2015 Tennis Summit: Industry Addresses Major Issues and Concerns
Top tennis and sports executives examined the state of the tennis industry and ways to grow the sport at every level at key conferences in Indian Wells.
The 2015 TIA Tennis Summit, held March 17-18 in conjunction with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, brought together a high-powered lineup of tennis, sports and business executives who shared their insights, issues, and concerns about the sport and discussed how to grow the industry.
Among the speakers at the Summit, held at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa, were TV sports broadcaster Ted Robinson, sports and performance psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Jim Loehr, USTA President and CEO Katrina Adams, Women’s Tennis Association Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster, ATP Tour Vice President of Marketing George Ciz, Life Time Fitness Founder and CEO Bahram Akradi, Sports & Fitness Industry Association President and CEO Tom Cove, USPTA CEO John Embree, PTR CEO Dan Santorum, Hall of Fame coaching legend Nick Bollettieri, tennis management company founder Peter Burwash, Mylan World TeamTennis CEO Ilana Kloss, Tennis Magazine/Tennis Industry Magazine Publisher Jeff Williams, and Tennis Channel Vice President David Egdes.
“We brought together a terrific lineup of industry executives, legends, pros, coaches and other sports and business personalities to examine the state of the the sport,” said TIA President Greg Mason. “Our speakers hit key topics and themes that will affect growth in every segment of the industry. Plus, attendees were able to ask questions and make comments at a number of ‘Open Forums.’ The interaction produced spirited discussions that will help the sport move forward.”
Topics that were addressed at the Summit included:
- How the sport can remain relevant — and grow — in today’s business climate.
- The importance of tennis in today’s society and what the sport can learn from other sports.
- Challenges and opportunities facing tennis, including the key tennis delivery system and teaching professionals.
- The drive for healthy and fit lifestyles through tennis.
- The importance of two major tennis infrastructure projects — one in Florida, the other in at the US Open in New York — to the growth of the sport.
- The growth of the professional tours and how they’re connecting with grassroots players.
- How digital media is changing the landscape of sports entertainment.
Mason, TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer and sports marketing research expert Keith Storey led off the Summit with the “State of the Industry.” Among the data they presented was the value of the overall “tennis economy,” which was at 5.73 billion at year-end 2014, up 3 percent from 2013.
Mason outlined concerns he has about the industry, including the fact that 1.5 million fewer entry-level tennis racquets were purchased from 2008 to 2014. Another concern is that the age of the average player is getting older. “We need to make sure we’re doing all we can to attract younger players to our sport,” he said, adding that it also extends to needing to bring younger people into the business of tennis, too.
One key to helping boost participation, Mason said, is the industry-wide “Try Tennis Free” initiative, which runs throughout the month of May and is designed to give new and returning players an opportunity to get into tennis for free at local facilities and with local pros. “The Try Tennis Free campaign can bring in large numbers of players, of all ages, looking to benefit from all that tennis has to offer,” Mason said. He urged all tennis providers to register their free program offers at PlayTennis.com.
Following Mason and the TIA, Tom Cove, the CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, identified and defined trends that will impact the tennis and sports industries, among them that health and wellness will be the “No. 1 driver” of sports participation in 2015 and that “parents want a good experience for the whole family” when it comes to sports and recreation.
Cove also discussed the “inactivity pandemic” in the U.S., including how 80 million Americans on a recent survey reported they do no sports or activity at all. “Inactivity has increased 28 percent over the past seven years,” Cove said. “We need to build a culture of activity based on fun sports activities.”
Katrina Adams, the USTA president, chairman and CEO, talked about her priorities for her two-year term, which includes targeting the Hispanic community as a way to give tennis participation a boost. Her goals also include finding more and better ways to reach out to recreational high school players, which she called a “huge opportunity” for the industry, and also emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship. Adams also plans to continue to increase the USTA’s collaboration and partnerships with other groups and organizations.
USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith discussed the ongoing improvements to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, home of the US Open. Plans call for spending more than $500 million over the next four years, including completion of a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. “It’s important to be the leader, especially in the sports and entertainment capital of the world,” he said.
