Do the Math
For facilities, retailers, court builders and teaching pros, getting on board with the 10 and Under Tennis Initiative can add up to big profits for your business.
Mary Helen Sprecher and Peter Francesconi
You’ve heard and read about how shorter courts, softer balls and smaller racquets can translate into bigger numbers of kids learning — and sticking with — tennis. But maybe you’re still on the fence about whether to dedicate part of your business to 10 and Under Tennis.
Considering the rough economic patch we’ve been through, who can blame you for being cautious? But here’s a good reason not to hold back: Whether you’re a facility manager, teaching pro, retailer or court builder, the new teaching formats and programming for kids 10 and under, the equipment that they require, and the shorter courts they play on can boost your bottom line.
And it’s not just hypothetical. Across the board, industry members are talking about the way 10 and Under Tennis has increased their income and made their businesses grow. And by business, we mean all kinds of business.
Some quick background: 10 and Under Tennis uses the QuickStart Tennis play format to introduce kids to the game. Balls are easier to hit because they are lower in compression, so they bounce lower and don’t move as fast, allowing kids time to reach them, which helps them develop proper swing patterns. Racquets are smaller, sized to smaller hands, allowing kids to use proper grips and swings. Courts are smaller, either 36- or 60-feet long, so it’s easier for kids to cover the court. All of this means kids have more fun and less frustration. In fact, within an hour kids are rallying and having fun — and they’re playing real tennis, right from the start.
Both the ITF and the USTA voted to change the rules for kids 10 and under. Starting in 2012, tournament play for this age group must be on smaller courts, with lower bouncing, slower moving balls and lighter, shorter racquets.
What does this mean for you? Well, there is some real oomph behind this 10 and Under Tennis initiative. In fact, the USTA has invested heavily throughout the U.S. to bring tennis to kids — among other things, providing big bucks for national advertising, marketing and promotion campaigns, providing grants for 10 and under programs, and helping to subsidize lining shorter courts. So, no matter what you do in this industry, all this support can mean big things for your business, too. But you need to get involved in 10 and Under Tennis.
Facilities: Facilitating Growth in the Game
Tennis facility owners and managers have seen the 10 and Under Tennis initiative bring in new players, and more players on court translates into more income.
“It’s simple math,” says Ajay Pant, national director of racquet sports for Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester, N.Y. “If you currently have four kids on a court and they’re paying $10, that’s $40 coming in. With 10 and Under Tennis, you could have maybe 10 kids on a court, so now you’re bringing in $100. If I ask a club owner, ‘Would you like to make more money?’ they always say yes. I can’t imagine anyone in this business not wanting to do that.”
And it is simple math: A typical 78-foot tennis court can fit four 36-foot courts on it. So, if you have four kids playing on each smaller court, you’re putting 16 kids on one regular size court — how much easier can it get to double, triple, quadruple your revenue per court?
Bringing in more players also tends to have a cumulative effect, according to officials at Centercourt Athletic Club in Chatham, N.J. “The format works so well that kids want to play more tennis,” says Clay Bibbee, managing director. Bibbee and Jeff Rothstein, Centercourt’s senior director of player development and high performance, have seen more children moving through the club, starting with 10 and Under Tennis clinics and going into group and private lessons and competitive play sessions.
Mike Woody, executive director of the Midland Community Tennis Center in Midland, Mich., says his organization has experienced measureable mathematical outcomes.
“This has increased our court utilization,” says Woody. “We are a mature organization and our court usage is up 10 percent this year. That kind of number is huge, especially when you consider that in years past we celebrated when we had 1 to 2 percent increases. It’s up because we have kids now playing on courts that we would have considered dormant. Our lesson revenue is up; in fact, we’re up $50,000 in revenue over last year.”
But it’s not just kids’ play that has increased, either. Facilities are seeing growth across the board because the new format means kids go home talking about tennis. Parents who have never played get interested enough to take lessons. If they’ve had a hiatus from the game, it brings them back.
“Adult leagues definitely benefited from 10 and Under Tennis programs because tennis is a family sport, and the parents want to keep up,” says Jorge Andrew, director of operations at the Lexington Tennis Complex in Lexington, S.C. “There’s no doubt about it; this has made a tremendous difference.”
Lexington is reaping the benefits of increased participation. A new tennis complex is almost finished, and 12 of the 23 full-size courts will be lined for 10U play. In addition, there will be seven designated 10 and Under Tennis courts.
Teaching Pros: More Lesson Income
Tennis pros have been endorsing 10 and Under Tennis programming as a way to get kids excited about the sport. What gets teaching pros excited, though, is the income potential.
“It certainly can increase the revenue you can generate,” says Mike Lissner, senior tennis pro with the Columbia Association in Columbia, Md. “You can have two pros working with six kids each and they’re playing competitively. I used to say the physics of the game was beyond little kids; now they’re actually playing, which means they’re happy.”
The lesson income can be even better, says Simon Gale, director of tennis at Yonkers Tennis Center in Yonkers, N.Y, if experienced pros use the learning experience to teach incoming instructors as well. “If you have a strong pro on one side and a college kid who wants to work in the club and can put in afternoons with you, you can have more kids on the court, and you can make money on that court, and it’s cheaper for you by about 25 percent,” says Gale. “Say they put in 20 hours a week — that really saves money over the course of the season. You’re making money and you’re saving money. Why would anyone not look at investing in this program?”
