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.
Moving the Sport Forward
By Gary Horvath
Learning from the Past
The purpose of this document is to summarize participation and demographic data from the 2020 TIA Participation Report. This summary will raise questions that hopefully encourage discussions to help move the tennis industry forward by increasing participation.
The report was released last fall and includes data from 2019. Since then, the USTA announced the market share for tennis almost doubled in Q3 2020. Reportedly, 11 million players took up the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic. How many of these players will the industry retain?
The industry has been down this path in the past 15 years. In 2007 there were 16.94 million tennis players. After three consecutive years of growth, there were 18.72 million players in 2010, an increase of 1.8 million. This mini-boom occurred during a recession and its early stages of recovery. Between 2010 and 2019, the tennis population declined to 17.68 million. The 2019 total was about one million players less than in 2010 and only 700,000 greater than in 2007. Can we prevent history from repeating itself?
The areas of analysis are:
Frequency of play
Player demographics - Gender, education, and household income
Player demographics - Age of players
Player demographics -Race and ethnicity
Player demographics – Residence by U.S. Census Division
Moving the industry forward – Questions to generate discussions
Averages are used in statistical analysis to describe the characteristics of a group. The downside is they do not account for dispersion and individuality within the data. As a result, they may not accurately describe the group. Also, it may not be appropriate to use national averages to make decisions or establish programs or initiatives that address specific issues or geographic regions within the industry.
Total Players by Frequency of Play
This section focuses on the differences in the frequency of play for core and non-core players. Core players are engaged in the sport and make significant contributions to it. Non-core players are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Table I shows the number of players and their playing occasions for core players (green) and non-core players (grey). The total number of both groups is the tennis population.
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of core players declined from 11.2 million to 9.2 million, an annualized change of -2.2%. The number of playing occasions for this group plummeted from 465 million to 350 million, an annualized change of -3.1%.
For this period, the number of non-core players increased by 1.0 million players. The number of occasional players increased by 1.2 million, while there was a reduction of 200,000 casual players. Playing occasions for non-core players increased from 29 million to 35 million.
In other words, the tennis population increased in categories where players infrequently play the sport.
In 2019, the 9.2 million core players were 52% of all players. They participated in almost 91% of all playing occasions.
On the other hand, 48% of all players were non-core. They participated in only 9% of all playing occasions.
Table II shows the importance of avid players to the industry. It also points out the dramatic differences in the court time for the different groups of players.
Within the core players (green), the 2.4 million avid players averaged almost 90 playing occasions in 2019. They play about twice a week.
There is a significant decline in the amount of court time for the 2.2 million frequent players. They averaged about 32 playing occasions. They play two to three times a month.
The 4.6 million regular players averaged 14.1 playing occasions. In other words, they play about once a month.
Within the non-core players (grey), the 3.8 million occasional players only had 6.8 million playing occasions in 2019. They play tennis about once every two months.
The 4.7 million casual players averaged 1.9 playing occasions in 2019. They play tennis about twice a year.
There are 8.5 million non-core players and 9.2 million core players in the tennis population; however, the economic impact of the non-core players on the industry is minimal. For that reason, it makes sense to focus on core players when talking about certain aspects of the tennis industry.
Players Demographics - Gender, Education, and Household Income
Tennis is an appealing sport because it can be inexpensive to play. The cost of a quality tennis racquet may be as low as $100. In many communities, there is no charge to play on public courts.
The sport is usually more expensive for adults and juniors who play more frequently, play competitively, or pay membership dues to play at public or private facilities.
Table III provides demographics for core tennis players. The key points are:
More males play tennis than females. The concentration of male players is more than 3.0%.
Almost 47% of all core tennis players completed college or post-graduate studies. About 63% of players who are older than 17 years completed college or post-graduate studies. This percentage is about twice the national average (U.S. Census Bureau).
Approximately 61% of tennis players have a median household income greater than $75,000. The median HHI for the U.S. is $62,800 (U.S. Census Bureau).
There is significant variation in the U.S. Census data for gender, education level, and median household income at the state and local levels. Similar differences would likely exist for core tennis players.
