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. 

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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.

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Changes in the Tennis Industry - Millennials and Much More

By Gary Horvath

There is a story that Willie Nelson once said, 'Today's younger generation needs to start thinking about what kind of world they are going to leave for Keith Richards and me." Baby boomers resemble these musicians because it seems like they will be around forever.

 

The August 2021 release of the 2020 Census showed the boomers are kicking and screaming as they ride into the sunset. Their contributions to business, society, and the tennis industry have been significant.

 

The data in Table I shows there are currently more Gen X and millennials than boomers. About 69% of the population is younger than baby boomers, and 52% are under 40. Be polite to the younger generations. They are the future tennis players, teaching professionals, and leaders of the tennis industry. If you are not kind, they might assign you to court 46 by the highway in your next league match!

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The data in Chart I illustrates the following key points about the distribution of the 2020 population by age and generation.

  • The primary adult tennis markets are the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups. The total population for these two categories is 88.2 million. All the 25 to 34 group are millennials and, 52% of the 35 to 44 group are millennials. About 48% of the 35 to 44 group are Gen X.

  • The secondary adult tennis markets are the 45 to 54 and 18 to 24 age groups. The total population for the 45 to 54 group is about 40 million, with about 30 million in the 18 to 24 age group. All the 45 to 54 group are Gen X. About 87% of the 18 to 24 age group are Gen Z, and 13% are millennials.

  • The junior markets are the 6 to12 age category (29 million) and the 13 to 17 age category (21 million). The junior population is entirely Gen Z.

 

In 2020, the primary and secondary adult and junior groups included millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z.

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The analysis in Chart II looks at the difference between the population by age between 2010 and 2020. For example, the difference between the population in 2020 (329,484,123) and 2010 (308,758,105) was 20,726,018. The difference was positive in 66 of the 101 age categories, and it was negative in 35 categories.

  • Lower fertility rates caused the population to decline by 2.2 million. There were decreases in 19 of the 22 years between the ages 0 to 21. This change affects Gen alpha and Gen Z.

  • The population increased by 6.9 million for the 17 years between ages 22 and 38. The increase occurred because a larger group of millennials replaced a smaller group of Gen X over the decade.

  • The population declined by 5.3 million for the 16 years between the ages of 39 and 54. The decline was a function of a smaller group of Gen X replacing the larger group of Baby Boomers over the ten years.

  • Finally, the most meaningful change was the increase of 21.3 million for the 46 years between the ages 55 and 100. The magnitude of this change was a result of the aging of the baby boomers.

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Between 2010 and 2020, there was an increase in the population of the primary adult tennis markets. The 25 to 34 age category increased by 5.0 million, and the 45 to 54 age group expanded by 1.1 million.

 

The news was less favorable in the secondary adult tennis markets. Over the past decade, the population in the 45 to 54 age category declined by 4.6 million. The 18 to 24 age group decreased by about 647,000.

 

Finally, the population in the junior tennis markets declined slightly. There was a decline in the 6 to 12 age group of 154,000, and the 13 to 17 age category decreased by about 304,000.

 

The primary and secondary adult and junior tennis markets include about 63% of the total population. These markets exclude people whose age is under six years and 55 years and older. Tennis is a sport for a lifetime, but as senior players get older, they often turn to other activities. About 37% of the total population is in the two excluded age groups.

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It is easy to analyze data, provide commentary, and ask questions. The challenge is to address the issues.

  • Over the past decade, Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X replaced the baby boomers. Has the transition to the younger generations gone smoothly? Have the characteristics and priorities of the younger generations been understood and accepted in the tennis industry?

  • How have the education systems, the labor force, and the tennis industry dealt with the declining fertility rates?

  • Over the past decade, the population increased in the primary tennis markets (ages 25 to 34 and 35 to 44). How is the tennis industry going to attract and retain players in these growth markets?

  • There were population declines in the junior and secondary adult markets (ages 18-24 and 45-54). How is the tennis industry going to address the added competition in these tight markets?

  • Will the tennis industry find ways to keep seniors engaged in the sport after the age of 55?

  • The tennis industry fared much better than expected during the pandemic recovery. Initially, there were hopes the tennis industry would more innovatively and comprehensively promote the sport. It seems the industry has reverted to what it is comfortable with – maintaining the status quo. Will leaders transform the tennis industry with creativity and Baldridge-like business practices rather than checklists of issues not related to the business of tennis?

  • What will the top stories be when the 2030 United States Census is released? How will the tennis industry address the challenges outlined by the 2020 Census? What will the challenges and changes be that foster the growth of the tennis industry over the next decade?

 

Most importantly, what kind of world will the younger generations leave for Keith Richards and Willie Nelson and their counterparts in the tennis industry – Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer?

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