Providing incentive for children to stay in the program has built business for Mike Vetter, tennis pro at Elite Sports Club in Milwaukee. “We tell kids while they’re learning, ‘OK, in a few weeks, we’re going to have a tournament, so let’s practice our serves.’ The next week, it’s ‘Don’t forget, the tournament is coming, so let’s practice backhands.’ We give them take-home tennis, rather than having a lesson and leaving. Then they’re going out and telling their friends, ‘I’m going to play in a tournament,’ so they’re walking billboards for us. Their friends want to do it too. If you multiply all those kids, the economic impact is very good.”
At Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago, “Business is booming,” says Leah Friedman, director of the junior development program. “We have over 580 kids. We are always sold out, and I’m always trying to figure out ways to put more kids in.”
The secret of the program’s success, says Friedman, “is that kids are always playing, they’re always active. They’re engaged because they’re keeping score and having a great time.”
Kids who have to wait to hit balls, pros add, generally get bored and start goofing off. “If kids have a choice between a video game and standing around being bored,” says Pant, “well, guess what? They’d rather be playing that game where they’re on Mars shooting at aliens. But get them playing and they’re having a great time and they want to come back. Suddenly, more courts are being used, there’s more membership, and it just drives home the point: This makes money.”
Court Contractors: Building Business
The growth of 10 and under programming is being felt, literally, from the ground up. Court builders who promote adding 36- and 60-foot court lines to facilities find themselves in demand. “Not only do you gain additional revenue, but also you strengthen your relationship with your client base,” says Bill Osterhold of Signature Tennis Courts Inc. in Woodstock, Ga. “My involvement in this has definitely helped Signature’s business.”
Tom Hinding of Hinding Tennis Courts in West Haven, Conn., is even more direct: “If you’re not involved with 10 and Under Tennis, then from a marketing standpoint, you’re really missing the boat. I would say about 25 percent of our quotes for tennis projects include lines for shorter courts, and we’re also quoting jobs that include nothing but 10 and Under Tennis lines. Every single club and facility wants blended lines. Sometimes they’re worried someone will complain, but we haven’t had a single complaint.”
In addition, says Hinding, it raises awareness of his company. “We’ve gotten jobs out of places where we just went in to talk about lining shorter courts. It’s definitely boosted our revenue.” Hinding actively markets his 10 and Under Tennis courts on Facebook, posting photos of jobs in progress and at completion, and says that a few new jobs have come out of this method.
Leslie Coatings Inc. of Indianapolis has a business base “of about 90 percent schools and universities,” says David Nielsen, “and we’re seeing the demand. We’ve had quite a few customers, a lot of them high schools, who are anticipating putting on 10 and Under Tennis lines when they recoat.”
The ability of builders to make money on 10 and Under Tennis, says Mark Brogan, who operates Pro-Sport Construction Inc. in Devon, Pa., is limited only by the builder’s willingness to embrace it. Lining courts comes at a minimal cost, but pays off later.
“On average, I think, people are charging maybe $350 to $375 to line courts. That’s not much, but it leads to more work later because people remember you when they want something else done. We made up a brochure about 10 and Under Tennis and sent it out to a lot of our clients and we’ve seen a really good return.”
Brogan, who serves on the board of directors of the American Sports Builders Association as the group’s tennis division president, actively encourages other members of the industry to incorporate the new format into their business.
“10 and Under Tennis is here, and people need to realize what an important part of the industry it is,” he says. “It’s not just here today, it’s going to be here down the road, and it’s going to create more players. More players use more courts. How hard is that kind of math?”
Retailers: Short- and Long-Term Business
It’s simple: As more and more 10 and under kids start playing tennis, the opportunities to sell the proper equipment to them will grow. So retailers can realize some nice gains by stocking the shorter racquets and lower compression balls these kids will need — and that are now mandated in the rules. And importantly, as kids continue to grow, they’ll need to move up to bigger frames, so you’ll be ensuring repeat business, too. Plus, don’t forget, it’s the parents who will be in your store paying for this equipment — you have an excellent chance to supply their tennis equipment, apparel and footwear needs, too.
“We’re very upfront about the fact that for kids playing 10 and Under Tennis, they need the right equipment,” says Bruce Levine, the general manager of Courtside Racquet Club in Lebanon, N.J. “We do sell youth racquets in all sizes, and the red, yellow and green tennis balls. And we run junior tournaments, so with the rule changes, it essentially forces parents to buy the right size equipment for their kids if they want to participate. In fact, just this past weekend we had a small junior tourney, and our shop sold a couple of shorter racquets to participants.”
Retailers also can benefit from free resources available from the Tennis Industry Association to help them sell 10 and Under Tennis equipment and promote the initiative in their store. “By registering your retail business at TennisIndustry.org/Retail, you’ll receive a free 10 and Under Tennis Retailer Kit that includes access to marketing and promotional materials,” says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. The TIA, she adds, is helping to lead the effort in supporting retailers in the 10 and Under Tennis initiative.
In addition, retailers who make a commitment to carrying 10 and Under Tennis equipment will be listed on the 10andUnderTennis.com “Retail Locator,” provided they meet certain requirements. (More information on this is at TennisIndustry.org/Retail.) “This will help consumers find your store to buy racquets and balls,” de Boer says.
The key for retailers, though, is in the “connections.” For instance, if a nearby facility or club or park is running 10U programming, the young participants will need the right equipment. So connect up with those facilities and sell to their players.
“I think the sale of 10 and under equipment will surge in the near future,” Levine says. “And it can make life very good for us. Kids just can’t play in a tourney with an adult-size racquet. They need the right fit, so to some degree, as a retailer you have an easy time with it.”
For more on 10 and Under Tennis and how you can get involved — and boost your business — visit 10andUnderTennis.com or TennisIndustry.org/Retail.