CONGRATULATIONS! FINALLY SOME POSITIVE NEWS FROM THE USTA!
After several "renegades" predicted its death, NTRP has been given a lifeline
How many of those ex-USTA staffers who will remain unnamed and who wanted to change the most sacred of USTA programs, Adult Leagues, have predicted the demise of NTRP? "As soon as WTN is here, it's bye-bye NTRP" was their mantra. As someone who once upon a time was involved, I was outraged. I was sure the late Larry Jones was crying bitterly in his grave. Then those same incapable and incompetent people dismantled NOG, the National Oversight Group for NTRP ratings. Those people represented the entire knowledge base for NTRP and they were coldly shut down. Fortunately, someone in Orlando had the foresight to get some experienced people together and form NAG, the "NTRP Advisory Group." That group advised the Operations group (staff) on many NTRP-related issues and also on making the 2022 year-end ratings a smooth process.
The main instigators of that foolish insurrection were let go or moved to other jobs. What was left after everyone realized that the World Tennis Number (WTN) will not be able to replace NTRP for the Adult Leagues program any time soon (or never?) was emptiness and silence. Well, brace yourselves, folks. Silence no more. The knowledge base has been called back. What? Really? Yep!
Your humble correspondent has his ears to the ground and just found out that the new chair of the NTRP Advisory Group is none other than Diane Ansay. There is also the rumor that the incoming President Dr. Brian Hainline had his hand in picking Diane. I'm beginning to like the man. Diane had been involved with NTRP right from the very beginning in the early '80s. She was the Midwest Section League Coordinator from 1987 until 2000 and Director of Adult/Senior Tennis from 2000 until 2017. Most importantly, she was also a member of the NTRP Oversight Group.
In that function, I often relied on her for advice during my time as the NTRP guy on the USTA Tennislink Team.
Things are definitely looking up on the community tennis side in Orlando. I wonder what else is on Dr. Hainline's list of changes....
And if anyone dares to doubt my admiration for the USTA Adult League program, check out my write-up on Tennisplayer.net titled "A Brief History of USTA Adult Leagues and NTRP Ratings". (Don't laugh too hard when you see John Embree's photo as a teenager, hahaha)
A quote by Kim Bastable I can get behind!
A friend sent me a quote by UF Director of Professional Tennis Management Kim Bastable, which is the beginning of an interesting thread on LinkedIn. Here's the quote:
In some ways, tennis players have forgotten how to have fun.
Those of us old enough to remember the 70s, remember when tennis was different. Courts were bursting with participation from people who set up their own games - no organization required by a pro.
As competition and winning reared their ugly head, the focus on fun and enjoyment got a bit lost. I believe it's important to have goals and challenges, but the fun must return. Even training at the top levels can be fun - and should be. Laughing and smiling will never diminish a hard workout.
I believe that could be a goal of all Directors and, with pickleball currently doing it in a refreshed way and the wacky fun of padel making its way to US, we can use that visual to reignite some innovation to return to pure fun as a goal again in tennis.
Nice! Follow the thread on LinkedIn here.
IT WAS A GOOD YEAR FOR 'THE ACE PROJECT' KIDS
Help them fundraise to continue their work in 2023
Remember the first recipients of the TENNIS AMBASSADOR package back in July? ED Susan Klumpner reported that Chicago's The Ace Project did a lot of good for a lot of kids in 2022.
Susan writes, "ACE made all seasons brighter in 2022 for more than 1,200 kids. We are committed to reaching 2,000 kids in 2023, but we need your help. Get into the holiday spirit by donating today towards our $23,000 goal. Your support will increase ACE's service hours season after season!"
'Tis the season to grow support for ACE's mission! Help us raise $23,000 for 2023 so we can continue serving tennis and mentorship season after season! Your donation today extends ACE programs so over 2,000 students gain access next year.
After nearly 10 years of serving up success, ACE is committed to breaking down the barriers that exist for youth and their families. Join us so we can deliver ways to make all the seasons brighter for everyone!
We appreciate your support that helps us ace :)
ANOTHER WINNING YEAR FOR HEAD
Highlighting the brand's stellar 2022 season
Message from the HEAD Marketing Team: "What a year 2022 was for HEAD! Players who endorse Head racquets have had great success in a year which saw a report that showed statistically that HEAD has been the most successful racquet brand in men’s tennis over the past decade."
Novak Djokovic … the 35-year-old Serb made headlines across the world, setting a phenomenally high standard in a truncated schedule. He won a 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and ended the year winning his fifth title of the year at the ATP Finals. Given that he was unable to play the Australian Open, the US Open, and four Masters-1000s in North America, and couldn’t count his ranking points from Wimbledon, his achievement in finishing the year fifth in the rankings is remarkable. And it leaves one wondering what he would have done on a full schedule. (Read more)
2022 IN REVIEW: AN OUTSTANDING YEAR FOR CANADIAN TENNIS
Canada takes home the Davis Cup and ATP Cup titles, boasts five players in the ATP and WTA top 50s and sends two to the ATP and WTA season-ending championships.