Smith also discussed the 102-court facility the USTA will build at Lake Nona, Fla., which will break ground on April 18 and has been dubbed the “new home of American tennis.” The site will serve as a training ground for players and coaches, and will be the home to the USTA Player Development and Community Tennis departments.
The professional game was on display with updates from WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster and ATP Tour Vice President of Marketing George Ciz. Allaster then joined a panel with David Egdes of Tennis Channel, Ilana Kloss of WTT and J. Wayne Richmond of the Emirates Airline US Open Series for a discussion on how the pro tours and their players connect to the grassroots.
World-renowned sports and performance psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Jim Loehr wrapped up the Summit’s first day with insights into how the tennis and sports industry can remain relevant to today’s athletes and culture.
“There is a lot of competition for kids’ participation in sports and activities,” Loehr said. “Tennis must do a better job of addressing parents to let them know how tennis is different than any other sport. How do we accelerate tennis learning? How do we make tennis friendlier? How do we make learning tennis more fun? How do we awaken the world to the value of tennis in life?”
Loehr said the industry needs to do a better job selling tennis to parents, noting several points that work in tennis’s favor, including how the sport provides a full-body workout, exercises the brain, can be played for a lifetime, and helps to make a better, more fully functioning person.
The second day opened with Emmy Award-winning TV sportscaster Ted Robinson, who offered his take on the importance of tennis in today’s society and on what tennis can learn from other sports. “Tennis is unique in that some of the greatest players still talk about tennis and are great ambassadors for the sport,” he said.
To bring more spectators and participants into the sport, Robinson said technology was vital, especially for embracing millennials through digital content. “Be proud of tennis,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal activity.”
Life Time Fitness founder and CEO Bahram Akradi, named Tennis Industry magazine’s “Person of the Year” for his company’s commitment to tennis, explained why tennis has been a wise investment for his business and how he is looking to help the sport grow through his facilities. Life Time is the largest operator of indoor courts in the U.S. “Tennis courts change the space from a fitness club to a country club,” Akradi said. “If there’s any chance to put in tennis courts, we will. Tennis is here to stay, and we plan to grow it at every opportunity.”
The USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, Kurt Kamperman, led a panel discussion and Open Forum on the challenges and opportunities of growing tennis at the recreational level. Panelist included Dan Santorum of the PTR, John Embree of the USPTA and Dr. Paul Lubbers, senior director of coaching education and performance for the USTA.
“Millennial parents want more local sports, shorter play formats, and non-elimination formats,” Kamperman said. “We’ve got senior players covered, but we still have work to do with youth players and getting them into the game.”
Peter Burwash, a former pro tour player and founder of the Peter Burwash International tennis management company, discussed lessons he learned in his personal and professional life and how they can apply to growing the sport. A good leader, he said, has certain characteristics: enthusiasm, great creativity, expanding your horizons, empathy and appreciation. “The strongest leaders are lifetime learners,” he added.
Immediately following the Tennis Summit, on March 18-19, top tennis facility managers and consultants shared their knowledge and experience at the third annual Tennis Owners & Managers (T.O.M.) Conference, also presented by the TIA.
Coaching legend Nick Bollettieri, who received the highest honor in tennis last July when he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, spoke at a lunch kicking off the T.O.M. Conference. “Keep your mission top of mind at all times,” he told the crowd, “and don’t be afraid to fail — it’s critical to success.”
“As a follow-up to both the Tennis Summit and the T.O.M. Conference, we’re meeting to outline a plan that we hope will go a long way to achieving transformational change within this industry,” said the TIA’s de Boer. “These conferences examined the industry and our sport, and where it’s headed, and helped to define ways to ensure growth. We want to make sure we’re on the right path for the long-term.”
The TIA plans to present its annual Tennis Forum on Aug. 31 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, as the US Open begins. Details for 2016 tennis industry events will be announced in the near future.
Visit TennisIndustry.org for more information.
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