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.
By Gary Horvath
Lockdowns, More Players, Labor Shortages, and the Future of the Tennis Industry
The COVID-19 virus and associated policies disrupted our society and the tennis industry. This short document looks at:
The change in tennis participation, by age group, between 2016 and 2020.
The role of job openings and separations in the U.S. labor market in 2021.
Tennis professional job listings in 2022.
This information will inform the discussion about whether there is a labor shortage in the tennis industry and whether the industry can meet the needs of the tennis participants who started playing in 2020.
Almost Four Million New Players in 2020
Lockdowns were mandated in March 2020 to minimize the spread of the virus. As a result, U.S. employment (SA) declined by almost twenty-two million in March and April. In May, the labor market began the long and bumpy road to recovery.
The tennis industry was initially a victim of lockdown policy, but by May 2000, people were allowed to play outdoor sports such as golf and tennis. Fitness centers were closed, but indoor tennis was allowed with restrictions. The sale of sporting goods equipment skyrocketed.
The 2021 TIA/Sports Marketing Survey estimated that U.S. tennis participation increased by 22% in 2020, from 17.74 million to 21.64 million. This increase was welcome news. It was peculiar that government policies accomplished what industry leaders could not - pandemic policies ended a decade-long decline in tennis participation.
The data in Table I sheds light on the participation change, by age category, over the timeframe, 2016 to 2020. For that period, participation increased by 3.64 million.
The percentage of junior players (6-17) increased from 23.5% to 28.7% of total participants in 2020. Junior players accounted for 54.5% of the growth in participation. In 2020, the number of junior players (6.23 million) was more than the number of players over the age of forty-five (5.41 million).
There were 1.3 million senior players (45+) in 2020. They increased by 35.6% between 2016 and 2020. Their share of total participation increased from 23.3% to 25.4%.
The percentage of junior players (6-17) increased from 23.5% to 28.7% of total participants in 2020. Junior players accounted for 54.5% of the growth in participation. The number of junior players (6.23 million) was more than the number of 45+ (senior) players (5.41 million).
In 2020, the prime market for participation (18-44) increased negligibly, from 9.62 million to 9.98 million, or 10% of total growth. The share of this category dropped from 53.2% to 45.9%.
The following questions arise from the analysis of 2016 to 2020 participation data.
How are teaching professionals curbing the dropout/burnout rate of junior players?
Why was there limited growth in the prime-age category of tennis players (18 to 44 years)?
What are teaching professionals doing to retain players in the 45+ age group?
U.S. Job Openings and Separations and the Tennis Industry
The data in Chart I shows that labor shortages were severe and impacted most industries, including the tennis industry, in 2021. This shortfall may prevent some facilities from retaining players who started the sport in 2020.
The data in Chart I shows that labor shortages were severe in 2021 and impacted most industries, including the tennis industry. This shortfall may prevent some facilities from retaining players who started the sport in 2020.
The number of job openings (blue) bottomed out in 2009. As the economy improved from the Great Recession, openings steadily increased for the next decade. In 2019, openings reached a plateau, followed by a sharp decline in 2020 caused by COVID-19 lockdown policies. In late 2021, there were a record number of job openings (10-11 million).
After the decline in COVID-19 layoffs in 2020, separations (red) dropped to 4.6 million. They bounced back to 6.0 million as baby boomers retired and other workers switched companies to upgrade compensation or work conditions. The issue of labor shortages will not end soon.
The changes in the U.S. labor market have impacted the tennis industry in the following ways:
Many seniors retired because of their improved wealth effect (real estate and stock market). They may have more time to play tennis. In some cases, they may be a source of part-time help for tennis businesses.
On the other hand, seniors may be distracted by alternate racquet sports, golf, grandchildren, travel, or other activities.
The labor shortage has increased payroll costs. Facilities may manage the bottom line through staff reductions, increased prices, reduced services, or automation.
The tennis workforce is aging. Many teaching professionals in their late fifties and sixties will retire in the near term.
