Tennis Industry magazine

 

Industry Message: Growth Factors

The outgoing president of the TIA shines a light on the often behind-the-scenes role the organization has when it comes to growing the business of tennis.

By Greg Mason

‘Congratulations on becoming TIA president,” a friend said to me three years ago. Then he paused, “So, what does the TIA do?”

That was how I was greeted in 2012, at the start of my term.

The easy answer to my friend’s question is that the Tennis Industry Association is in business to grow the business of tennis. While the USTA’s public mission is to grow the game of tennis, the TIA is all about the revenue. The two goals are clearly linked, but the TIA is and will continue to be about the business of the game.

TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer and the entire team are the go-to resource when people need information on anything regarding the business of tennis. I must give a sincere thanks to Jolyn, the TIA staff and the board of directors for all of their support during my tenure as president. I know incoming TIA President Jeff Williams will have their complete support.

After a few years of increased involvement at multiple levels, I can tell you the TIA does more than most realize. Listing everything here would be impractical, but highlights include coordinating and planning industry research that includes more than 70 reports and surveys, including key measurements of product shipped from manufacturers; consumer retail sell-through data; managing the Cardio Tennis program; producing the annual Tennis Owners & Managers (T.O.M.) Conference to help owners and managers run their businesses better; coordinating the annual Tennis Forum in New York during the US Open, along with “Future of Tennis” Summits; and so much more.

Another key TIA initiative over the past three years has been PlayTennis.com, which continues to evolve as this industry’s central portal for all things tennis, such as finding courts, programs, coaches, retailers, partners and more. As an industry-wide, unbranded, free website simply devoted to getting people into the game, PlayTennis.com continues to have significant growth since its launch and new features are added regularly. We continue to make the site a key driver to grow the business.

Many people know the TIA was born four decades ago when tennis was facing enormous challenges keeping players. As a result, all pieces of the game were suffering. The leaders of the industry came together with a commitment to check their brands at the door and work to build the sport — regardless of how it impacted their individual businesses — so all could prosper in the long run. They weren’t out to increase their slice of the pie; they wanted to make the entire pie bigger for everyone.

Today, we aren’t in crisis mode, but the challenges we face are real and daunting. There were 1.6 million fewer racquets shipped in 2014 compared to 2008, which translates to 40% fewer frames bought by largely entry-level players. The average age of teaching pros continues to climb; to be a delivery system for the longer term, we must get younger pros coming into the game. An increasing number of American youngsters are inactive and overweight — today’s youngest generation will be the first in the history of the world to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

The good news is ball sales and performance frame sales are solid and in fact are outpacing the overall sporting goods world, so people continue to play the game. But we don’t have a sustainable “feeder” system to keep players coming up through the pipeline, from kids, to young adults right through to senior players. The numbers — our own research data — don’t lie.

This isn’t an easy fix. It requires support across the industry. So based on this, a few leaders came together over the summer, analyzed the research, and challenged the status quo. Are we really working together effectively? Is there a path not taken that will help us address these real issues in a way potential players will understand and embrace?

The result is “Rally the Family,” an initiative to roll out this spring, after testing in a few markets this past fall to determine the best way to deliver the message. The concept is simple — bring people to the tennis court to satisfy the need families have to be active and have fun together — and the message is compelling. Designed as an ongoing program, the USTA has committed at least $2 million to support this effort in its first year.

This is the first truly joint effort to grow the game in over seven years through the industry, which we know is the best delivery system of the game to consumers. The time is right and the need is clear for all of us in this industry to make a difference.

It’s often said that the tennis industry is a family. Now is the time to rally our family to make a long-term, sustainable difference. Thanks in advance for your support of Rally the Family, and thank you for allowing me to preside over the Tennis Industry Association these last three years.

 

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