The commercialization of tennis took place during the 1980s. By design, tennis became a commercial venture that caters to players with the current demographics. Whether it is right or wrong, the USTA uses these characteristics to promote the U.S. Open and generate revenue that supports programs and initiatives for the entire tennis population.
Player Demographics by Age Category
The data in Table IV shows the change in the number of core players by age category between 2010 and 2019. Overall, there was a decline of about 2 million players. There are differences based on age categories.
Juniors – Slightly more than 29% of core players are juniors. Surprisingly, about 53% of junior players are between the ages of 13 and 17.
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of players in the 6-12 age category increased by about 70,000. For this period, this was the only junior or adult category to add players. The 13-17 age category lost about 330,000 players. Both age categories had a market share above 3.0%.
Adults - The largest absolute losses occurred in the following age categories: 18-24 years (-510,000), 35-44 years (-480,000), and 45-54 years (-410,000). The total decline in the number of players in these three categories was 1.4 million.
The following adult age categories had a market share above 3.0%: 18-24 years, 25-34 years, and 35-44 years. About 65% of the players greater than 17 years are in these three categories.
The two major age factors affecting change in the tennis industry are the aging of the Baby Boomers (the youngest is now 56 years) and the lower fertility rates.
Player Demographics - Race and Ethnicity
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines the race and ethnicity terms and categories for the U.S. Census Bureau.
The OMB has defined the following races: white, Black, American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian. By definition, Hispanics are an ethnicity, not a race.
Table V shows that in 2019 about 67.7% of core tennis players were Non-Hispanic whites (whites), and 32.3% nonwhites. By comparison, the mix of the U.S. population is 60% whites and 40% nonwhites (U.S. Census). Nonwhites are underrepresented in the tennis population.
Between 2014 and 2019, the number of white tennis players changed by an annualized rate of -1.1%. There was a decrease of 360,000 players.
The number of nonwhite players changed by an annualized rate of -2.5%, for a decrease of 400,000 players.
Overall, the tennis population changed by an annualized rate of -1.6%, or a decrease of 760,000 players between 2014 and 2019.
Since 1970, changes in the mix of the U.S. population have occurred slowly. The percentage of whites decreased in all 50 states. The only place where the percent of whites increased was the District of Columbia.
The Census Bureau projects the nonwhite population will exceed the number of whites within the next thirty years.
Player Demographics – Residence by U.S. Census Division
Table VI shows where the 9.2 million core players live based on the nine U.S. Census Bureau divisions. The estimated market share of core players for all divisions is 3.0%. The divisions highlighted in green have market shares that are more than 3.0%.
About 41% of tennis players live in the 14 states in the South Atlantic and Pacific Divisions.
An additional 30% of tennis players reside in the 13 states in the Middle Atlantic, West South Central, and New England Divisions. The market share in each of these five divisions is more than 3.0%.
The remaining 29% of players live in the 23 states in the East North Central, Mountain, West North Central, and East South Central Divisions. The market share in each of these divisions is less than 3.0%.
The general tendencies of the divisions are:
The divisions with large urban areas have a higher concentration of core players. The inference is that there is more participation in areas with more courts.
Sunbelt states typically have a higher concentration of core players.
There is a lower concentration of core players in colder climates and states.
There is a lower concentration of core players in areas with more rural communities. The inference is that there is less likely to be a critical mass of players in rural areas.
The level of participation is different in each division, and there will be differences between the states. There are many reasons for these differences, such as weather, population mix, median HHI, competition from other activities.
Moving the Industry Forward – Questions to Generate Discussions
The previous sections describe the state of the tennis industry, pre-COVID-19. That information can serve as a base for the post-COVID-19 era – which will be vastly different. This section includes questions intended to encourage discussions that will help move the tennis industry forward.
Participation - Trends
The tennis industry experienced a mini boom between 2007 and 2010, followed by a decline in participation between 2010 and 2019. The mini boom occurred during the Great Recession. Are there lessons to be learned from the policies and programs that drove the industry during this boom and bust (2007 to 2019)? Once the economy improves, will the 2020 COVID-19 tennis boom be followed by a period of declining participation? How can a decline be prevented?