At the 2019 USPTA World Conference, John Embree, USPTA CEO, said that it is no secret that the average age of our members and tennis-teaching professionals, in general, is 50 years old. Nor is it a secret that we have a shortage of qualified tennis-teaching professionals that can deliver tennis in such a way that will keep people engaged and make tennis the sport of their lifetime.
The influx of new players in 2020 should increase the demand for quality tennis professionals, making the tennis labor market even tighter.
The following questions relate to the analysis of 2020 tennis participation and the state of the U.S. labor market in 2021.
Given the U.S. labor shortage, what are leaders at tennis facilities doing to fill hourly, part-time, seasonal, and minimal skill level positions?
How are tennis facilities dealing with the aging of the tennis population and the tennis workforce?
The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.5% in 2019 and will be 3.1% in 2022. What have the USTA, USPTA, and PTR done to improve the quality and quantity of tennis professionals in a labor market that will be tighter in 2022 (compared to 2019)?
Tennis Job Listings
Given the lack of industry employment data, the most obvious way to identify the demand for tennis industry jobs and the potential for labor shortages is to review employment websites. Query results from six job listing databases follow.
LinkedIn - There were ten full-time job openings for tennis directors.
Indeed - There were seven job openings for full-time tennis directors. A filtered query produced fifty listings for full-time tennis professionals.
USTA - The internal USTA job board has about fifty jobs at the major campuses. About 10% are part-time, and 10% are tennis professionals. Most jobs are in operational areas such as marketing, maintenance, and human resources. A random review of USTA sectional job boards focused on shop clerks, assistant coaches, coaches, and instructors.
PTR - There were 189 positions posted on the PTR career webpage and nineteen postings for tennis directors. Note that the PTR database is skewed because it includes job listings from 2021 and listings for 2022 that were closed.
USPTA - There were eighty-four positions listed within the past month. Only eleven were for tennis or racquet sports directors. The postings were from only ten states.
Kopplin, Kuebler, and Wallace - There were six job listings for racquets director and one for racquets professional.
There were structural differences in the job listing databases. For example, some had different query capabilities, job descriptions, and job types (full-time, seasonal, temporary, and part-time). Some job listings appeared in multiple databases.
Tennis-specific listings included instructional and managerial positions. There were also openings for shop clerks, marketing staff, stringers, league coordinators, and maintenance workers. About 80% of the listings in one database had annual wages less than $60,000.
The Influx of New Players
Over the past 18-24 months, tennis facilities experienced changes in their membership lists, lesson programs, tournaments, and league rosters. At the same time, there has not been a notable increase in certified teaching professionals. The facilities with the best leadership will find ways to manage labor shortages and capitalize on increased participation. At other facilities, managers may not fill key positions, and a portion of the players who picked up a racket in 2020 will no longer be playing tennis in 2022.
Impact of the U.S. Labor Market on the Tennis Industry
Tennis businesses are not immune to the labor shortages causing angst in other industries. Shortages and other economic headwinds will not disappear in the near term.
Tennis directors may have difficulty filling positions in lower-paying occupations or seasonal or part-time jobs. They may have to pay higher wages, increase worker benefits, raise prices, or turn to automation to meet the needs of their clientele.
Tennis Labor Market
At last, the impact of COVID-19 policies is diminishing. The sport's accreditation and certification organizations must produce more qualified teaching professionals. At a recent USPTA business conference, there were multiple discussions about the importance of improving the skill set of all teaching professionals in areas such as leadership, management, and communications. Finally, these organizations must focus on their missions and strengthen the workforce development program for the industry.
Teaching professionals must have a stronger voice in the industry. In addition, it is necessary to have a credible workforce development system that allows members of the tennis industry to improve their skill set, market their skills, and look for employment. This workforce system should define job titles, job descriptions, skills, education requirements, career pathways, wages, and other workforce basics.
The industry is facing many challenges and distractions. Fortunately, leaders in the tennis industry have an excellent opportunity to refocus on advancing the industry and its mission. See you on the courts!
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