By Tennis Canada
TEAM CANADA CROWNED DAVIS CUP CHAMPIONS
After successfully qualifying for the Davis Cup Finals by Rakuten held in Malaga from November 22 to 27, Team Canada dismantled Germany, Italy and Australia in back-to-back wins to secure its very first Davis Cup title in 109 years. Five Canadians selected by captain Frank Dancevic were crowned world champions: Félix Auger-Aliassime (Montréal, QC), Denis Shapovalov (Richmond Hill, ON), Vasek Pospisil (Vernon, BC), Alexis Galarneau (Laval, QC) and Gabriel Diallo (Montréal, QC).
Together, they made Canada the 16th nation to win the world’s most prestigious international team tennis competition, in which 138 countries participated this year. The triumph automatically qualifies Canada for the 2023 Finals. Along with Australia (finalist), Italy and Spain, Canada advances directly to the group stage that gets underway on September 11, 2023. The squad will be in the mix with the 12 countries that survive their Qualifier ties in February. (Read more)
FIRST GROUNDBREAKING NEW TENNIS PROGRAM SINCE THE START OF USTA ADULT LEAGUE
The tennis community had to wait 43 years for a pioneering new recreational program to be launched
No, it's not a league at all. CITY SLAMS teams are forming all over Southern California right now. Match play starts in February. There are still a few cities without a team. If you're interested, please reply here.
We're planning to expand to Northern California soon. If your club or facility wants to field a team in NorCal, please reply to this email and I will get back to you. Please name the city you want to play for.
In Q3 of 2023, we'll start planning the next regional expansion to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. If your facility is located in those states and you are interested in participating in CITY SLAMS, please contact us.
We are all set to be present in all 50 states by 2026 so we can provide a pathway to National Championships. In the following year, we'll add city teams from Mexico and Canada for the North American Championship.
I would love to hear from you. More information and FAQ here.
CEO + President
Conga Sports Inc
MORE TROUBLE IN SOCAL TENNIS PARADISE
Complaints about some Local League Coordinators are piling up
CONTEXT: Last month I reported about League Coordinator problems within the Southern California section of the USTA. The allegations by some league players and captains centered around
Local League Coordinators who captain teams and manipulate the system in their team's favor
Section league staff retaliating against "complainers"
After receiving many more complaints from league players about cheaters, sandbaggers, and revengeful section staff, I have to add one more allegation to this list:
Section staff passing sensitive conversations with "complainers" to other league captains to incite negative sentiments against them.
In response to a letter from the Section President, I wrote, "Calling the Coordinator in question will never be helpful since he/she will deny everything. Contacting the section will also not get you anywhere since they think they are holier than thou and generally start the denial and repercussion routine. A Coordinator whom the CEO and Board think is the best thing since sliced bread may be extremely revengeful and start to harass a complainer behind their back. I've seen it in 2006 and I'm hearing it today. So, don't tell me everything is hunky dory in your section when it isn't!"
"It’s a shame the staff that work for SCTA don’t care to provide good service or grow tennis. Passive and impolite - the team is bad for the sport."
Now, writing this follow-up on the troubling issue creates a huge conundrum for me and the people who gave me the information: It is very likely, that revealing their names means they may be harassed, retaliated against, and bad-mouthed by section staff all over again. I'm afraid to say it, but it is my experience that this is an ugly tradition at the SCTA. Apparently, section leadership has never seen it necessary to do something about it. Therefore, I can't reveal the names. All I can do is offer a meeting between President, CEO, and the parties involved. IF they trust that their participation will not be held against them forever. Hmm...
"I have countless stories of teams “pretending” they don’t have a court reservation and need to change the date penalty-free. These competitive teams are just holding out for a stronger lineup. It happens a lot. Then you can’t get a reschedule date with them because they hold out again for their best players.
The laugh is always on them at Sectionals. The same teams use the same 5 ringers who play on multi-winning teams. Then they have to split up at Sectionals amongst their several teams. Then none are strong enough to win. It’s a monopoly. And the section staff is doing nothing about it."
Numerous examples of the shenanigans being allowed at the SCTA league staff
A captain who will remain unnamed for the time being sent me a 28-page timeline that is full of allegations against a Los Angeles league coordinator allegedly badmouthing her, inciting hate against her, teaming up with a known "stalker" against her, and basically making her league life miserable for reasons unknown. I personally know that captain and have to say I believe her. I never had any reason not to believe her.
The interesting reason why I can't name her is not her fear of retaliation from SCTA staff - although that fear is real - but the likeliness that the coordinator will poison the well by telling other players and captains (and the "stalker") right away.
