Our Serve: Facing the Challenges, Together
Let me get this out of the way: All is not rosy in the tennis industry. We have challenges to address and to overcome. But before you think this is all gloom-and-doom (and really, have I ever been a gloom-and-doom person?), let me say that these challenges are, in many ways, being addressed. What’s important, too, is how they’re being addressed — we’re addressing it as an industry, unified in working to grow the game for everyone who has a stake in it.
And that’s one of the unique things about the tennis industry. Tom Cove, the executive director of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (formerly the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association), has for many years praised the tennis industry for how it comes together to grow the game for the good of everyone, and how that sort of unity is simply not seen in other sports industries.
This collaboration, led by the Tennis Industry Association, is something we need to celebrate and take greater advantage of, because when one segment in tennis comes up against a challenge, it will affect other areas of the sport. And what are some of the challenges this industry is facing?
For one, racquet sales are down at specialty stores. The tough economy in recent years has also taken its toll on the number of tennis specialty retailers in the U.S., and we don’t want to lose more of them.
Another concern: USTA membership has been declining. In fairness, many membership-based organizations are also experiencing declines, but still, this is something we all should be concerned about. USTA members are core players and fans — losing them is not a good thing. (On the positive side, both overall tennis participation and frequent tennis player participation have increased.)
We’ve also lost pro tournaments in this country, and that’s a bad sign for the visibility of this sport. And, while it’s terrific that ESPN stepped up with an 11-year, $825 million deal to televise the US Open, America’s Grand Slam will now only be on cable, not a broadcast network. What will that mean for mainstream viewers? How will it impact tennis’ visibility? (A writer from Business Insider said by moving away from CBS, “It has become clear that tennis is no longer big enough for network television.” Ouch.)
Also, in some corners, 10 and Under Tennis is still running up against resistance, which is odd because it seems pretty clear — at least to most people concerned with growing the sport and the business — that getting more kids playing tennis the right way, at an earlier age, will right off the bat grow the base of players, increase participation, help sell more equipment, court time and lessons, and basically help every segment of the industry.
Of course, there are other challenges, too, but I’m convinced we will get through these, and we’ll do it as a unified industry built on collaboration. 10 and Under Tennis has that industry-wide collaboration — the USTA, PTR and USPTA are together in developing a youth tennis coaching curriculum. PlayTennis.com also has that industry-wide collaboration, and this unique website promises to bring people into the sport.
Working together, supporting each other, is the pathway to growing tennis.
Peter Francesconi, Editorial Director
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About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.