Tennis Industry magazine

 

Tennis Research: State of the Industry

The latest research from the TIA holds clues to how you may want to conduct business.

By Ryan Melton

Each year, the Tennis Industry Association conducts more than 70 research surveys and studies to provide the industry with market intelligence to make the most informed business decisions possible. The key document of the TIA’s research is its annual “State of the Industry” report — a narrative of the industry for the previous year that highlights much of the TIA’s research and can provide insights into what’s happening in all segments of the tennis business.

Here’s an outline of some of the data contained in the 2014 edition of the State of the Industry, and what it can mean for your business.

Key Stat #1: The Tennis Economy in 2013 Was Flat at $5.55 billion

Last year the tennis industry saw very little movement in its total “value” to the overall U.S. economy, indicating a flat year for the industry as a whole. Being “flat” isn’t necessarily bad in today’s economy, since many industries are seeing declines. But in many segments, to get ahead, you need to take a bigger slice of the pie.

What this means for your business …

You need to generate a competitive advantage, so, depending on your market segment, think product innovation, programming innovation, customer service, etc. And make sure you market that advantage in a way that draws a response. Focus on what makes your business, products, or services unique and relay this message to consumers. For instance, you may be a facility with certified tennis pros who have received national accolades. Put this in your marketing messages. These advantages can help you grow your business.

Key Stat #2: Tennis Participation Grew 4%, and Millions More Are Interested in Tennis

The growth in participation over 2012 is a positive sign that initiatives to grow the sport — such as Youth Tennis, Cardio Tennis, PlayTennis.com, and more — are taking hold. In addition, research indicates a pool of over 15 million consumers who haven’t played tennis, but are interested in the sport!

What this means for your business …

The great news is that tennis participation is growing — tennis is a top-10 sport in total participant growth in 2013. The not-so-great news is that it is often a challenge to get new and current players to spend money.

That said, a growth in participation has direct implications on all facets of the industry. Facilities can see more play and increased revenue, retailers may see more foot traffic and sales, manufacturers may sell more product, and teaching pros may be giving more lessons. The most important factor to consider with this growth is retention! In whatever way your business can, it should focus some of its efforts on retaining this new business.

For facilities, research shows 65% of beginners who start in a structured program continue with tennis. Focus on developing these beginner programs.

For retailers, find innovative ways to create repeat customers, maybe by offering a free can of balls with their first purchase, or a discounted price on their first restring job with your business, or a “frequent restringing” program.

For tennis pros, participate in trade-based initiatives such as Try Tennis Free, Free Play Days, and more that bring these new players to your door and give you an opportunity to convert them to lifelong customers.

The latent demand of 15 million players is “low-hanging fruit.” Take advantage of the opportunity to grab these consumers with the various industry-supported grassroots efforts.

Key Stat #3: Frequent Players Grew 5%, But They Are Aging

Frequent players (those playing at least 21 times year) are the “core” of this industry. They play the most tennis and spend the most money, more than 70% of annual consumer dollars spent on tennis. The great news is the total number of frequent players grew 5% in 2013! But, frequent players aren’t spending as much as they used to. Consumer discretionary dollars are down and consumer confidence continues to fluctuate.

Another concern: Frequent players are aging. Nearly 44% of all frequent players are now over age 45.

What this means for your business…

Frequent play is up, which normally spells more revenue generation in all channels. But in 2013, consumers just didn’t seem willing to let go of their cash.

For tennis providers (including facilities, pros and retailers), loyalty programs or frequent guest/customer programs may help loosen the wallets of frequent players, grow your player base, and increase your business. If you run a member-driven club, consider a points program where every dollar spent earns points toward items in the pro shop, discounted court fees, or food and beverage. Retailers can do the same with restringing programs and low cost product.

The aging frequent player base should be a concern. Tennis providers should not only be on board with programs to boost youth play, but also should think about how Gen Y and Millennials interact with one another and businesses. These generational cohorts have grown up in a society of social and “on demand,” with shorter attention spans. They expect immediate responses. For tennis facilities, that may mean taking your court booking online, and marketing via social and digital channels. For retailers it means merchandising for this generation and having a web/mobile presence. The more visual appeal you can create in your retail environment, the more likely you’ll make a sale to the “younger crowd.”

Key Stat #4: Time & Partner Availability Drive Tennis Play Habits

We live in a world where time is limited. When asked why they played more or less tennis in 2013, the recurring themes among tennis players were "time" and "having someone to play with."

What this means for your business…

For facilities there are several implications. One is programming — consider programming that can be done quickly (within an hour, such as Cardio Tennis) and scheduled at times that may be on the way to or from your members/consumers normal daily routines (i.e. in the morning before or in the afternoon after work). Secondly, think about how you package your court time. Have you considered any other time increments, which may not only help reduce individual fees but increase volume and available time on the court sheet?

For facilities and retailers, become a go-to source of matchmaking for your customers. You see a variety of people on a daily basis and you not only get to know their playing style, but also their personalities. Consider recommending suitable playing partners. Down the road, they may both thank you with more play and more purchases.

