There’s Still Much More Work to Do
The news that overall U.S. tennis participation — for the first time in more than 20 years — surpassed 30 million players in 2009 was rightfully hailed as a major achievement for the sport. Amid all the celebrating and slaps on the back, however, I think we all need to be reminded that this sport is far from in excellent shape. In fact, you — as retailers, teaching pros, and facility managers — know this better than anyone.
Not only have equipment sales been flagging, but perhaps more troubling — and probably something you have not yet heard about, is that the same survey that tells us participation is at 30.1 million also says the number of frequent players has declined, as have total play occasions. Companies aren’t advertising their tennis products and are cutting staff, retailers are going out of business, facilities and some schools are cutting back on programs, sponsors are pulling out of pro tournaments.
Now, I’m not trying to throw a wet blanket on this good news — 30 million, a 12 percent increase from 2008, really is terrific. I remember when former USTA President Alan Schwartz set that goal. In 2004, tennis had 24 million players, and many people thought Alan’s goal, with the catchy phrase “30 by 2010,” could never be reached.
But thanks to the groundwork that he laid, both during and after his presidency, along with his “let’s all work together for the good of the sport” attitude — which continues today — we all helped make this happen. Clearly Alan, who was inducted into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame this past September, deserves a huge thank-you from all of us in this industry. “You have my promise,” Alan said in his TI Hall of Fame acceptance speech, “that I will continue with undiminished passion to give back to this game I love so much.”
Now, the trick is to translate this excellent overall participation news to all the other segments of this business. How do we do that? I’m not sure any one person has the answer. But I do know one person who may well have some great ideas that can go a long way to finding solutions.
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About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.