State of the Industry: Play by Play
While the latest Participation Survey shows a decline in players over last year, the overall trend is still increasing.
The first thing you notice about the 2010 annual Tennis Participation Survey is a decline in total players and frequent players over the previous year.
At the beginning of 2010, the industry was celebrating 30.13 million total players, the highest level since the TIA began a Participation Survey in 1988. But when you look at the chart for this year (below), it almost appears that the participation number is now “correcting” itself. The 2010 figure for overall participation has slipped to 27.81 million—but that still is the second highest total ever and is 1 million more players than in 2008.
And that is the positive news: The overall trend for tennis participation still is increasing. From 2003—when the first major participation study was undertaken jointly by the TIA and USTA—through 2010, overall tennis participation is up 15.7 percent (despite the 7.7 percent dip from 2009 to 2010).
Also, the participation rate—that is, the percentage of the overall U.S. population that plays tennis—is on an overall upward trend since 2003. As the total population is now more than 292 million, each increase of 1 percent represents an additional 2.92 million players. In the 2010 survey, 9.51 percent of the U.S. population plays tennis, up from 8.74 percent in 2003.
In addition, data released in early March from the Physical Activity Council (PAC) shows that among traditional participation sports, tennis again topped the list with a huge 46% increase from 2000 to 2010, making it by far the fastest growing traditional participation sport in the U.S. for the past decade. The annual PAC study examines sports trends and participation for 117 sports.
In the 2010 TIA/USTA Participation Survey, the decline in total players from 2009 is disappointing. But industry officials agree that the 10 and Under Tennis initiative being promoted by all sectors of the industry can boost participation numbers, as more kids start to play the game, and as their parents rediscover tennis.
Also expected to contribute to an increase in participation is the continued awareness of the health benefits that tennis provides all players, regardless of age. In surveys of players, “health and fitness” continues to be a top reason for playing tennis. For instance, Cardio Tennis is experiencing increased growth domestically and internationally, says the TIA.
And now, the USTA’s 10 and Under Tennis initiative has partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity and give kids the 60 minutes of daily exercise they should have to stay healthy (see page 7).
Frequent Player Concerns
The number of frequent players in the U.S.—those over age 6 playing at least 21 times a year—is flat at best over the last seven years, dipping below 5 million for the first time since 2005 and barely above the 2003 number. In fact, as a percentage of the total population, the frequent player participation rate is slightly below where it was in 2003.
“This does cause some concern, since frequent players are the heart of the tennis market, spending the most on equipment, lessons, court time and more,” says TIA President Jon Muir. “We have to have more people playing tennis more often to keep this industry growing the way it should.”
One big factor that appears to be affecting play, points out Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, is the severity and length of the current down economic cycle, as people put their concerns over their basic needs before recreational tennis play. Another contributing factor might have been prolonged bad weather in key tennis-playing regions of the country.
But also, Kamperman adds, “We have to ask ourselves, are we starting to ‘age out’ in larger numbers? Are we losing players who took up tennis during the first tennis boom in the 1970s?”
With frequent players relatively flat since 2003, the growth in the sport’s participation has come from the infrequent (one to three times a year) and regular (four to 20 times a year) players. Stepping up these groups into the frequent player category is a major goal of the TIA and the industry.
The 10 and Under Tennis initiative is key. “If we look at the best target to create frequent players, it’s the same target that will have the best long-term affect on the industry, and that’s under-10 players,” Kamperman says. “If we can get more kids into the game, not just in lessons and clinics, but actually playing, it will have the biggest long-term economic impact for this sport.”
The overall goal, as Muir has stated, is to see “10 million frequent players by 2020. With all of our industry partners, we can achieve that goal.”
Ball Shipment Data
Historically, ball shipments have tracked with participation levels, and the latest data shows that ball shipments dipped in the last two years, yet the overall trend from 2003 remains up 11 percent, vs. up 15.7 percent for players.
The “balls per player” ratio has consistently been around 5, but the low point in 2009 of 4.25 confirms that the player increase in that year to 30.13 million was among less frequent players, who bought fewer tennis balls, says the TIA.
A TIA Consumer study of more than 2,200 frequent players shows a decline in tournament play and lessons, while recreational tennis and league tennis increased. Industry officials agree that the decline in tournament play and lessons is “totally economic.” In the case of tournaments, for instance, players most likely would have to spend on travel and hotels, whereas league play generally is local, involving less expense.
Like everyone else in this economy, frequent players appear to have cut back on their spending. “As an industry, we want these players to continue to make tennis their priority,” says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. “And this sport offers many reasons to do that.”
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.