Tennis Industry magazine


Your Serve: Taking a Wrong Turn?

The sports travel market is booming, so why doesn’t tennis appear to be pursuing this avenue for growth?

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Tennis wants to grow. Tennis wants more visibility. So why is tennis not trying to raise its profile in the only booming market that combines sports and leisure: the sports travel industry?

I recently attended the annual symposium of the National Association of Sports Commissions. NASC is the organization that serves the sports tourism industry. Its members include host organizations — sports commissions as well as convention & visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce — the people whose job it is to attract sports events like state, regional and national tournaments to their area.

Another segment of the sports market, and of the membership of NASC, is events rights holders. These are organizations like national governing bodies, tournament directors and others who make the location decisions for their events.

The networking aspect of the NASC symposium works almost like speed dating. Events rights holders have booths at the trade show. Host organizations can arrange various 15-minute meetings with whichever NGBs, tournament organizers or event owners they’re interested in. The host organizations then spend that time letting the event owners know about the great things their area has to offer. This might include information on their current facilities, plans for expanding or building facilities, and more.

For example, say you’re in charge of a youth basketball tournament. There’s simply no better way for you to find out about the various cities with great basketball facilities than to sit at your booth and get visit after visit from representatives of various locations who all want to host your next event. It’s just as great for the host organizations because it helps them keep tabs on what the various sports are going to be doing nationwide in the next few years, and how they can be part of the action.

It’s a great confluence of sports and the people who want to host those sports. So why wasn’t there a booth with anyone representing the sport of tennis?

That’s right. Tennis was M.I.A.

Not like anyone noticed, though, given the competition. USA Lacrosse was there. Remember lacrosse? It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and tennis coaches are complaining it’s pulling away a lot of the kids who might otherwise be hitting the courts in the spring.

Want to know who else was there? Two other great racquet sports, USA Badminton and USA Racquetball. Obstacle racing organizations, a form of exercise making explosive surges in popularity, were also present, as were organizations representing bowling, fishing, synchronized swimming, soccer, softball, baseball, martial arts, senior games, volleyball, bicycling and a whole lot more. Lots of things people enjoy were there.

But no tennis. At a great place to be, and at a time when there are new player initiatives for kids, and grant programs to improve tennis facilities, and even build new ones, tennis was nowhere to be seen. As a member of the racquet sports industry, I was actually embarrassed.

So the question becomes: Why the absence? My biggest worry is that tennis thinks it already knows where all the facilities are, and what the events are, and doesn’t feel the need to make any additional outreach.

I hope that’s not the case. Because if it is, wow. That would be a pretty elitist, not to mention self-defeating, attitude. Especially at a time when tennis currently has so many great programs that host organizations would love to learn about (and just as important, given the number of other sports that were there, ready to do business).

The sports travel market, as I mentioned, is burgeoning. It’s being called “the recession-proof industry.” At a time when people are cutting back their budgets and denying themselves little luxuries, they’re still willing to spend money to send their kids to tournaments in other states, or to travel to participate in events themselves. (In fact, the term, “destination marathon” is a product of the sports travel industry.)

Sports tourism is good for the economy. It brings groups of athletes and their families into cities. Those groups stay at hotels, eat in restaurants and shop in local stores. They often get media attention, they’re fantastic ambassadors for their sports, and the cities welcome their business. In fact, according to a New York Times report, in 2010, American families spent an estimated $7 billion traveling with their children to youth sports tournaments.

So, again — why doesn’t tennis appear to be pursuing this one avenue for growth? It seems at a time when tennis runs the risk of being supplanted by other sports, that this would be a right-place/right-time scenario to build business.

Unless, of course, tennis still expects the business to come to it.

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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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