomes more vital than ever because tennis coverage in daily newspapers is steadily decreasing.
The rush to digital media to spread the grassroots tennis message through e-newsletters may save money in the short term, but it’s not the ideal vehicle for many audiences in the long term. Think about it. We are inundated by junk e-mail, and we often delete e-newsletters without even looking at them, or we simply let them get buried in our overloaded inbox. An e-newsletter is a one-shot deal, and then it’s lost. The permanence of a printed magazine that you first glance at, then read and re-read and often keep for months far surpasses an ephemeral e-newsletter.
We urge the USTA, with its $190 million annual budget, and the TIA to assist regional tennis magazines, both USTA-affiliated sectional publications and those unaffiliated magazines. Here are some suggestions:
- Outright grants of $15,000 to $25,000 each, depending on the need.
- Full-page advertisements at reasonable, reduced rates promoting USTA events, such as Davis Cup and Fed Cup and USTA Pro Circuit tournaments.
- High-quality inserts promoting the US Open Series, US Open tickets, USTA Membership Days at pro tournaments, National Tennis Month, Tennis Welcome Centers, QuickStart Tennis, USTA books, videos and attire, and other USTA programs, projects and products.
Your visionary strategies have made tennis the fastest-growing participation sport (among 40 researched) since 2000, and the success of grassroots tennis depends on many dedicated and enlightened people and organizations continuing to work closely. Therefore, we urge you to address this crisis with reason and prudence. If the USTA and TIA act now, you can help save regional tennis magazines in America before it’s too late.
Paul Fein, a recipient of 25 writing awards, is a USPTA teaching pro, former top 10-ranked New England player, and lifetime USTA member. Florida Tennis founder and publisher-editor Jim Martz won the USTA’s national Media Excellence Award, is a vice president of the U.S. Tennis Writers’ Association and formerly was the tennis writer for the Miami Herald for 18 years.