WHO CAN MOVE THE NEEDLE? ANYONE?
By Rich Neher
(At the end of the article I'm asking for feedback. Please let me know what you think by email.)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "MOVE A NEEDLE?"
Before examining the situation and looking into some of the current activities in the tennis ecosystem, I should probably attempt to explain what it means to me to "move the needle" in tennis today. One dictionary states, "To shift the situation in some area, activity, sphere, etc. to a noticeable degree." A Microsoft guy explained it like that: "In general business-speak, move the needle means generates a reaction, but at Microsoft, it has the more general sense of providing a perceptible improvement."
For me, moving the needle means "making a significant difference."
WHY DO I THINK A NEEDLE NEEDS TO BE MOVED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Because we're in the process of losing our sport! And I'm not saying this lightly. Yes, tennis is experiencing a huge boom period right now. Not because anyone did something significantly different to cause that boom. No, it was created by a pandemic that caused people to eventually realize that an outdoor sport where participants were naturally distant from one another was pretty much the safest fitness activity for people of any age. The fact that local and state governments took more than 6 months to see the light in favor of tennis was not so much the CDC's fault but more our inability to properly advocate for our sport. But that is a discussion we need to have at another time.
The sport of tennis is being threatened on several fronts. Let me summarize and prioritize it for you.
1. Pickleball is stealing our courts
You know that I love the sport of pickleball. It is fun to play and if it were available in my neighborhood, I would play it, too. Combining pickleball and tennis is a great idea for any club or public facility as long as new PB courts are being built. Replacing tennis courts with PB courts is a clear and present danger to our sport.
2. The "Pandemic Boom" will not last because no one is excited about tennis
Here, I said it. Why will it flatten out soon and end? Not only will the people who jumped into tennis head over heels last year naturally lose interest when they see how challenging it is to stay in an "unwelcoming" sport when other sports are available again.
I am going to repeat it until the USTA Board members and executives are getting blue in their faces: You fail to make tennis exciting for the masses. You are all sitting pretty in your jobs at national and section levels. Most of the money you spend because of the US Open is going towards salaries and keeping your jobs and never hits the grassroots programming efforts that need it.
I watched Jeff Bezos this morning taking 3 people with him into space at Blue Origin. This man has the ability to fill everything he does with excitement. Where is the Jeff Bezos of tennis? Where is the space program of tennis? Why am I not seeing young and old excitedly say, "I want to be part of that tennis thing? That is so cool!"
3. California is losing tennis courts to condo buildings
Yep, the ROI for building condos is 10 times (or more) the ROI for running a tennis club. I can't be sure but I can imagine this happens in some other areas as well. When tennis courts disappear they never reappear again. They are gone for good. Here's where advocacy comes in. We should advocate to keep tennis courts and for MORE courts. One thing is for certain: The soccer moms, baseball dads, and pickleball Ambassadors are out there advocating forcefully for their sport. Why aren't we? Could it be because we are lazy? I understand the USTA is making advocacy one of their priority and Mickey Maule is trying his best. But without excitement (see 2. above), advocacy is an empty phrase lost in the whirlwind of change!
Without excitement, advocacy is an empty phrase
lost in the whirlwind of change!
Let's face it, excitement is not in the USTA's DNA. So, who's going to step up to the plate to fill in that void? Is there anyone out there with new ideas that could excite millions of kids and adults alike?
A number of people have come out of the woodworks in the past 12 months and promised change. But big words don't mean a thing to me! I want to see the program the manifesto, the ideas at whatever stage they might be. And I don't think that is too much to ask. If you're selling seminars and virtual conferences, that's one thing. But don't tell me you're a change agent if all you do is capitalizing on the tennis professionals' thirst for knowledge and feeding them content we have heard 15 years ago. That's not change. It's just capitalism, pure and simple.
WHO'S GOING TO FILL THE VOID?
This month I have singled out two names many of you may have heard or seen on social media: Fernando Segal and Noel Walsh. Both have ideas that sound interesting and both could succeed without the USTA's support/funding. I'm going to start with Fernando and an introduction to his plea for "bringing back the spirit of Wingfield."
