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.
No Opportunity Without Access in Tennis
By Gary Horvath
Over the past year, I watched several webinars and read numerous articles about the need for the tennis industry to broaden its demographics. The topic was relevant. Sadly, the discussions did not address the issues. They were a collection of platitudes and sound bites.
I hoped to hear about how underserved communities had reached out to the tennis industry because they wanted to play tennis. It would have been great to learn there were more low-cost options for playing the sport. I wished the coaches and pros would have talked about how they made it easier to learn to play the sport. Most importantly, I wanted the experts to discuss the importance of the terms "opportunity" and "access."
This document includes a short anecdote that illustrates the importance of these two concepts – “opportunity” and “access”. Finally, a brief analysis shows the accessibility of indoor courts in the Denver Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). In short, the lack of access to courts and quality instruction and programming is constraining the growth of tennis.
The Rant from Erika – Opportunity and Access
As a junior player living in a small, isolated city in northwest New Mexico, I grew up thinking everyone had the opportunity to play tennis and the access to courts. I rode my bicycle to play tennis in parks and recreation programs during the summer. During the school year, we played on junior-high and high school teams. Throughout the season, the top men players welcomed us into their circle.
When my play reached a higher level, I learned that access to better competition meant traveling a minimum of several hundred miles. That became a challenge that I accepted as a player and teaching professional.
During the 1990s, I was a volunteer assistant college coach. One day after practice, Erika provided her eye-opening perspective about "opportunity" and "access". The coaches and players were chit-chatting when the discussion turned to the lack of diversity in tennis. I mentioned the industry was addressing the issue. I cited the efforts of the USTA and teaching organizations to promote the sport to all demographics through programs such as the NJTL, schools’ programs, and various committees.
Erika was assertive and liked to share her opinion. She rolled her eyes, threw her hands up in the air, and said, “OMG, the USTA is soooo stupid.” (Her comments were a little harsher than that.)
Do they want to play tennis? She then asked, “Did anyone bother to ask these people if they wanted to play tennis? Maybe they want to play soccer or ride bulls in a rodeo.” For the tennis industry to force themselves on communities who do not play tennis is as crazy as having your roommate set you up on a blind date with her brother who “has a great personality.”
Quick and Dirty Analysis of Opportunity and Access in the Denver MSA
The following quick and dirty analysis shows the location of indoor tennis facilities in my backyard, the Denver MSA. Admittedly, it is sometimes possible to play outdoor tennis in Denver during the winter months; however, indoor facilities are necessary for players who want to play on a year-round basis.
The Denver MSA includes 4,532 square miles over ten counties (Denver, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Adams, Douglas, Broomfield, Elbert, Park, Clear Creek, and Gilpin). About 3.2 million people live in this area. The community has an active group of tennis professionals, college and high school tennis programs, leagues, tournaments, and other tennis activities.
The most notable thing about Table I is that it shows there are three public facilities located in the Denver MSA.
There are indoor facilities located in five of the ten Denver MSA counties. The counties without facilities have smaller populations.
The distance between each facility and the Colorado State Capitol shows its proximity to downtown Denver. The Capitol is on East Colfax (a major east-west street) in the middle of downtown Denver.
Ten of the eighteen facilities are within a 15-mile radius of the Colorado State Capitol. In other words, they are in an area with a high concentration of people.
Table II provides a slightly different perspective on the location of indoor facilities.
There are no facilities in the quadrant northeast of the State Capitol. Only two of the facilities are in the northwest quadrant - the Apex Tennis Center (public) and The Ranch Country Club.
Sixteen of the eighteen indoor facilities are in the two quadrants south of Colfax. Five private facilities and two public facilities are in the southwest quadrant. The southeast quadrant has nine private facilities. Two have opened since 2019.
The tennis facilities in Denver are strategically located near their current and projected customer base. It is necessary for indoor tennis facilities to have strategies to stay in business.
On the downside, the location of these facilities does not provide access to indoor courts for some geographic areas and groups of people in the Denver MSA. A similar situation exists in many other cities.
The tennis industry in Denver and many other cities are faced with a dilemma. Should facilities be built in locations that ensure their profitability or should they be built in locations that have greater financial risk, but a greater potential of expanding the demographics of the sport? If the latter is the case, should the USTA help share the risk with local cities or businesses?
There is no easy answer.
As the industry takes steps to expand its demographics, hopefully, it will keep the words of Erika in mind. Ask them if they want to play. If they say yes, welcome them to the sport. Give them an opportunity to play or teach. Create access to the sport in their community.
See you on the courts!
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