Meeting Our Challenges
The TIA president says creating frequent players, clear messaging about the sport and boosting retail are keys for tennis going forward.
By Jon Muir
This has obviously been a very challenging year, with the weight of the economy being felt throughout the tennis industry. However we continue to experience a very positive development in total tennis participation — we’ve exceeded 30 million total players in 2009, including a 16% increase in 6- to 11-year-olds and a 20% increase in 12- to 17-year-olds. Tennis continues to be the fastest growing traditional sport in America and this certainly is a positive position to be in compared to many other sports. But in 2009 we also experienced a decline in frequent players (down 3% to 5.4 million) and with the economic realities our industry faces, we must all address common challenges if we are going to be in a healthier economic position and thriving industry in the years ahead.
The mission of the Tennis Industry Association is “to promote the growth and economic vitality of the sport,” and we need to focus the TIA and all industry stakeholders to work toward some common economic goals. While we all support the participation efforts of the USTA, the TIA needs to clearly define how we can further support growth in this industry as a whole, increasing the economic impact for all stakeholders. What are our priorities moving forward that can have a broader positive impact?
Frequent players are the economic lifeblood of our sport and industry. They make up 18% of overall players, yet studies show they purchase 68% of all tennis products and account for 79% of all play occasions, which drive lessons and leagues as well as facilities and membership revenues. Frequent consumers of our sport also drive professional event attendance, media consumption, and even the need for added infrastructure investment in courts and ongoing facility maintenance. We must grow our frequent-player base. If we can increase the number of frequent players from 5.4 million to 10 million by 2020, we will effectively double the size of the tennis economy.
In order to better support new consumers getting onto the pathway of becoming frequent tennis consumers, the TIA is developing a new “PlayTennis” widget, which is a powerful tennis pathway search engine. Any website can display this free widget, which will lead new players as well as re-joining or current players to find local programs, certified tennis pros, QuickStart-related programs, and other information that supports getting players on the pathway to becoming frequent players.
Consistent communication, providing basic facts and figures, and developing key message points that everyone in the industry can share and utilize is essential. The TIA will be consolidating its websites and re-organizing all sites within our primary site (tennisindustry.org) to provide a central site supporting everyone in the industry with statistics, basic research findings, and key message points that can be used by all, including to solicit further non-endemic revenue streams into our industry. We will generate a quarterly e-newsletter that all sales reps, retailers, tennis pros, tennis providers and stakeholders can opt-in to receive to stay current on news and information. We will also shift to this same quarterly update within RSI.
The TIA will still of course serve as the central research source for the industry, but we must expand this beyond manufacturers to better understand the total economic impact of our industry. If we are to thrive in the years ahead, it’s imperative we establish some basic measurements and look at all aspects of the industry — retail, lessons, facilities, events, organizations, and even the economic impact from the tennis media. The true measure of TIA efforts should be seeing the total tennis economic pie growing.
Another step toward evolving the TIA’s push behind a broader impact was the “Racket Up, America!” promotion in 2009. This was a first step to rally the industry with a simple message of getting people playing tennis by driving consumers to buy a new racquet then enter a contest to win a chance to serve for $1 million. We will explore ways to expand the Racket Up, America! promotion in 2010 for broader awareness and a larger impact throughout the industry.
The TIA will continue to work closely with the USTA to support our growing participation base, but we need to evolve our efforts to have a stronger and more direct impact on the number of frequent players/consumers and on ensuring the economic growth for all stakeholders. We must reach out further to all stakeholders and develop additional support areas, tools, and communication efforts that are clear and aligned to our objectives. As another first step, the TIA will focus more efforts in developing a tennis retailer support initiative as well as focusing on communicating the awareness of quality, certified tennis professionals among club owners, managers, and the general playing public. Having a strong delivery and distribution network is of paramount importance if we are going to increase our frequent player and consumer base for the future.
Over the past 10 years of working together, we’ve grown our sport overall and are positioned well — relative to other sports. But we must focus the next decade on dramatically improving the economic health of our industry for all stakeholders, ensuring there are even more frequent-playing consumers of our sport in the years ahead.
See all articles by Jon Muir
About the Author
Jon Muir is general manager at Wilson Racket Sports Worldwide, and President of the Tennis Industry Association.