"As for the coordinators captaining a winning team and manipulating the schedule in their favor- it should not be allowed. I could imagine them creating the schedule and when they play which team comes into play, a coordinator could easily make a schedule that favors them. I’m sure it’s NOT random."
The captain ends her long document by saying, "Thanks to xxx and xxx, I am dealing with TONS of rude players on her roster and in the USTA who break the rules and play games on the court to beat me in matches. Is this ALL just a pure coincidence? This is 28 pages of documentation with TONS of EVIDENCE. And this doesn’t even cover all of it! There are several more situations, but I can’t spend all my time documenting for an organization that wants to do NOTHING."
"When a coordinator captains a team and their scheduling puts another team at a disadvantage, the captain of the offended team should file a double grievance. One against her as a captain and another “administrative” grievance against her for the conflict of interest.
It’s definitely a conflict of interest and should not be allowed. But even if she just plays for a team- it’s still a conflict because the completion schedule is in her hands. It’s supposed to be computer generated???"
You may ask yourself now, why this Captain (and many others) are still playing USTA Adult League. While I can't speak for her, of course, I know that USTA League is the best program around - when administered and organized well. I know because I've been involved and still love the program although I myself have not only encountered those cheaters and sandbaggers, but I also had to listen to an insider telling me about stuff that was going on at the SCTA 10-15 years ago.
I'd say the ball is in the section leadership court now. They should sit down with the captain (and others) and listen to them. Then there need to be consequences for bad apple coordinators and a rule change that coordinators can neither captain a league team nor play on one. At the very least, the coordinator in question should be prevented from continuing her alleged harassment of the league captain in question.
And three more things since I already sense the emails coming to my Inbox:
1. No, I should not have gone to the Board President or to the CEO with this. My experience with the SCTA is: Unless you go public, nothing ever changes. See my reporting on MM (former CEO). What do you think would have happened if I went to her or to the SCTA Board?
2. No, there is no conflict of interest with Conga Sports. We are not offering league tennis. Look at the list below if you need reasons why people are disliking the USTA in Southern California. Many players only stick around because there is no alternative for them.
3. I think the allegations against at least one local league coordinator and staff at the SCTA office are so serious that the USTA's Senior Manager Adult Competition Adam Hutchinson should look into this and help them get back on the right track.
The USTA SoCal league department needs a culture change away from self-serving, retaliating, and holier-than-thou toward a service-oriented operation.
From a non-scientific USTA SoCal league player survey we conducted in November:
Q: Have you ever experienced a cheating Captain? (e.g. cheating with the lineup, self-rating ringers, etc.)
A: 86.2% Yes, 13.8% No
Q: Have you ever had an issue with a Local League Coordinator or with section league staff? Please elaborate.
A: 68.7% Yes, 31.3% No
(Worst comment: "Yes.... when a captain got caught cheating (she had 2 teams in the same league and she faked a match against her team A and team B). The local league coordinator told me that he is on her side. I was shocked to hear that he would support a cheating captain but then she was captaining 8 teams in one season when most of us only captain one team per season. She was eventually sanctioned and had to find a captain to take over all her 8 teams. When that happened there were matches with no-shows and constant rescheduling of matches claiming that no courts were available yet I was there to witness most of the courts empty. When I started to talk to other captains, realized that this has been going on for some time with this sanctioned captain's team. The local league coordinator always backs her up for rescheduling matches outside of the grace period. When the coordinator found out that all the captains started to talk then he threatened to sue me for defamation of character. Even though I and other captains pointed out all the things he was doing that were wrong. SCTA did not do anything to change that. That cheater captain's team keeps on cheating and the last time I had a match against them their tactics to "win at all cost" got my blood pressure so high that I almost had to forfeit the match. After that, I stopped playing USTA and never will again!")
Q: Are you OK with a Local League Coordinator captaining a team or playing on a team? Do you see a conflict of interest there?
A: 26.1% Yes, 73.9% No
(Worst comment: "I have seen a conflict of interest over the years in LA. I have complained and discussed this for years. There is definitely one LA league coordinator who has a reputation for recruiting self-rated sandbaggers from outside LA to join her team. USTA data should have a record of how many of her players have had DQ’d matches because of underrating themselves over the years. In the summer of 2022, the same LA coordinator was uncooperative in rescheduling her September matches for months, and it resulted in her manipulating/extending the summer league calendar into November to when her self-rated players (from Fountain Valley which is in OC) would be available. I know it’s not against the rule to play in LA if you choose to drive from the OC, but this shows the desperate nature of this LA coordinator to recruit players she stalks at previous sectionals so her team can win. While this stalking/recruiting behavior may not constitute cheating directly, it speaks to the sketchy practices of a coordinator/captain that tarnishes the purpose of USTA league play.")
Q: Are you aware of a process called "Administrative Grievance" allowing you to file a grievance against USTA staff including Local League Coordinators?