For tennis pros, think about how you sell your clinics and lessons. Maybe it’s time the hour-long lesson is cut into multiple 30-minute sessions, or maybe even 20-minute "tune-ups." Consider other innovative ways to address the time and partner availability issues.

Key Stat #5: Youth Tennis Participation Was Up 5%

Five percent more kids aged 6 to 12 took to the courts in 2013, a sign that the industry’s collaborative efforts to grow this segment are taking hold.

What this means for your business…

If you’ve been reluctant to get on board with the Youth Tennis initiative, let the research evidence speak for itself. Not only is participation up, but the sale of red, orange, and green balls are up 375% since 2008, and more than 10,000 shorter courts have been built or lined in the past five years.

For facilities, it may be time to consider adding 36- and 60-foot courts or lines, if you haven’t done so already. From a staffing perspective, more tennis providers are adding roles specifically for Youth Tennis coordinators.

Retailers can become experts in the Youth Tennis category from both a products and program knowledge perspective, recommending the appropriate equipment to parents and their kids and helping to establish a rapport with your customers that could lead to long-term business. Retailers and facilities can work together on cooperative marketing campaigns to get more kids on the courts, such as a discount on product and/or lessons for a kid’s first trip to the courts or a retail store.

For court contractors, more youth players mean more opportunity for court lining and short-court construction.

Key Stat #6: Pro/Specialty Racquet Sales Were Down 5.6%

The competitive landscape of tennis retail is continuously evolving. It’s a simple fact that more consumers are buying online, "showrooming" is still a concern, and specialty retail is becoming more challenging.

What this means for your business…

In today’s marketplace, a tennis business with no online presence has little chance of being competitive. Make sure you have an online presence with a website, and you’re active on social media, too. You need to engage with today’s consumers. While your business may not conduct "commerce" online, having a presence where consumers can find out information about your store, the products you carry and the services you offer is a necessity.

Another key factor is equipping yourself with product knowledge. Learn as much as you can about the products you’re selling so consumers see you as the "go-to" source. Yes, they may be able to find it online, but often there’s nothing like human interaction when purchasing these types of products. And while it may be tough to do in some cases, try to price-match or offer some type of consumer incentives.

Key Stat #7: It Was ‘Status Quo’ for Teaching Pros in 2013

In 2013, teaching pros rated the "current state" of the teaching pro industry just above average, which is very similar to the responses received since the survey was first conducted in 2010. Sentiment for 2014 is fairly evenly split with half of all teaching pros expecting increased business and the other half expecting business to stay the same as 2013.

What this means for your business…

Surveys of pros’ current outlook on the industry and their future business tends to indicate there isn’t a ton of new excitement in how teaching pros feel. Finding ways to keep yourself or your staff pros motivated will play an important part in your business. When was the last time you looked at your pros’ compensation packages? Has your facility been successful in the past several years? Are you rewarding the staff or finding ways to highlight good performance?

Key Stat #8: League Play Was Flat, Tournament Play Was Down

With consumers’ discretionary time limited, it is no surprise to see a somewhat waning interest in the typically structured league play and adult tournaments. On the other hand, World TeamTennis league participation was up nearly 9% as consumers continue to gravitate to more "group"-focused activities that take place in fun environments.

What this means for your business…

Expect to see more "independent" leagues and groups on the courts, as they typically allow for more flexible match scheduling and rules as compared to traditional league formats. Being a part of a team seems to be helping drive growth in World TeamTennis rec leagues. Create communities around your facility and programming where consumers feel like they are part of something greater!

Key Stat #9: Viewership of Tennis on TV Declined in 2013

Tennis viewership was down 22% in 2013, definitely a concerning trend. But, keep in mind the way content is being consumed by today’s consumers. Live streaming continues to grow and more and more households are dropping cable altogether and replacing it with other alternatives such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more.

Despite the decline in TV viewership, interest in the nation’s major championship continues to remain high with more than 700,000 fans attending last year’s US Open. Consumption of US Open content digitally was up 53% in 2013 compared to 2012.

What this means for your business …

For certain parts of the industry, these stats could mean a fundamental shift in how you reach consumers, but only time will tell. For the pro tours it can mean a redevelopment in how they deliver content and how they engage the tennis consumer. For retailers and facilities, it may be beneficial to capitalize on the excitement of the US Open by running your own concurrent promotions.

A copy of the full TIA State of the Industry is available to Industry Members of the association and above. To learn more about membership and to join, visit TennisIndustry.org/membership. For questions about TIA research, email research@tennisindustry.org.

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About the Author

Ryan Melton  is the Project Coordinator for the Tennis Industry Association in Hilton Head Island, S.C., in charge of the coordination, management, and development of the Careers In Tennis (CareersInTennis.com) initiative, among other projects. He graduated top of his class from Francis Marion University in 2009 with a BBA in Management.

 

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