Our Serve: Living Up To The Mission
Our Champions of Tennis issue in January brought out a number of people and organizations that are doing great things in this sport and for this business. One that I’d like to highlight is USTA Eastern, our Section of the Year.
What the USTA Eastern board of directors did was, in reality, quite simple: It reaffirmed that the section’s mission is “To Promote and Develop the Growth of Tennis.” Simple, clear, direct—and, as the TIA and other industry groups know, incredibly necessary if this industry is to survive and thrive.
But USTA Eastern went much further: “We take as axiomatic that an increase in USTA membership and in USTA program participation is a consequence of and not a cause of the growth of tennis. We believe it to be critical that we devote significant sectional financial and human resources to the game’s growth, without regard to any direct or immediate impact on USTA membership and programs.”
Eastern put overall participation ahead of simply grubbing for more members. They want people to play this game, regardless of whether they’ve paid their dues. They realize that’s the only way this game will grow and more people of all ages can realize the benefits of the sport.
USTA Eastern Executive Director Jill Fonte told me that in adopting this approach, the section is taking some risks, especially since section financial compensation is closely tied to membership and USTA-based programs. But the longer term benefit, for the section and the sport, is building the base of players.
This attitude needs to spread throughout every section. The focus must be on building overall participation, and creating more frequent players. For that, the USTA at every level needs to listen more to what this industry has been trying to tell it for decades. And it needs to live up to its own mission.
I’ve heard that many sections have on hand a rather large surplus of funds (in some cases, millions of dollars)—money they’ve taken in mostly from USTA national. How about these sections unlock some of that funding and put it toward overall tennis participation? Think of the good this money can do throughout the tennis economy.
Right now, the USTA is undergoing a membership crisis, as paid memberships continue to fall. The talk is of freezing current membership-related section compensation for a few years to sort out this mess. Now is the perfect time for the sections to take the initiative and, like USTA Eastern, focus on growing overall participation.
We throw around the mission statement of the USTA frequently, but do we really take it to heart? USTA Eastern does.
Peter Francesconi, Editorial Director
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About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.