A: 41.4% Yes, 58.6% No
Q: Do you think the Section League staff are doing a good job, impartial, customer service friendly, responsive?
A: 28% Yes, 48% No, 24% Undecided
(Worst comment: "No no no no no no. Many grievances have been filed against (name withheld) it doesn’t make a difference.")
Other issues and comments:
Players tanking matches on purpose to keep rating low; registration opened ALL season or is reopened to register players to join teams last minute. Some sections have deadlines and it should be consistent all across.
Time slots inconvenient
Not enough mixed doubles leagues
Players misrepresenting their level
Sand Baggers I would like a full 3rd set Bad line calls
Self-rates, name changes, and false scores or replacing a player in score line.
Currently there is a new team (Volley Girls) in the SFV 3.5 weekend league that has 6 self rated 3.5’s that are all actually 4.0’s. High 4.0’s. They win each match in straight sets barely giving up a game. Several teams have complained to Kenji and India questioning the fairness of this and they said they would look at it. The scores say it all and nothing has been done. It is unethical and unfair when all the other teams competing have confirmed 3.5’s who have worked hard all year long to improve their games only to get obliterated by playing 4.0’s in a 3.5 league.
Harassment. Bad Coordinators. Line calls.
Intentionally Under-rated players, rude behavior by a few
Not enough matches. Uneven flights (m- unfair schedules where you don’t play everyone twice if one round is too few matches which is not a fair way to determine league winner. Not getting to vote on number of matches - majority should win- not minority. Non enforcement of the leagues own rules And inconsistencies in the rules/enforcements, in different areas. Not cracking down on sandbagging. The computer algorithm is doing a poor job flagging these underrated players.
Huge disparity within ranking levels within section. Team can be undefeated in local leagues head to sectionals to be defeated by a team of players who although are ranked in the same level are far beyond what is seen locally. I guess that is really an issue with the disparity in ranking by USTA algorithm.
Local league coordinators and SCTA do not care about the cheaters and the ringers because without them it is hard to win at the nationals. There are teams that consistently cheat but nothing is done to them.
The worst I ever experienced was an umpire at Usta # sectionals. While Melanie are adept and honest there are a few out there who actually blatantly cheat! We had an umpire who got mad at one of our team members outside of the courts because they were talking… And then he came on our court And a third set tiebreak are in a match point called a ball in the opposing teams favor that was clearly our point! I have never been so upset and shocked and disrespected and cheated on in my life. All that hard work of getting to sectionals and in a very tough match and this man just ripped the rug right out from under us! Yes, we did file complaints… And nothing was done , it is actually a corrupt system
I would like to say that Usta Adult Leagues System is very good.
It’s a bad culture/ circle of 1. captains recruits too many players in the team, and think it’s acceptable as long as they play a player twice in a season. 2. This caused players joining multiple teams in one season try to get more play - this also causes a team with 30+ player but having hard time to field a team. Also In some areas, the deadline for signing up is very late - only 3 months for a season, after started for two months, still can sign up new players!?
One team in the SoCal San Fernando Valley and some of the same on a team in the San Gabriel's 4.0 men's division continues to fill their team with self-rated ringers who are clearly underrated. While the USTA sees this as recruiting and bringing new players and money to USTA, it is clearly not the intention. 6-7 Self Rated players on the team, season after season, year after year, and the same two self-rated teams continue to win the league and go to post-season play just about every season is an obvious intentional advantage. It has created a un-level playing field that discourages the majority. Happy to play computer rated win or lose but this team is "tricking the deal." A possible solution would be to limit the amount of Self-Rated Players per team to say 1-2.
Ranking deception/sandbaggers. Scheduling manipulation (postponing matches when captains don’t like their lineup even when they could fill the lines). Effing hate both of those things!
Self-rating ringers, unfair distribution of rankings, lack of responsiveness from league organizers
Players with a rating well below their true talent, lying about it during a USTA match, then files a grievance against the player who questioned the rating. USTA then lodges a formal stand against the player who questions the rating as "unsportsman like conduct". The player who lies about their rating and wins the match gets no reprimand.
Usually had a great experience with most USTA players very reasonable. Had only one case of clear deliberate cheating with line calls.
Ratings. other regions and states do it differently
Line calling, self rating system is flawed
In the LA league, warm up courts are not allowed to be booked at LA city facilities before a match. This is a terrible rule because denying the ability to warm up properly can result in far more injuries and it creates an uncomfortable environment because some players go out of their way to drive around to other facilities/locations to warm up beforehand. Players should also be able to book a warm up court at the site of their match if they are tax paying residents of LA city. Denying us the ability to do that shows that USTA is infringing upon our rights as tax paying citizens of our community.
The USTA office does a fine job scheduling leagues, etc but apparently does not handle changes or grievances very well.
