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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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Tennis Club Business

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.

THE IMPACT OF 'ED' ON TENNIS

It is time for the tennis community to adopt a tennis-related ED mindset

By Gary Horvath

This article recommends that city, state, or regional tennis clusters implement economic development (ED) principles into their operations to stimulate growth and improve the tennis experience for players.

Over the past six decades, there were only two short periods of significantly increased tennis participation - after the Battle of the Sexes in 1973 and a result of COVID-related policies in 2020. Neither growth spurt occurred because of intentional industry programs or ED efforts to stimulate tennis participation.

The boom of the 1970s ended as tennis players switched to racquetball, running, jogging, or fitness classes.

 

Between 2020 and 2023, tennis participation increased by about six million players, with slower growth in 2023. To date, there is no evidence that the increased popularity of pickleball has adversely affected tennis participation.

 

By implementing sound ED principles, it is reasonable to think that tennis-related businesses and organizations can more efficiently serve their clients.

The Tennis Cluster

From an academic perspective, the tennis industry is a cluster of related industries from different NAICS Codes rather than a single industry (See Table I). It includes tennis businesses, suppliers, service providers, manufacturers, trade associations, tennis-related organizations, and more.

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The tennis cluster is in its mature stage. It is very decentralized, and organizations often work in siloes. There are many small businesses and organizations, and tennis-related products and services are a minuscule segment of total sales at larger companies, such as Wilson or Sinclair Broadcasting.

The USTA is the National Governing Body (NGB) and the most dominant organization in the industry. Since the mid-1980s, it has taken steps to model its operation after NGBs of smaller countries that control all aspects of the sport.

 

The USTA provides valuable services to the tennis cluster; however, it and the cluster are decentralized. As a result, it has struggled to adequately promote, govern, and deliver a consistent message across its seventeen sections.

These factors make the case for implementing local tennis-related ED programs that advance the community tennis cluster. 

 

There is an emphasis on local ED activity because the sections and districts often have different demographics. The data in Table II highlights the following differences between USTA sections:

  • Total participation ranged from 79,925 in the Hawaii section to 3.3 million in the Southern section.

  • The five sections with the highest percentage of core players included Sun Belt states.

  • Five sections (Southern, Texas, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, and Florida) accounted for 57% of the increase in participation from 2019 to 2022. 

  • The states outside the Sun Belt typically have a higher percentage of casual players and a lower average number of days played.

  • There are often differences in the demographics (race, ethnicity, household income, GDP, etc.) between and within the seventeen sections.

The ED Plan for Tennis Clusters

A tennis-related ED program creates wealth that benefits all players, businesses, and organizations in the local tennis community. The first step in accomplishing this task is to develop a plan that integrates community goals with the needs of these stakeholders. The plan must gather input from the tennis community to ensure it meets the distinct needs of the businesses, organizations, and tennis players.

 

The development of the foundation for the plan includes the following:

  • Identify the businesses and organizations within the tennis community, including their location, number of employees, products and services, and occupations.

  • Understand the location and basic demographics of the tennis players.

  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the local tennis community to understand the opportunities and obstacles for wealth creation.

  • Establish goals for wealth creation and metrics for measuring them.

  • Develop goals for enhancing the local playing experience and metrics for measuring them.

  • Establish and announce the process for communicating with the tennis community.

 

The following are recommended actions for a tennis-related ED program:

  • Advocate for policies that allow businesses to operate more efficiently and be more financially viable, including tax credits, tax or workforce incentives, and streamlining regulations.

  • Be aware of societal and economic changes to help all tennis businesses remain relevant, including changes in labor laws, such as those related to independent contractors, or climate-change-related regulations that might drastically alter court construction or eliminate indoor facilities.

  • Encourage or incentivize tennis facilities and retailers to make investments that improve the on-court experience for the tennis community.

  • Market the local tennis community as an asset that will attract visitors from other tennis communities.

  • Educate and market the health and social benefits of having tennis and tennis-related businesses and programs in the community.

  • Understand the mix of demographics (age, sex, race, ethnicity, income, education) and projected trends for players and workers in the tennis community. This information will help provide better service for existing players. It will also help determine where to build facilities that will attract new players and add to wealth creation.

  • Support professional certification, continuous education (workforce training), the development of career paths, and special programs such as mentorships, apprenticeships, and internships.

 

As part of ongoing communication, ED leaders should summarize the performance of the goals associated with the above action items and their related metrics - for tennis businesses and players.

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ED is Essential

There are different formats for general business ED programs. They may cover a city, county, region, or state. The most effective programs are private-public partnerships. Government organizations often fund programs for their region.

 

In addition, industry-specific ED programs support industries ranging from construction to ski areas. They may have a different focus based on their industry, such as increasing awareness, education, public policy, or industry cohesiveness. There are several possibilities for local tennis ED programs. Options include a public-private organization funded by local tennis organizations (Table I), including the USTA.

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Another possibility is to incorporate tennis-related ED efforts with other individual sports, such as golf. A final option is to have a tennis-related ED office managed and fully funded by a sectional or district USTA office. 

As previously mentioned, the tennis cluster faces many challenges. It is in its mature stage, it is very decentralized, there are many small organizations, and tennis is often a minuscule part of larger companies. Despite good intentions, the cluster operates in a dysfunctional manner.

 

Effective ED programs have a strong record in many cities, regions, states, and industries. It is time for the tennis community to adopt a tennis-related ED mindset.

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