Oh, so you have never heard the name Wingfield? Here's Wikipedia:
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (16 October 1833 – 18 April 1912) was a Welsh inventor and a British Army officer who was one of the pioneers of lawn tennis. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997 as the founder of modern lawn tennis, an example of the original equipment for the sport and a bust of Wingfield can be seen at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
I'm pretty sure Fernando doesn't want to invoke the "Ghosts of Tennis Past" (haha) but he has a point in making us listen to legends like Wingfield and Tilden. Scroll down for more.
Fernando's LinkedIn profile describes him as Worldwide Development Tennis Expert / Author / Innovator + Sports Consultant + Building World Class Development Mindsets. He hails from Miami, Florida but he connected with me from Mexico City. He happens to be the owner of IDTC Tennis, a "leading tennis development company for all levels and audiences" in Mexico. Fernando is also Director for MKT.COM, "a leading company for the development of Marketing, Communication and Strategic Innovation tools,"and he's also the President of GPTCA in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.
In the United States, Fernando Segal is the Founder and CEO of Tennis Stars, "the first operational management tennis development project for tennis entrepreneurs."
As Founder and President of the U.S. and Mexico-based Segal Institute for Human Performance & Tennis Development, an organization "with the aim of helping develop Leaders in the growth of the sport and especially tennis generating innovation, studies, researches, management experiences, courses and more, supported by the knowledge gained from four decades of successful development practices."
Everything Fernando does oozes innovation and the quest for helping tennis staying relevant and progressing through uncertain times. He says, "In order to grow in the future, tennis has to learn from the past. Look at Bill Tilden, for instance. The man wrote 20 books and many of his teachings are still relevant today."
Bring back the spirit of Wingfield!
I don't think Fernando Segal's plea to "bring back the spirit of Wingfield" is an empty phrase. Like Segal himself, Wingfield was an innovator. He took a game that was mainly played indoors outside by producing and marketing a portable net with poles, rubber balls, court markers, and a handbook. His vision was to provide people with "healthy exercise and social amusement." Healthy exercise and social amusement? That sounds like fun, right? It is my understanding that Segal wants to bring back that fun exercise spirit. I have to applaud him for that. Besides, doesn't it take guts to talk about 21st-century innovation and 19th-century innovators in the same breath?
So, besides all his other developmental activities, what is Fernando Segal planning to do right now as far as tennis innovation is concerned?
He's actively planning TBD Tennis Innovation Week for October 27-30 this year. (TBD stands for TENNIS BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT)
Segal is asking every one of his 100+ speakers "What innovation are you bringing to tennis?" He wants the audience to get a good look at the future of our sport and the event to create momentum to bring ideas for change.
I personally hope he doesn't let any of the usual speakers in. You know, the ones that are telling us the serve is a 9-step process. That may sell them more videos but it doesn't bring innovation and new participants to the game. On the contrary, it may make players leave the sport for easier activities. I watched that 9-step video and found it a big waste of time. If you can't teach the serve in 3-4 steps, you are in the wrong sport, my friend.
The TENNIS INNOVATION WEEK includes three parts (also see PDF slides)
1. Convention Speakers
2. TBD World Tennis Expo
3. TBD Innovation Awards
The Expo includes an interesting way of allowing vendors to show their products or service vi a 12-15 minute video.
Fernando Segal expects up to 5,000 people to participate in October. How? By keeping the cost affordable. He charges $30 per person which includes the ability to watch all speakers again for another 30 days after the event has ended. He's working with TENNIS One to put the event on their app for convenience.
So, is Fernando Segal able to move the needle? I say maybe. I have to wait and see what the speakers tell us. But you be the judge. Please let me know how you feel about his concept.
Scroll down for a look at Noel Walsh's plans.
Noel P. Walsh
Hailing from County Kilkenny in Ireland, Noel is the owner of a relatively new operation, TennisInvestor.Com. On LinkledIn he states: "I help investors to find and fund events, projects, products and players. I match available sources of funding with appropriate entrepeneurs, business and project owners to develop and capture business opportunities. I can access sources of investment and sponsorship funding globally. I review, critique, advise on how to improve business and project plans to be more successful. I am an Ambassador and Influencer in the global tennis space. Sometimes I get involved as an angel investor directly."
