Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association prior to its merger with USPTA, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff.
His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.
Tennis Demographics and Punxsutawney Phil
By Gary Horvath
How many times have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? It features Bill Murray, Andie McDowell, and Punxsutawney Phil reliving February 2 over-and-over.
The movie’s storyline is reminiscent of annual reviews of tennis industry demographics. They tell a similar story from year to year.
Global companies spend exorbitant sums of money, based on the demographics, to advertise their goods and services to the tennis population. For over thirty years, tennis leaders have used the same demographics to address issues in the tennis industry and have received mixed reviews for their efforts.
This short document compares the top five demographics from 2020 TIA Tennis Participation data with U.S. Census data. The purpose of the review is to encourage leaders to break the cycle of the Groundhog Day loop in using the demographics to make decisions that advance the industry.
The following are examples of gender issues in tennis:
There are about four male USPTA teaching professionals for each female.
Most coaches for professional players are men.
There are more opportunities for women to play high school and college tennis.
Women receive more college scholarships than men.
The 2020 Census data showed the population mix is gradually changing because the fertility rate is declining at a different rate for all groups. It is difficult to implement national race and ethnicity tennis policy because the U.S. data is not always representative of state, county, or city levels. Data from California and New Hampshire illustrate this point.
The breakdown for California is:
36.5% White only, not Hispanic
The remainder is in other groups.
By comparison, the breakdown for New Hampshire is:
89.8% White only, not Hispanic
The remainder is in other categories.
Age of Players
Overall, about 29% of the tennis population is under 18 years old. Half of core tennis players are under the median age of 29 years old. Tennis is billed as a sport for a lifetime (and it is), but half the players, including juniors, are under 29 years old. Tennis is a sport for young people.
By comparison, the median age for the U.S. population (age six years or greater) is 41 years old. The median age for the U.S. population is about 12 years older than the median for the core tennis population.
On average, tennis players have attained a higher level of education than the general public. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics identified a high correlation between education and income.
Race and Ethnicity
The data in Table II shows that most tennis players are White alone, not Hispanic. The tennis population has a higher concentration of Asians and White alone, not Hispanic, than the U.S. population. It has a lower concentration of other groups.
Household Income (HHI)
The median HHI for tennis players is significantly greater than the U.S. median HHI.
Eliminate the Endless Groundhog Day Loop
For the past thirty years, the tennis industry has demonstrated the importance of addressing issues related to tennis demographics. Too often, their policies and activities that addressed gender, race and ethnicity, age, income, and education issues fell into in the endless Groundhog Day loop. The results often did not meet expectations.
The following observations may help establish more effective policies and activities that address issues derived from tennis demographics.
Tennis is a unique sport with a distinct culture built on tradition. In many ways, tennis is still an elite sport, similar to the era when kings played it on indoor courts in French palaces. The tennis industry is also decentralized, and the decision-making process is often dysfunctional. At times, the tradition and structure of the industry create obstacles to using demographics to advance the sport.
Tennis demographics are interrelated. The relationship between metrics may create unforeseen opportunities or challenges for promoting the sport. For example, highly educated people often have higher incomes. They may live in upscale neighborhoods that have year-round facilities and structured programs. This clustering of people with similar qualities and preferences is often referred to as the Big Sort. It is detrimental to society and the growth of tennis.
There are problems in the industry that are difficult to solve because they are associated with paradoxes. For instance, the top teaching professionals often work at tennis and country clubs in upscale neighborhoods. Ironically, industry data shows that most tennis activity occurs at recreation and school facilities with fewer teaching professionals and opportunities for structured activities. There are also many highly populated metro areas with no courts. It is difficult to generate interest in tennis when it is not accessible to many people.
Finally, tennis leaders often have no control over activities and policies that affect the sport. For example, Title IX, federal legislation designed to protect discrimination in education, had a more extensive impact on the tennis industry than any industry policies or activities created during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The same is true for policies related to COVID-19 lockdowns. Industry data indicates three million players picked up the sport during the pandemic. The tennis industry could have more fully capitalized on the adoption of Title IX and it must take steps to retain the influx of new players in 2020.
Tennis leaders can more effectively use demographics to advance the industry if they avoid the endless Groundhog Day loop. They must establish policies and activities that are realistic and emphasize the growth of the entire industry as a way to grow specific demographics. Finally, they must efficiently allocate the limited resources of their tennis organizations.
Happy Groundhog Day!
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