Filling ‘Dead’ Court Time
By Denny Schackter
Tennis facilities face many issues every day. One of the most serious and costly is the inability to fill unused court time. Most experts in the industry will tell you that the most difficult time to fill is the period from noon to 3 p.m.
For many years I worked as a territory manager for Wilson Racquet Sports and saw, firsthand, the many difficulties decision-makers face trying to maximize dollars. Recently, I canvassed facility directors, teaching pros and club owners to hear their thoughts on the successes and failures of filling that difficult 12-3 p.m. court time.
One thing that nearly every facility manager or pro told me is that the 10-and-under tennis initiative, using the QuickStart Tennis play format with age-appropriate equipment and smaller courts, is a nice stimulus for unused court time. Here’s what else the professionals said worked in their environment, and what came up short.
Baseline Tennis, suburban Detroit, MI
Baseline Tennis offers a daytime-only membership, half-price court time for walk-ins, and a senior round-robin twice a month at a very low price, with prizes. Graff says the program itself loses money at the get-go, but because players meet other players and have a positive experience at the club, there is increased play and then players mix in with other club offerings, so in the final analysis, the club makes out in the whole deal.
National Tennis Director, Midtown/TCA Clubs
Midtown offers a “Breakfast at the Club” or “Lunch at the Club,” followed by tennis to fill hours. He utilizes the courts as a rental opportunity for colleges and high school programs. Pant has used incentives such as higher pay for teaching pros to create more private-lesson revenue during dead time and also offer members a lower court rate in conjunction with the lessons to create more play and/or lessons.
Lake Country Racquet Club, Hartland, WI
Saxe has long been an advocate of “Tennis 1, 2, 3” for non-members, who receive eight one-hour lessons for $120. The club offers a total of three eight-lesson sessions, and these programs have become the backbone of Lake Country’s 2.0 to 2.5 USTA League structure. Private lessons at this time have not worked well, as Saxe found that those who can afford privates want to take them according to their schedule, not the club’s.
Randy Stolpe/Rick Vetter
Elite Clubs, Milwaukee, WI
Stolpe and Vetter have created some interesting options for their facilities. They ran a “Senior Camp” from noon to 2 p.m., charged $20 per head and had 15 men and women on a constant basis. Cardio Tennis, a strong performer in tennis clubs, is a mainstay of their court time. They also had good success with a 1-2:30 p.m. women’s league that allows nonworking moms to pick up their children right on time after school.
Binghamton Tennis Center, Binghamton, NY
Stark has found that private lessons, Cardio Tennis and “stroke of the week” clinics have done well during the noon to 3 p.m. time slot. He’s also found a good market in catering to students in his area who are home-schooled.
The Racquet Club, Columbus, OH
Hendrix also has successfully cultivated the home-school student market to help fill his club’s early afternoon court time. Something unique that Hendrix mentioned is that he works with his club’s database and finds out who among the members works at home, then he brings those people to the club during the slow times.
Laurel Hill Swim & Tennis, Toledo, OH
Several colleges rent courts from Laurel Hill Swim & Tennis, which helps during the slow parts of the day. Faber also has had a degree of success with a lunchtime doubles program. Bringing in sandwiches from a local sub shop helps to build a nice relationship with local eateries, too.
Pleasant Valley Tennis Club, West Bend, WI
Gambucci promotes a “floating singles” for women members. Since scheduling women’s events can be difficult, he takes the total group, divides them up in parallel abilities and has them play a round robin within their group on their own. The women schedule their own court time, but the club tells them of available times and thus able to fill times that would be difficult to sell. Gambucci also has done the same format with men’s singles and doubles. And the USTA has Flex Leagues like this as well. With everyone’s busy schedules, this type of flexibility can be important for a club.
Cherokee Golf & Tennis, Madison, WI
Cherokee offered nonmembers a 10-week program for $280, with a choice of times weekdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays after 4:30 p.m. Cherokee has court times for one hour and 15 minutes instead of the normal one hour. The players prepaid for the 10 weeks of their choice but often wanted the same privileges as members, and these demands caused some consternation among the staff. But Chorney says the club grossed nearly $13,000 from the program!
A Final Thought
You might also try utilizing members who wish to promote their businesses. In this way, tennis facilities can give back to their loyal members. If you cultivate the right atmosphere at your club, members will attend events that promote fellow members’ businesses. Then, they can pick up some court time afterwards. Personally, I would go to my facility to hear about nutrition, personal training, current trends in travel, etc., and have interaction with tennis friends.
Good club owners pay it forward to their members and thereby ensure excellent customer relations.
Do you have ideas on how to use “dead court time” at your facility? Send us what has worked or hasn’t worked for you. Email email@example.com, put “dead court time” in the subject line.
Denny Schackter is a retired territory manager for Wilson Racquet Sports who still does some tennis teaching. He’s an active volunteer for the USTA Midwest Section and a member of the national USTA Tennis on Campus Committee. He directs his own company, Tennis Priorities (tennispriorities.com), to bring young people into the tennis teaching business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.