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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 NEW USPTA LEADERSHIP MUST PROTECT AND PROMOTE ITS MEMBERS

This review of the winners and forced and unforced errors for the past eleven years shows the Board should revert to the basics. Protect and promote the tennis profession!

By Gary Horvath

In January 2024, a different Board of Directors and CEO will usher in a new era at the USPTA. A post-match analysis of the past eleven years shows there are winners to celebrate and build on. The Board of Directors is also accountable for resolving critical issues associated with the forced and unforced errors during this period.

 

This document includes a short list of challenges facing the USPTA leadership. A shout-out goes to the Board of Directors for addressing these and other critical issues.

It is a Different World in 2023

Since its inception in 1927, the USPTA and the tennis industry have evolved significantly. The change accelerated over the past eleven years, especially during the pandemic.

 

Even forty-five years ago, the industry was in its infant stages. The USTA had minimal influence on the industry, and the USPTA was the primary trade association for teaching professionals. ITCA provided limited services to college tennis, and USPTR was the new kid on the block.

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During the late 1970s, the tennis industry enjoyed a short-lived tennis boom, compliments of the Battle of the Sexes. Unfortunately, the tennis industry lacked the leadership and infrastructure to meet the influx of new players.

 

Between then and 2013, the tennis industry experienced turmoil and growing pains as it evolved into a mature industry. Since 2013, tennis and the USPTA have become less relevant for several reasons.

  • Despite increased participation, tennis has faced stiff competition from various activities, ranging from screen time to pickleball.

  • The USTA budget and influence increased significantly. It developed programs and initiatives that touched all aspects of the sport – from consulting services to certification accreditation. By 2023, USTA dominated the industry.

  • Over the past eleven years, USPTA leaders made policy decisions to align more closely with the USTA rather than focusing on the mission of the USPTA - certification, education, and serving as the voice of the teaching professionals.

  • Individuals and organizations have developed personal certification programs, coaching groups, and education programs that compete against the USPTA.

Declining Relevance of the USPTA
The following Google Trends chart shows how the USPTA’s presence declined between January 1, 2013, and June 15, 2023. Google charts for the USTA and PTR show similar trends.

The peak for searches occurred in August 2013. The line trended downward between 2010 and 2019 following the decline in tennis participation. The trend line remained flat from 2020 through 2022 when tennis participation increased by at least five million players. The stagnancy occurred because government policy, rather than the actions of tennis associations, was responsible for the increase in tennis participation, i.e., the associations were not associated with the growth.

Google Trends - Search for United States Professional Tennis Association – June 15, 2023

(The two vertical lines identify improvements in software).

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This point is illustrated further by USPTA membership, as posted on its website. The USPTA had 15,000 members in 2015. In June 2023, the USPTA website indicated their worldwide membership was 14,000.

 

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • Identify the reasons for the decline in awareness of the USPTA and other tennis organizations over the past decade. Address these issues.

  • Increase awareness of the value of certified professionals.

  • Transparency helps establish credibility, i.e., publish a directory of members and a timely and accurate number of members.

Formation and Mission of the USPTA

On Sept. 23, 1927, a small group of tennis professionals gathered in the Spalding building in New York City. Their mission was to bridge the gap between the amateur ranks and a respectable career as a tennis professional. Their answer was to establish the Professional Lawn Tennis Association of the United States.

The organization sent out the following notice to all recognized tennis professionals:

 

“For some time there has been a very strong feeling among lawn tennis professionals that there is a need for some organization to protect and promote their interests, and to assist them in obtaining a proper and recognized status in the tennis world. A meeting was held on September 23 and it was decided to form an Association An initiation fee of $10 will be charged to all new members. Dues are to be $5 annually.
 

Source:https://www.uspta.com/USPTA/About_USPTA/History/History_of_USPTA

Protect and Promote the Tennis Profession

In 1927 the USPTA was formed to protect and promote tennis professionals. Over the past eleven years, the USPTA leadership has focused on aligning with the USTA, being a social justice warrior, establishing partnerships and photo-ops, selling sponsorships, and raising funds for other organizations. In certain situations, these activities have merit. Generally, the entire body of members has not benefitted from these activities.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • Protect and promote the interests of tennis professionals!

  • Create more value for USPTA members in ways that are important to them.

  • Sponsorships, partnerships, and other programs should benefit the membership.

Protect the Profession Through Advocacy

The USPTA must be an advocate for challenges facing tennis professionals, such as the sampling of issues listed below:

  • Independent contractors - Understand the role of independent contractors and evolving labor regulations.

  • Fertility - Lower fertility rates impact schools, youth activities, and workforce programs.

  • Generations - The values and changes in the mix of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers will impact the tennis workforce and the number of players.

  • Race, ethnicity, and other demographics - The never-ending change in demographics will impact many aspects of the industry.

  • Workforce - Labor shortages will continue. Training and education must evolve to meet workers’ needs.

  • Technology - The role of technologies, such as AI and AR, will impact the profession.

  • Green New Deal - Green energy initiatives and legislation will negatively impact the tennis industry.