I was able to interview Noel for this article about innovators who may be able to move the needle. Is he one of the few who can make a significant difference? His answers will hopefully give us a good picture of himself and his operation. I'll add a short summary of what I think of Noel and his plans at the end.
TCB: Hi Noel. How and why did you get into the business of tennis? Did you come from a tennis family or background?
NPW: While living in Atlanta, my wife and I played some tennis at the local YMCA and some public parks. During summer 2012, we started playing tennis as a family for fun and social reasons upon our return to Ireland. This proved to be a great outlet for us all and eventually, after about 1 year, we registered our kids for a couple of summer camps at some public courts. Then when school started back, we registered with some of our local tennis coaches at our local tennis club. My kids started to play more tennis and started to take lessons and eventually qualified for regional and national squads. As they gained experience we traveled more and more in Ireland and then across Europe.
TCB: What gave you the idea of creating tennisinvestor.com?
NPW: As we traveled more to competitions as a family and for training across Europe to some specialized tennis academies, I came to the conclusion that all parents, players, coaches, and facilities are effectively investing in tennis all the time - money, time, and other resources and saving to avoiding other consumption so they could enable their kids to follow their very own personal tennis dream.
Some players, however, who didn't stay on the hamster wheel of training and competitions got pushed to the side or effectively sidelined due to financial or time commitment issues. It was obvious at this stage that approx 1,000 USD per month for private and group coaching was the minimum needed to follow this journey. Add into this travel costs hotel flights, car rental, etc - lots of money is required. This seemed to be equivalent to the amount of money needed to fund a good retirement plan or as investments paid into stocks and shares to build a nest egg. Hence the idea of Tennis Investor was born....the main area of focus was what did the Return on Investment ROI look like for the majority of high potential tennis players and their families... was it negative or positive and how much % based on the original investments or could if even be calculated this way....
TCB: The website states that tennisinvestor.com is a new Global Tennis Community Platform. What are you trying to disrupt here? What needle are you moving?
NPW: Global obviously means worldwide. The tennis community is truly both local and global in nature and focus. This tennis community umbrella also comprises many subsidiary communities such as recreational and mostly social versus highly competitive in nature where competition and performance improvement is the main focus and is more of a lone wolf sport. Crowdfunding by a community of like-minded individuals with a common purpose was considered very unusual and over the 10-15 years has developed to become a worldwide phenomenon that provides increased access to resources and funding of different types. In addition, syndicates or groups of investors (strength in numbers) provide an increasing % of funding whether organized formally or informally. Tennis Investor is being designed and planned to become a unique platform that hosts the Global Tennis Investor Community in one dedicated space.
TCB: Who is part of that Strategic Management Team that you are planning to build?
NPW: The Strategic Management Team will comprise both recognized Tennis Experts from all continents of the world and Tennis Success Stories and other more Financially Oriented Investors and Legal and other Professional Services Experts. An announcement of the Strategic Management Team members will be made during 2022. Many will be very well known in the tennis community.
TCB: Several products are listed on the Tennis Investor site, such as SCORLI, MultiBall, and a new wooden tennis racquet. What criteria do you have for selecting a product and what is the thought process in funding a wooden racquet?
NPW: The criteria are undergoing change as the Tennis Investor Platform matures and the initial concepts become clearer. The main thought process and the most important criteria is to assist innovative and tennis-specific products. As the Platform develops further, more and more products will be introduced to the community. At the moment many of the investments being reviewed are not published and these are focussed on electronic products such as software or other products with a longer development life-cycle.
TCB: How do you see the future for your crowdfunding efforts? Is your “Spider Web Network” big enough to make it worthwhile for promising new players?
NPW: The plan for the crowdfunding platform is to build a Spider Web Network of independent funding opportunities and other support services for high potential tennis players who have the ability to get to the top 500 on the WTA and the ATP Tours. These funding opportunities for such high-potential players can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month. As the Platform develops further, more and more players will be introduced and given access to these funding platforms. At the moment many of the highest potential players are not listed and we are working with these players individually and confidentially.
