Tennis Industry magazine

 

Pioneers in Tennis: Jim Baugh

Passion, Creativity and Recreational Players

By Mary Helen Sprecher

The name is synonymous with a passion for tennis and for growing this sport at the grassroots. Jim Baugh — a former phys ed teacher, tennis and sports equipment manufacturing executive, USTA board member and TIA president — has, for decades, had such an intense feeling for tennis that many of his ideas and concepts are still helping to grow this sport.

Baugh has always said it’s not about one brand or organization. "Everyone needs to be focused on tennis — the brand, the concept of T-E-N-N-I-S," he says. "We have to be thinking of the sport itself." And the closest part of that focus, he adds, needs to be where it all begins — with beginners: people who want to learn to play for fun and fitness.

"Trial isn’t the issue for this sport; retention is. It’s the retention of those 4 to 5 million people who try the sport. You have to engage them, and you have to find them people to play with. You have to be doing things in the trenches."

10 and Under Tennis? Baugh is all in favor of those numbers, but he’d also like to see them inch up a bit. Like, oh, maybe 15 years or so. "Having programs for kids is a great idea, but the entire industry needs to come together with a concrete entry-level adult program, too," he notes. "It’s the low-hanging fruit and it’s being overlooked."

Strong words, but this is a guy who has a strong history in this industry. As vice president of sales and marketing, he helped Prince launch and market the first oversized racquet. Under his guidance, Prince grew from a $6 million to a $60 million company and moved to the top of the racquet world.

Next, as the general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports, he was responsible for explosive growth — from a racquet share of 14 percent to more than 50 percent. As president of Wilson Sporting Goods, he would take that trajectory company-wide, implementing new strategies for global marketing, branding, sales, product development and more for the tennis, golf, team and licensing divisions.

“Jim combined passion, creativity and vision with principled leadership,” says former USTA President Alan Schwartz, who worked closely with Baugh in 2003 and 2004. “Jim also understood and anticipated the fitness craze. To increase tennis’s relevancy, he created Cardio Tennis, a program in which we have over 1,000 participants a month here at Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago.”

Ask Baugh about Cardio Tennis and he’ll be glad to give the statistics: more than 1.5 million participants. But, he adds, there’s plenty of room for more growth. "Cardio Tennis brings in a whole new audience because it has fun and fitness. But it needs to be fueled to explode."

As a member of the Tennis Industry Association and a board member of the USTA, Baugh strove to unite the industry and to grow tennis on the recreational level, which, in turn, resulted in a more profitable industry.

“Without Jim, the TIA as we know it wouldn’t exist,” says Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, who worked closely with Baugh for 10 years. “In the mid-’90s when Jim was running Wilson, industry sales were in decline for several straight years. Jim decided he was tired of fighting for market share in a shrinking market, and that the best way to grow was to grow the ‘brand’ of TENNIS by working together to grow the sport.”

“Jim is a compelling force. He’s tenacious and focused and has always been very intuitive about the tennis market,” says Jolyn de Boer, the TIA’s executive director. “Jim is a true pioneer who championed many successful initiatives to grow the game. While I feel he will always have a ‘soft-spot’ for the TIA, I’m very pleased to see his talent serving the greater good through national health and fitness initiatives he is spearheading to get Americans active.”

Although Baugh has retired from Wilson, he continues his involvement in the sports industry as a board member of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). He also runs Jim Baugh Consulting, serving the sports and leisure industries.

And he continues to press for programs that keep Americans of all ages active. He spearheaded PE4LIFE, a grassroots industry-wide initiative to increase sports and fitness programs in America. He also worked with SGMA to raise $800 million from the Federal Budget for phys ed programs (through the PEP program).

Getting the country’s population more active as a whole is essential, he notes. And so is continuing to reach out to people who don’t play tennis … yet. The potential player base is out there, and Baugh says he looks forward to a day when it finds the game. And he is confident the way to do that is to hone-in on recreational play.

“Jim is a unique individual,” says de Boer, “and we are fortunate to continue to benefit from his focus, dedication and passion for sports.”

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About the Author

Mary Helen Sprecher  is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.

 

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