About two-thirds of total playing occasions are at public facilities (parks, schools, colleges). How many of these facilities have a staff of teaching professionals? How have the trade associations improved the quality of instruction and programming at these facilities?
The USTA provided financial support to facilities and teaching professionals during 2020; however, many teaching professionals left the industry. Did facilities have excess capacity, or will this exodus leave a void that will prevent facilities from meeting the needs of the players who took up the sport in 2020?
Participation - Frequency of play
Players who play more than once a week (core players) drive the industry. Is it possible for the industry to collect more detailed information about the core players, such as state-level data? What are the best practices for retaining core players? How can teaching professionals convert frequent and regular players into core players?
Player Demographics - Gender, education, and household income
Tennis is a sport of choice for the young upper-middle class or upper class. Should the industry market the sport to broader demographics? If the public perceives tennis to be a sport for the masses, will it have greater appeal and increased participation? If tennis had a broader set of demographics, would the core participation increase?
Can people with different demographics (lower household income levels) afford to play as frequently and spend as much money as current core players? Is tennis a sport that people with different demographics are interested in playing?
Player Demographics - Age
About 2.66 million juniors and 6.49 adults are the financial drivers of the tennis industry. How does the industry make the sport more appealing to junior players? How can coaches do a better job of retaining junior players?
Also, the USTA has re-engineered its system to make junior tennis more appealing. How will juniors react to the changes? What are the best practices for attracting and retaining core junior players? How has the caliber of coaches for secondary teams and parks and recreation programs been improved?
The five age categories under 45 years have above-average market penetration. The market share per age category declines as the age categories increase. Some players who are 45 years or older may have quit tennis or switched to pickleball or golf. Also, baby boomers have moved through their prime playing years. Does it make sense to market tennis as a sport for a lifetime when there are more players in the 6-17 age category than the 45+ age category?
What are the best practices for attracting and retaining core adult players? What is the role of national initiatives or programs in attracting core players?
Player Demographics - Race and ethnicity
The data shows that 40% of the U.S. population is nonwhite, but only 33% of core tennis players are nonwhite. There is a gap between the two. There is not a simple solution to addressing the gap.
For many years, companies have addressed challenges related to social issues. Their response to the challenges has varied across the spectrum.
For at least three decades, the tennis industry has designed programs and initiatives to increase the engagement of nonwhite players in tennis. What components of these programs have been successful? Have they sufficiently addressed the needs of nonwhite players? How do you measure success for these types of programs and initiatives? Are there aspects of these programs that should be expanded or eliminated?
Are there factors outside the control of the tennis industry that affect nonwhite tennis participation? For example, what impact do family conditions, level of education, and average household income have on the amount of time nonwhite players spend playing tennis?
Do non-white players have access to public courts and tennis programs?
The non-white population in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, District of Columbia, Texas, and Nevada is greater than 50%. Is the percent of nonwhite core players greater than white players in these states?
The non-white population is less than 15% of the total population In Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. What is the percent of core nonwhite tennis players in these states?
Is it possible to address social issues for one race or ethnicity without discriminating against other races or ethnicities?
Player Demographics - Residence by U.S. Census Division
The location of players’ residences often determines how many times they play during a year.
There is a higher concentration of core players in states with large urban areas or states located in the sunbelt. Many of the states located in colder climates or are more rural have a lower concentration of core players.
How can urban areas provide more affordable access to indoor courts during the winter? What are the unique challenges of running tennis facilities in urban areas? How can the industry help address those challenges?
How can rural communities find support to build and maintain tennis facilities and offer tennis programs to residents? What are the challenges facing small communities in funding tennis and other recreation programs? How can the industry help these communities address these challenges?
What are the best practices for running indoor facilities in colder climates? How can indoor facilities manage costs and keep court time at reasonable levels?
Is there a way to improve the return on investment for tennis facilities?
This short document presented participation and demographic data from the 2020 TIA Participation Report. The intent was to raise questions that encourage discussions to help move the tennis industry forward.
What ideas and questions do you have for moving the tennis industry forward in 2021?
Share your questions or thoughts about addressing any of these issues or increasing participation with
Rich Neher at Tennis Club Business.
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