  • Independence - Teaching professionals must have a voice in the industry. They must remain independent of the USTA.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • Be proactive - identify issues, regulations, and potential legislation that will potentially impact tennis professionals and the industry.

  • Work with PTR, ITA, USTA, and other industry leaders to address relevant issues.

  • Protect and promote the profession!

Workforce Development (Certification) and Training (Education)

The USTA provides general education programs and research that benefits clubs, schools, recreation programs, and professionals. The USPTA, PTR, and ITA provide certification and education programs tailored to their members.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • The USPTA, PTR, and ITA must proactively maintain their certification and education programs. They are the experts in these areas.

  • The coaching associations should work with the USTA and utilize its financial resources to conduct research and refine and expand their programs.

Mandatory Continuing Education (CE)

Over the past decade, the USPTA implemented a mandatory education program. It includes limited free access to the Tennis Resources database. Members are required to get 15 CE points in three years. In addition, the USPTA offers monthly webinars that are professionally moderated and well-attended. There are modest fees for members to attend national and divisional activities. A few members post their annual CE certificates on social media to show their appreciation for the program. Anecdotal evidence suggests that about 20% of the members receive 80% of CE points.

 

According to Custom Market Insights (CMI), the Global Continuing Education Market was estimated at $33.6 billion in 2022 (click here for the link).

Considerations for the Board of Directors

Based on what other industry associations are doing, the USPTA should upgrade its CE program.

  • Measure how the CE program improves the skills of its members.

  • Determine if Tennis Resources is an appropriate investment in 2023.

  • Continue to find ways to reduce the costs of implementing the CE program. USPTA leadership has indicated that tracking member points is labor-intensive.

  • Compared to other industries, the CE requirements are not rigorous. Elevate the standards!

  • Monetize the CE program to include free monthly webinars and bi-monthly courses that generate revenue. Evaluate other means of revenue generation for education programs.

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Financial Operations

The USPTA board has performed its fiduciary responsibility by setting aside a limited reserve fund. At the same time, the organization appears to have experienced operational and financial challenges, as seen in employee turnover and decisions to limit investments that benefit its members. The economic factors of the Orlando region (a limited workforce, high inflation, and high cost of housing) have challenged the USPTA.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • Develop fiscally sustainable certification and education programs.

  • Explore all possibilities for improving the profitability (revenue minus expenses) of the USPTA. Eliminate funding for programs or initiatives that do not add value or generate revenue for the organization.

  • Be transparent in sharing the financial and operational decisions made by the Board of Directors.

  • Increase fundraising for the USPTA Foundation.

Certification for Alternate Racquet Sports, Schools, and Recreation Programs

There is merit to USPTA certification for platform tennis, pickleball, and padel. Approximately 15% to 20% of members are certified in at least one alternate sport.

 

Once members have paid for the alternate USPTA racquet sports certification, they are not charged annual dues for being certified. The downside is that the USPTA does not invest in education programs. Members must look to the PTR or other organizations to learn more about teaching these sports.

 

The USPTA does not offer certification and education opportunities for recreation and school coaches. The programs are poorly publicized if they exist.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • Define the purpose of the certification and education program for alternate racquet sports. Create revenue streams from certification and education programs for alternate racquet sports.

  • Offer certification and education programs for recreation and school coaches. Create revenue streams from these programs.

Engagement in the Tennis Industry

Over 30 years ago, the USPTA was a leader in the industry by setting up committees to increase the number of women and minorities in the sport.

 

During the pandemic, the USPTA started a DEI program that placed members in demographic groups and celebrated the groups. Some members are ecstatic with the program, and some have dropped their membership.

 

An effective DEI program would increase the productivity of the USPTA because it would utilize the knowledge and skills of all members as it protects and promotes the profession. The program would have meaningful metrics that show the reduction in perceived prejudices and track the number of members integrated into the organization and industry. The process takes time, effort, and a commitment of resources.

Considerations for the Board of Directors

  • An appropriate way to encourage members to achieve their potential is to break down the silos and engage all members in the USPTA and its divisions. The following ideas address member engagement.

  • There are many ways to integrate members into the industry - mentorships, serving on committees, volunteering in the community, networking, and improving their skills in CE programs. Participation in these events is measurable and effective.

  • Support the construction of locally owned facilities in underserved areas and hire USPTA professionals to manage them. The USTA and other organizations could provide funding.

  • Partner with the ITA to generate interest among college players, particularly women athletes, to work in the tennis industry after graduation.

  • Expand efforts to increase the USPTA Foundation to reduce certification and education expenses for prospective members.

  • Demographics are changing. Should White Non-Hispanics (WNH) be the benefactors of DEI programs in states such as California (34.7%), New Mexico (35.7%), or Texas (39.8%) where they are a minority?

The list of ways to engage USPTA members and integrate them into the industry goes on ad infinitum.

 

Post Match Analysis

This review of the winners and forced and unforced errors for the past eleven years shows the Board should revert to the basics. Protect and promote the tennis profession!

 

USPTA members should hold the Board of Directors accountable for elevating its standards for leadership as part of the organization’s efforts to raise its standards for teaching tennis. At the same time, members must commit to being involved in the organization and encourage their peers to become engaged. The USPTA must do better in 2024!

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