Disorganized not relationships with courts
1. I wish they would bring back the 3rd full set for matches. 2. Maybe have some independent body that assigns new player ratings. E.g. have the league coordinator or some neutral experienced players watch them play 4 games, and then assign their rating, instead of captains assigning it.
Captains need to be heard. Need to vote. Need to bring back captain meetings.nothing gets fixed when what’s broken is ignored or unknown because there is no forum for open discussion.
So happy not to be involved in USTA anymore!!!!!
Basically we play USTA because we love the fun competition but it has its negatives in the way it is run by administration. It would be lovely if this is being looked into and actually could hire qualified, honest, capable individuals to help run these leagues
USTA should spend more energy policing coordinator job performance and especially ranking cheating. It is the main complaint I hear when trying to recruit people for teams when they have had prior USTA experience.
Seems like a money maker and not much care for the building of a league. Favoritism rampant
Please buy the USTA and fix it
Stefan Milanov Banned and Fined for Breaking Tennis Betting Law
As the International Tennis Integrity Agency officially announced, Bulgarian chair umpire, Stefan Milanov, has been suspended for six months. He was also fined $10,000, $5,000 of which was suspended. Read the article here.
2 French players handed lifetime ban for match-fixing
French players Mick Lescure and Jules Okala have been given life bans from tennis after investigations into multiple incidents of match-fixing since 2014, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) said Read the article here.
Fernando Verdasco handed two-month doping ban from competitive tennis in provisional suspension
Spain's Fernando Verdasco has accepted a voluntary ban from competitive tennis until January 8, 2023, after his urine sample collected at an ATP Challenger event in Rio de Janeiro in February was found to have contained... Read the article here.
Camila Giorgi under investigation for obtaining fake COVID-19 vaccin. certificate from anti-vax doctor
In a shocking development, Italian tennis star Camila Giorgi is under investigation for obtaining fake documents to prove that she was vaccinated against COVID-19. Read the article here. Photo:sportskeeda
THE USTA AND THE GREAT PICKLEBALL WAR
Are the USTA executives throwing tennis players (their members) under the bus?
I apologize for the length of this article. I needed to explain what the USTA is not telling their members and the public right now when it comes to pickleball. I'm giving you context, before listing what we know about the USTA, checking their financial woes again to understand why they're doing things, and quoting two industry insiders who expressed their opinion. My conclusion at the end is tongue-in-cheek but you know me, I'm rarely wrong with my assumptions and predictions.
CONTEXT: The British newspaper The Guardian has it right in their October 6 article "Blame, threat and clash: the war between pickleball and tennis players is escalating - on and off the court." Adam Gabbatt writes, "Pickleball is booming among the older generation in the US and often space is created by encroaching on tennis players’ territory." I had a good laugh reading, "Brooklyn-based group Club Leftist Tennis recently launched an anti-pickleball lobbying campaign, tweeting: “Reminder: pickleball is an astroturfed, venture capital-backed parasite on public space.” So, the war is still going and heating up.
When I googled "Pickleball Wars" I was amazed to see so many articles popping up. See the selection below. From all sorts of publications, large and small, and from all over North America.
Interestingly, the USTA is staying out of that discussion. Very unusual, if you ask me. That silence needs to be taken very seriously, folks. It means something. Let's analyze this a little, shall we?
WHAT WE KNOW
The USTA needs money. Over $700M in debt. The board and the executive must be pretty desperate by now.
The USTA needs growth. It's the mission statement. Doesn't really matter where that growth is coming from.
The USTA knows that tennis alone will not feed their money-hungry, high-salary machinery.
Pickleball needs the USTA to become an Olympic sport. No doubt about that.
The plans to take over pickleball were probably hatched before Mike Dowse became CEO. Hence, the February 2020 appointment of Simon Gale as "Director of Racquet Sports" in Orlando. I'm not sure what Mike's position was on the subject and your guess is as good as mine. Tennis courts in the so-called "Nemours Family Zone" were quickly converted to 8 pickleball courts.
Simon Gale posted on LinkedIn a few days ago about the USTA hosting the PPA (Professional Pickleball Association) Hertz National Championships at the National Campus from December 1 through 4. Not a small event with 1,200 players. In order to accommodate those, they converted 13 tennis courts to temporary pickleball courts and added 12 new permanent pickleball courts. (see pic). That's a significant commitment to the sport.
A friend of mine saw Simon Gale's LinkedIn post and wrote me, "I am glad they built a gadzillion tennis courts there to accommodate that many pickleball players. I wonder if the USPTA staff (or former staff) was out there helping them tape the lines - or did they paint PB lines on all the courts? If the USTA has hired a director of racket sports they are on board with pickleball. Does that mean they are going to take over pickleball?"
Of course, USTA executives kept the event pretty close to their chest. They don't want to tick their tennis constituents off too much. But, not to worry, dear readers, I'm on it!
