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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.


What Drives Tennis Participation –

Increased Population or the Industry Associations?

It is easy to overlook the importance of population changes

By Gary Horvath

Every ten years, Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution mandates the United States Census Bureau to conduct a census of the U.S. population. The data is collected to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and the distribution of federal funds to local communities.

Economists and business leaders also use the data to identify regional, state, and local trends to make business decisions. This short article discusses population trends that drive tennis participation.

Historical Population Change

Table I shows the population grew at a slower rate (percentage) between 2010 and 2020 than all other decades, except during the 1930s. That census increased at a rate of growth was 7.3%. The total change in the 2020 Census was more than in 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, and 1990. It was well below 1960, 1970, 1980, 2000, and 2010.


The cause of the decline is a declining fertility rate for all races and ethnicities. This trend will likely continue in the near term.


The stagnancy in tennis participation over the past decade can be attributed to many factors, including the policies and programs of tennis associations and the slower rate of population growth.


Estimated Population Based on Market Share of Five to Six Percent

Historically, the tennis population has had a market share in the range of 5.0% to 6.0% of the total population. Table II assumes a market share of 5.5%, the midpoint of this range, to estimate the size of the tennis population (column 3) and the amount of change in tennis participation (column 5) for the Census years 1970 to 2020. Since 1970, the population-based average annual change has been between 120,000 and 180,00 players.

In other words, changes in the U.S. population drive changes in tennis participation more than realized! This hypothesis does not account for the short-lived tennis booms of the 1970s and the 2020 surge caused by COVID-19 policies. In both cases, the rapid growth was artificial, and the industry lacked the infrastructure and capacity to meet the demand of incoming players.


Population Growth at the Regional Level – Implications for Tennis

The Census Bureau calculates population growth for four regions: South, West, Midwest, and Northeast.


Table III shows that the Southern and Western Census regions accounted for 62% of the U.S. population in 2020. About 81% of the population change occurred in these regions between 2010 and 2020.


Table IV shows the estimated increase in tennis participation data for these four regions was about 1.2 million for the decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of tennis participants in the Southern and Western Census regions increased by one million. By comparison, the number of participants increased by about 240,000 players in the Midwest and Northeast Census regions.


It is possible to measure the effectiveness of the regions to increase participation by comparing industry data with the estimated regional changes from Table IV. Looking forward, the Southern and Western are bellwether regions for increased tennis participation over the next decade.


Population Growth at the State Level

Table V shows the top fifteen states for population change from 2010 to 2020 (third column). The Western and Southern Census regions include all states except New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.


These fifteen States accounted for 58% of the U.S. population in 2020. Between 2010 and 2020, 78% of the population change occurred in these states. About half of the projected growth in the tennis population between 2010 and 2020 was in Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, and Washington.


It is possible to measure the effectiveness of the top states to increase participation by comparing industry data with the estimated state changes from Table V. Looking forward, most of these states are likely to be bellwether states for increased tennis participation over the next decade.


Concluding Comments and Questions

There are three takeaways from this short article.

1) Both industry activity and population changes impact the total number of tennis participants. It is easy to overlook the importance of population changes.

2) The industry must meet the needs of all tennis players, teaching professionals, and tennis businesses. At the same time, the majority of tennis players reside in states in the Western and Southern Census regions. These are the Census regions that drive the industry.

3) What is the estimated market share for tennis participation in every state? How is that measured? How are the associations dealing with states that have underperforming leadership?


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