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Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association, charter member of PPTR, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff. 

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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.

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SUNSHINE AND IN-MIGRATION - SECRETS TO GROWING THE GAME

There are many ways to grow the sport

By Gary Horvath

In mid-2023, TIA released reports summarizing tennis participation by 16 USTA sections (Only 2022 Hawaii data is available). It reported that larger sample sizes allowed them to perform data analysis at the sectional level. The analysis for this article looks at the relationship between sunshine and in-migration, participation, and the percentage of core players in a section.

Table I summarizes pre and post-COVID tennis participation (2019 vs 2022). TIA reported that overall tennis participation increased by 5.9 million players for this period.

  • In 2022, the five sections with the most participants are Southern, Midwest, SoCal, Texas, and Eastern. They each have more than two million players. About 46.3% of the tennis population played in these sections, and 53.0% of the change in participation between 2019 and 2022 occurred in these areas. Midwest was the only section to record a decline in tennis participation.

  • In 2022, Florida, Pacific NW, NorCal, and Mid-Atlantic had between 1.2 million to 1.6 million players. About 26.3% of the tennis population played in these four sections, but only 23.5% of the change in total participation between 2019 and 2022 occurred in these areas. The Mid-Atlantic section only added 98,010 players between 2019 and 2022, accounting for only 1.7% of the total change in participation.

  • The final seven sections accounted for 27% of total participation but only 23.5% of the change from before and after the pandemic. Each of the seven sections has fewer than 800,000 tennis players. New England, the Middle States, and Intermountain had modest gains in participation.

 

Table I also includes rows highlighted in yellow. These six sections include sunbelt states that have predominantly outdoor facilities. About 42.6% of tennis players live in these six sections, and about 50.8% of the change in participation between 2019 and 2022 occurred in these areas.

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Table II shows population changes by state from April 2020 to July 2022. Highlights follow:

  • There were high levels of growth in Texas and Florida.

  • Modest population growth occurred in Utah, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

  • There were high population declines in New York, Illinois, and California.

  • The Louisiana population had a modest decline.

The information in the first two tables shows that population changes often impact tennis participation. For example, the increase in population in Texas, Florida, and the Southern Section is partially responsible for the increased participation in these areas. The population decrease in Illinois might have been partially responsible for the reduced tennis population in the Midwest.

Table III focuses on the percentage of core players and the average number of days participants play tennis each year. Core players typically play in tournaments and leagues, take lessons, and participate in other activities. Those who play more than twice a month are emotionally committed to tennis.

  • Only fifty-one percent of the overall population are core players. That means they play ten times a year or more.

  • Half of the sections have fifty-one percent or more core players. At the bottom of the list are Missouri Valley (43%), Intermountain (40%), and Northern (38%).

  • The top five sections have 54% to 57% core players. It comes as no surprise because they are all in sunbelt states. The sixth sunbelt section, Southwest, is not far behind. Half of its players are core players. 

On average, the tennis population plays 22 days a year or about twice a month. High-frequency players skew this number upward. About 12% of participants play between 21 and 49 times a year, and 14% play at least 50 times.

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It is not surprising that players in the six sunbelt sections play more frequently than the overall average. Their annual average is 23 to 33 days on the court. Players in the other ten regions play between 15 and 21 days a year. Intermountain has the lowest average at 15.8 days.

 

Similarly, the percentage of core players ranges between 38% in Northern and 57% in Florida and Hawaii.

 

Seven sections have core percentages that were less than 50%. About 9.8 million players play in these sections, or 41.7% of all tennis players. Only 38.0% of all core players are in these seven sections.

 

The data in these three tables show that sunbelt states that experience population growth are more likely to have a higher percentage of core players and higher levels of tennis participation.

There are noteworthy takeaways from this analysis of pre and post-COVID data.

  • Tennis participation increases for many reasons. The tennis industry can control whether there is a tennis infrastructure that supports increased tennis participation and tennis activity. It cannot control whether a section is in the sunbelt, nor can it control demographics and population changes. These are factors that also determine the growth of the industry. Are different growth strategies appropriate for different sections based on their distinctive competencies?

  • Tennis participation increased by 5.9 million between 2019 and 2022; however, the growth occurred at different rates among the sixteen sections. In 2022, about 46.3% of the players live in the five sections with the most participants - Southern, Midwest, SoCal, Texas, and Eastern. Between 2019 and 2022, these five sections accounted for 53% of the total change in participation. Are there different growth strategies that apply to mid-size and small sections?

  • About 42.6% of tennis players lived in the six sections located in the sunbelt states. About 50.8% of the change in participation between 2019 and 2022 occurred in these areas. Are different growth strategies appropriate for sections not in the sunbelt?

  • At least half the participants in nine sections are core players. The other seven sections have between 38% and 49% core players. In these sections, the average number of days that people play tennis is between 15.8 and 20.4 days. One of many ways to strengthen participation and economic activity is to focus on converting casual players to core players. What best practices will support this effort?

 

In short, there are many ways to grow the sport. See you on the court!

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