Seems to me the USTA is in a much worse financial situation than I previously thought. Big notes are due this year. Not sure whether the windfall profit from selling Cincinnati to Beemok Capital makes a significant dent and when that money is due. They lost Mercedes Benz as US Open sponsor and you cannot tell me that Cadillac came in at the same price. As a matter of fact, I bet they grabbed that sponsorship at a discount. US Open viewership is dwindling and the renewal of the ESPN contract is very much in doubt IMO. In the meantime, the obscene salaries are due each month, and the section payments each year.
I decided to look at another number that shows us a small sliver of the USTA financials: Membership revenues. The number shows us something else, too: The confidence tennis players have in the USTA being able to grow tennis and sustain the coming years.
As you can clearly see in those numbers, membership revenues and therefore also the number of members are at a record low. I had to think back to the years 2013/14 to figure out why that curve dipped so much at that time. After consulting with insiders and experts, I came to the conclusion that the 2013/14 dip had probably three reasons;
1. Right around that time, USTA membership became free of charge for juniors.
2. During previous years, multi-year memberships were sold at a discount and most of those members did not renew.
4. The number of members migrating to pickleball started to become significant.
When Kurt Kamperman proclaimed in 2010 that the USTA will have 1 million members by 2020, everyone in the room was in awe. Now that we know how much hot air was coming from KK and that he oversaw the biggest participation decline in U.S. tennis history, we know better. Never again should we believe anything a USTA executive proclaims.
I guess there was a big push for membership during the following years, fueled by the BIG 4 male tennis stars and a renewed interest in the female pro tour. When the pandemic hit in 2020, things understandably went south again.
The 2021 financials show membership revenues of only $13.6M, the lowest in 20 years or more. Will they ever be able to recapture those members? Not likely! Here's why.
1. USTA Board and executives are not able to make membership desirable. People don't wake up one morning and say "I want to join the USTA." They just don't have any interesting new programs for anyone. (Or do they, Dr. Hainline?)
2. Many adult league players are fed up and only join each year because they have no other options in their community. The number of unique league players is consistently going down over the years and the program can only survive because most players now register for many more teams. (Prove me wrong, Adam Hutchinson)
3. The number of juniors coming out of USTA programs is going down. When more than 50% of juniors who start playing USTA tournaments leave the sport because of negative experiences, it's a hopeless situation. (Hey Katrina Adams, wasn't "cheating in junior tennis" your main area you wanted to focus on? I was told it's today worse than before you became President. Twice.)
BRETT BOTHWELL IS ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
I found a few articles and statements quite interesting. Like Brett Bothwell's article "Who's watching out for tennis?" Are you reading this, Dr. Hainline? I think you should. Below are some excerpts but here is the full article.
As some of you guys may know, Brett Bothwell is the owner of the BOLT tennis racquet who states, "One of our chief goals is to improve the tennis experience through innovation and objective analysis." I don't know anything about his racquets that I believe have been around for a while. But I think he seems to be a clear-thinking individual who's asking the right questions.
"Tennis got a boost (excuse the pun) after the Covid pandemic when it was one of the first exercise activities condoned by the CDC, yet media coverage has been more focused on pickleball than tennis. Add to that the response to innovation in the tennis industry—that lands with the thud of a pickleball on media ears—and tennis is not the sport that is growing."
"Tennis may still be the main event during Opens and Slams, yet pickleball is riding the coattails of tennis coverage, and then superseding tennis coverage during other tournaments, often appearing alongside the tennis news in the NY Times, ESPN, and various other mainstream media outlets. No longer does tennis make its way onto the proverbial front page; pickleball is capturing the headlines."
"Tennis needs its caretakers to capitalize on tournament play to ensure the sport remains unique and viable as competition to watch. They must not allow coverage of tournament play to be diluted by references or comparisons to other sports, particularly pickleball. Such cross-over and intermingling of coverage puts pickleball in direct competition with tennis for players, sponsors, resources, media coverage—and growth of the industry."
"So who is protecting the sport of tennis in the US right now? Is there a steward of tennis responsible for making sure tennis remains part of mainstream culture, and receives adequate attention and coverage during mainstream moments? These may be rhetorical questions because most tennis aficionados are aware the USTA is the steward of tennis."
"What happens if tennis is not the chief priority of the USTA? Tennis would lose its standing, simple as that. Is that where we are today? We could be, since the USTA has added another priority to its care-taking apparatus: pickleball. Rather than deepening its focus on tennis, the USTA turned its focus away from tennis and actually has designed a program to embrace pickleball, even adding big banks of pickleball courts to the USTA national campus in Orlando. The chief protector and steward of the game is now splitting time with another sport, a sport in direct competition with tennis for media coverage, TV airtime, sponsors, and resources."
"Is anyone else as disappointed as I am to think that the chief governing body of tennis has decided to promote another sport? If the USTA appears to have overtly abandoned its support of the tennis game and industry, is there another entity ready and able to fill the gap?"
