Our Serve: Tennis … For Your Life!
To truly grow tennis, we need to emphasize this sport’s best selling tool: health and fitness.
I’m part of the baby-boom generation, growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, when kids were always running around, playing sports, being active, staying healthy. With nearby school fields and courts, my friends, family and I played baseball, football, soccer, basketball and tennis. I know that being active as a youngster has helped me stay healthy throughout my life. Now, tennis is pretty much the only sport I play with any regularity. You’ve all heard it before: Tennis is the sport for a lifetime. It “adds years to your life, and life to your years.” You can — and many people do — play it from nearly cradle to grave.
But this is what perplexes me. All of us know tennis’ health benefits. We know it’s good for body and mind. We know being active will help reduce all sorts of medical ailments, prevent other problems and help you lose weight. We know tennis is something you can do for the rest of your life and will help you live longer and healthier.
Then why aren’t we getting that plain, simple message out to everybody? Why, after all these years, do we not have a cohesive message to the general public about how healthy tennis is for you? Why, when so many people of all ages desperately want — and need — to lose weight and get active, aren’t we collectively pushing tennis to them as their cure?
Yes, there are a lot of individual efforts out there that link health and fitness with tennis, and we’ve all probably been involved in them to some extent. But what’s missing is a single, unified, “umbrella” campaign from all corners of this sport that has one message and goal: to promote tennis as the healthiest sport you can play, for a lifetime.
We’ve been talking “around” this health message for years, but simply not emphasizing it the way we should. We talk about marketing tennis on an emotional level, about how tennis and education programs are important for a child’s development, about how tennis programming is great for socializing both youngsters and adults — yes, all very important.
But, to truly get more people playing this sport, the basic message needs to be: “Tennis can get you healthy and keep you healthy — for the rest of your life.” This overall message is undersold to the general public. (The fact that tennis also is fun, social and affordable is just icing on the cake.)
The basic message of this magazine is to help this industry grow and help tennis providers make money. The way to do that is to get more people playing the sport and buying the equipment, and doing it all more frequently.
Plainly and clearly emphasizing health and fitness is our best selling tool to the vast majority of consumers. It’s a message that will help every segment of this industry and every program in this sport — 10 and Under Tennis, high school and college tennis, adult tennis, leagues, tournaments, lessons, clinics, social play, tennis and education programs. It will resonate with players and non-players and it will elevate the sport overall, and it needs to be front and center for consumers consistently.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Cardio Tennis, because it speaks to what people want and need (and pros and facilities are making money with it). The phenomenal growth CT has had in less than eight years — with virtually no resources behind it — is a testament to the fact that people want something fun that will keep them active and get them fit. But it’s like we’ve already done the market research in the U.S. for the last eight years, yet we still refuse to believe the results. In fact, other countries are quickly embracing Cardio Tennis, realizing they need to emphasize the health aspects of tennis while at the same time growing the sport in their countries.
(One positive exception, although just one piece of what’s needed overall, may be upcoming messaging for the soon-to-be re-launched, industry-supported and TIA-managed site PlayTennis.com, which will likely have a heavy health and fitness slant.)
It’s great that the USTA has become an important part of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. It’s great that individual companies and organizations have devoted some of their time and online real estate to mentioning the health benefits of tennis. And it’s great that individual tennis facilities, pros, CTAs and USTA Sections may push health and fitness as a way to get players. But we need to go much, much further in this country.
Our collective hesitation in pulling together an all-encompassing national message focusing on how great tennis is for health and fitness has meant our sport is ceding ground to other activities, which makes it harder and harder to bring consumers back to tennis. Without a simple, unified, unbranded campaign about how tennis can get people fit and healthy, consumers are led away from the sport.
We can easily find the research and medical experts to back up a tennis and health message — we just have to put it together and make it easy for consumers to understand. We started along this path back when Cardio Tennis was first being introduced, then for some reason things went in different directions.
We need an industry-wide and consumer-wide awareness campaign that provides clear health and fitness-related materials to tennis facilities, retailers, pros, schools, parents, community organizations, doctor’s offices, USTA sections, CTAs, municipalities and more. We need to invest in unbranded “public service announcements” about how tennis is healthy for you. We need to get doctors and other health professionals on advisory boards and advocating for the sport, and we need them to “prescribe” tennis. (I’m sure we all know doctors who are avid players.) Yes, we also need a catchy slogan (the headline above was suggested by a friend — I’d love to hear of any other ideas).
I’m not saying all these other initiatives, programs and campaigns in tennis aren’t important; they surely are. All I’m saying is, we have to use all the tools at our disposal to get more people playing tennis, and the health and fitness benefit of tennis is a huge tool that we’ve never used properly. We need to go “all in.”
Let’s give consumers what they want and need. You have health issues? Want to lose weight? Lower cholesterol? Get in shape? The prescription you need is tennis.
It’s time we got with the program.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.