TCB: Last year you founded Global Tennis Tour Network (GTT) with a long-term plan of a “significant global footprint.” How are you planning to move the needle here? What are you disrupting?
NPW: The Global Tennis Tour Network plan is very ambitious while at the same time realistic to achieve. Through some very strategic long-term investments, Tennis Investor has started to prime the pump whereby millions of players will be able to enjoy playing more tennis on a more affordable and local scale.
Starting in the USA, we see millions of tennis players from High School all the way to the oldest generations who will benefit from easier access and availability and better tennis opportunities. Through these strategic investments, Tennis Investor is planning that well over 100,000 tennis coaches worldwide will play a central role in this process in addition to the local organizer of tennis events and local tennis providers. This will allow the management and coordination of tennis in a way that is similar to the Air B&B of Tennis. Over the next few months, some of these plans will be revealed to the public and the needle will move in a way that has never been possible before.
TCB: You have about two dozen “USA Tennis Tour” tournaments listed on UTR. The website states you’re planning weekly, monthly, regional and nationwide tournaments. How big can you expand that tour? How many tournaments do you want to organize?
NPW: The USA Tennis Tour plan is based on 500 venues across the USA which will host at least one tennis tournament per month for a minimum of 128 players in a couple of divisions. Therefore the 10-year plan is to have approx. 6,000 events per year with 128 players per event. In other words, 128 players will play 12 events per year at 500 venues to accommodate the needs of approx. 64,000 high potential tennis players annually in the USA. We see this as a very realistic target and the final numbers might be much higher. This will create some opportunities for tennis directors and other tournament staff to help with the operation of these USA Tennis Tour events.
TCB: Is the prize money at your tournaments covered just by the registration fees? Are you planning to increase that prize money from the current $50 or 60?
NPW: The prize money for our first USA Tennis Tour test event is being covered from a small startup capital injection made by Tennis Investor and our management partner 21 Ace Tennis Events LLC. Some USA Tennis Tour events are planned to have higher prize money amounts and others less. Many USA Tennis Tour events have little or no prize money to accommodate the needs of our players who need to work within NCAA guidelines.
TCB: What are your future plans? Where do you want to take your tennis operations?
NPW: The sky's the limit and we have big plans to make a significant impact in this 1.2 Billion USD annual market. Currently, the value of Tennis Investor is growing rapidly and we see a long-term valuation of at least 100 Million USD in assets under management as a very realistic 10-year target.
TCB: Thank you, Noel Walsh.
While both Fernando Segal and Noel Walsh are passionate about the sport of tennis, I see Walsh more as the numbers guy who should probably get behind Segal's plans and take care of the business side of it. Both individuals are certainly innovators and disruptors.
Walsh is slowly and steadily setting up a considerable operation in two areas. One is definitely a huge undertaking by creating all those UTR tournaments for potentially millions of players. GTT partner 21Ace Tennis Events recently their biggest event of the year, the "USA Open 2021 by USA TENNIS TOUR sponsored by APE SPORTSWEAR & presented by USATT - Florida." They're hoping for 500 players in 6 divisions (from Junior to Wheelchair) in Miami October 22-25. Men’s Open Prize to Winner $4,000. Women’s Open Prize to Winner $4,000. Information & Registration
Crowdfunding is the other side of the TennisInvestor coin. If he succeeds there, he'll open up very interesting funds for young players planning to go pro but without the means to do so. Not sure what the ROI side of that idea may look like but I guess he'll figure that out, too. I love it, for sure.
We have also learned that Tennis Investor has just completed a significant strategic investment in a global innovative multi-sport marketing and sponsorship business. For the year 2022 annual sponsorship will be offered to 200+ high-level tennis players. Selected players will qualify for the opportunity to get annual sponsorship between 600 USD and 60,000 USD. More about that initiative this month in PUBLISHER'S NOTES under 'Brought to my attention.'
Shows me again that it's private organizations and innovations that are the future of tennis and not a governing body unable to excite anyone.
I wish Noel all the best for that and have a feeling he will succeed.
Anyone wanting to connect with Fernando or Noel, please let me know and I'll connect you. Also, do you think either one of the two gentlemen is able to "move the needle?" Send me an email and give me your honest opinion. Thank you.
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