"There are other obvious caretakers of tennis, namely tennis coaches. They're on the ground day in and day out. Coaches often are the first touchpoint for a new player's tennis experience. Coach and student interactions are fertile ground for sowing the seeds of joy in playing; it's critical to the growth of tennis that coaches understand the importance of their interfaces with students."
"Other critical touchpoints for players include dealers and distributors. A healthy interaction with a dealer can have a positive impact on a player. Along with coaches, dealers are responsible for helping players get the right equipment and proper fit for their style of play."
"Climbing back up to the top of the tennis-caretaker ladder, I recently had the opportunity to meet with some distinguished members of the tennis guardian community. I was eager to discuss the current state of tennis culture and how we tennis professionals can best nurture and care for the sport."
"Fully aware that innovation is a key to growth in most industries, I wanted to find out if the current stewards of tennis thought it was okay for our industry to take 20 years to accept a simple concept that has enormous implications for improving racquet performance to enter the market? I wanted their thoughts on how tennis can survive at that snail's pace rate of innovation. I was stunned that the answer to all my questions was the suggestion that I ask one of the big racquet manufacturers."
"PicklebalI was not on my radar at the time of that meeting, though it is now. Since then, I have come to recognize pickleball as a phenomenon the tennis community must pay attention to, making the conversation we had about innovation and keeping players in the game of tennis more important than ever—as much as it is a conundrum."
I was impressed reading Brett's article. Isn't he right? What do you think?
RENNAE STUBBS WOULD RATHER WATCH PAINT DRY
Then I saw an article in tennisuptodate.com talking about a tweet from Australian Doubles Legend Rennae Stubbs.
tennisuptodate.com writes: Rennae Stubbs claimed that she would not invest in a pickleball franchise and would never watch the sport on television. She also voiced her perplexity at tennis players opting to invest in pickleball rather than tennis, which has helped them become wealthy.
“Just to let everyone know, I will NOT be investing in a Pickleball franchise & will never turn a tv on to watch Pickleball. I would rather watch paint dry. Why all these tennis players think Pickleball is worth investing in & not the game that made them all the $$$ is beyond me,” wrote Stubbs on Twitter.
They continue: While several players like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Andy Murray, and John Isner have expressed support for pickleball, Stubbs has been outspoken in her disapproval of the emerging sport. Stubbs previously claimed on social media that watching the sport on television was "much worse" when it had subpar numbers on the CBS channel despite its rise in popularity.
"AN END TO ALL THE TALK ABOUT PICKLEBALL"
And then there is Randal C. Archibold, Sports Editor for the New York Times. A December 23 NYT feature titled "Here Are the Sports Moments We Can’t Wait to See in 2023" had asked New York Times writers and editors what events they’re most looking forward to as they look over the sports calendar for 2023.
Randal wrote: An End to All of the Talk About Pickleball
"I’m looking forward to the collapse of pickleball. I say this as someone who has enjoyed playing the game, though more earnestly than skillfully. And I don’t say it to belittle the joy of the people relegating tennis to a distant memory.
No, I’m looking forward to the bursting of the media bubble around pickleball. A media bubble that, if I’m honest, I contributed to by assigning coverage of … the growth of pickleball.
But, enough already (well, after we roll out a few more pieces). Let’s stop talking about pickleball, eventually, and get back to just playing it for the sheer joy of playing it. Because that would make for a pretty good story."
Obviously, these are my opinions and predictions but as you know, the USTA never challenges me on anything I'm writing so I think I'm always right or at least come pretty close. Here is what I see coming in 2023.
1. The USTA will announce a name change to be more inclusive of other racquet sports. Deloitte is being hired to find a new name but all the common acronyms (like USRSA) are taken. That $1.5M for Deloitte was again a complete waste. Craig Morris suggests American Racquet Sports Empire. When the Board sees the acronym, they give Lew Sherr his old CRO job back and promote Morris to CEO.
2. The USTA pays the 7 US Pickleball board members $10,000 each to buy their vote in favor of them moving HQ to Lake Nona and becoming the 18th USTA section. Since the USPTA will have moved back to Houston by then, they can take over their offices.
3. The USTA applies with the NOC for pickleball's acceptance as an Olympic sport since they are de facto the NGB already. The cost of this application will be covered by raising pickleball membership fees from $35 to $212 per year.
4. The USTA will convert another 40 tennis courts at the National Campus to pickleball ending up with a total of 102 permanent PB courts and thus making sure they are larger than the 80 courts at East Naples Community Park. Each USTA pickleball court will get its own PlaySight camera system which no one will ever use.
5. The Minto US Open Pickleball will be played at Lake Nona from 2024 on and will from now on also be called the Dinko Minto US Open Pickleball.
6. The Deloitte US Open Pickleball will be played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the qualifying week of the US Open from 2024 on and will be better known as the Moneypitt US Open Pickleball. Every player and visitor will get a free pass to Arthur Ashe Kids Day.
