Our Serve: Eye on the Ball
The US Open is a time to celebrate this sport. The world’s best players converging on New York City for two weeks of amazing tennis — what could be more exciting!
But now, more than ever, this needs to be a time to look at the future of this sport, and we need to view it from the recreational tennis side. While I’ve always felt the pro game will generally be able to take care of itself, it’s really recreational tennis that needs constant attention — from all of us.
Here’s the thing: We’ve taken our eye off the ball. The hard facts are that equipment sales, and in particular youth racquet sales, are not good, participation isn’t growing like it should, “core players” have actually declined slightly, and while youth tennis participation may have bumped up a little, where’s the huge growth? I’m a fairly patient guy, but we’ve had six years of heavy investment and focus on getting more kids in the game — shouldn’t we be much further along?
My business, as does yours, depends on this sport growing. But somehow, for all the money and marketing efforts, we’re not driving home the right points about tennis to grow this game effectively. Where are the results that count, that truly grow participation, increase equipment sales, and get people to play more frequently?
We’re really good at congratulating ourselves and making ourselves feel good about tennis. We celebrate what’s going on in Lake Nona, or the renovations at the National Tennis Center, and it’s great, it’s necessary. But we all, including this magazine, have taken our eye off the ball. For our industry to thrive, we need to be about more tennis shoes on the court. As I wrote about last issue, we need to be collaborating to grow this sport. And amazingly, after all these years, we still need to convince people that tennis is a fun way to stay healthy and fit.
The US Open generates a ton of money, and, with all kudos to the USTA, the vast majority of it goes exactly where it needs to go — to grassroots programs and initiatives. But, as the USTA itself has said, all that money masks a lot of issues — actually, problems. It has bred complacency at many levels. It keeps people from questioning what we’ve been doing or spending. “Nobody cares,” one industry insider said to me recently, “because nobody has to care.”
As it is, we continue to cede ground to other sports and activities. Yes, all traditional sports are struggling, and inactivity especially among youth is at alarming, and increasing, rates. But we continue to watch as more tennis courts go over to pickleball, more kids (and adults) spend time online rather than on the courts, and more tennis specialty shops and facilities — our critical local “touch points” — struggle to stay afloat.
We must focus on getting more people to play this sport, and play it more frequently. It’s time we, collectively, got our eye back on the ball.
Peter Francesconi, Editorial Director
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.
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