7. The USTA will pay ClubSpark $4.2M to create a new pickleball rating system called WPN (World Pickleball Number). By the time ClubSpark is able to deliver WPN, about 4 years later, the USTA has sold the 18th section to Marcos Del Pilar and is actively converting all 102 PB courts at Lake Nona to 51 Padel courts. Each USTA Padel court will get its own PlaySight camera system which no one will ever use.
Where am I wrong here, Mr. Sherr?
PLAYSIGHT CHANGES OWNERSHIP AGAIN
Is Connexa divesting itself from a money pit?
CONTEXT: Connexa, the parent company of Slinger Bag, purchased PlaySight Interactive Ltd in 2021 with the goal to use its video technology within the Connexa vision of becoming a connected company under the Watch-Play-Learn motto. We recently saw an SEC filing outlining that the previous PlaySight owners Chen Shachar and Evgeni Khazanov are buying the company back from Connexa.
While I applaud the Connexa leadership for being such a progressive interrupter in the racquet sports industry, I was always lukewarm on PlaySight. Especially after our 2019 survey concluded that many of its installations at tennis facilities were not being used or at least not used to their full capabilities. Lately, I'm hearing that many of the PlaySight units installed at the USTA's National Campus were not being used at all.
I also had the feeling that whoever bought that company must have deep pockets because of all those research activities and advances in areas they had no real expertise in, like broadcasting, an area with a humungous number of well-established competitors.
If I'm right, I'm not surprised that Mike Ballardie, a visionary in our industry, has decided to close the money pit. Good for him! And good for Slinger! The sports world could use another couple of million Slinger Bags, one of the most innovative products that came out of Israel in the past.
WHO COULD THROW THE TENNIS CHANNEL A LIFELINE?
Did jumping head-first into pickleball pay off for The Tennis Channel and its parent Sinclair Broadcasting, Inc.
CONTEXT: From the Sinclair website: Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. is a diversified media company and leading provider of local news and sports. The Company owns, operates and/or provides services to 185 television stations in 86 markets; is a leading local news provider in the country; owns multiple national networks; and has TV stations affiliated with all the major broadcast networks and owns and/or operates 21 RSN brands. (RSN = Regional Sports Network)
Last month, after reporting that TENNIS magazine had ended its print edition, I wrote, "My takeaway: Has Sinclair lost faith in tennis? The magazine was apparently not profitable anymore or didn't produce enough profits. Is that a sign that more steps toward divesting the company of tennis assets can be expected? How about the persistent rumor that The Tennis Channel is on the chopping block? Sinclair reportedly paid $350M for the channel and $8M for magazine and website." I had also mentioned that TC has a subscriber base of 61M households but insiders told me that number is closer to 50M now. That affects revenue, of course, which is down. I have always wondered, btw, how many of those households that get TC bundled in a sports package actually watch tennis. Insiders are telling me that TC has the oldest demographic of all viewers of sports channels. That makes sense because the younger demographic have just about all cut the cord. And they are not interested in sitting through boring 3-hour tennis matches and they sure are not interested in the content of Nick Kyrgios's tennis bag!
I assume the Tennis Channel is the only linear cable network in the Sinclair stable. Since everyone is getting rid of cable, their distribution goes down which bites into revenue. Over 90% of their revenue is coming from distribution.
So, all the money TC makes is by being bundled with Sinclair assets. As Sinclair's business gets disrupted, so does TC. What Sinclair assets are we talking about?
The 19 owned-and-operated regional sports networks of Bally Sports (operated by the Sinclair/Byron Allen Entertainment Studios joint venture Diamond Sports Group)
seven affiliate RSN deals
Stadium (a digital channel sports network)
Bally Sports Plus (direct-to-consumer app for viewers who no longer subscribe to pay TV)
The Tennis Channel
And it's the aforementioned Diamond Sports Group with its Bally Sports Network that's in financial trouble. Broadcasting&Cable wrote recently, "Sinclair bought the RSNs from The Walt Disney Co., taking on about $9 billion in debt. Since the acquisition, the RSNs have lost subscribers and the cost of sports rights has climbed, putting Sinclair in a financial bind. Earlier this year, Sinclair refinanced Diamond’s debt and separated its financials from Diamond’s.
In the third quarter, Diamond Sports reported a $1.124 billion loss, including a $1.046 write-down of intangible assets. Subscribers were down 10% and the company has lowered its guidance for 2022 EBITDA to half its original guidance."
WHAT WE KNOW
So far, it is clear that the tennis venture Sinclair had gotten itself into in 2019 did not pay off as expected no matter how often TC CEO Ken Solomon is hyping the future of his cable network.
Tennis magazine was first reduced in print quality and its print issue subsequently ended in late 2022
I kinda doubt that the subscriber base to tennis.com is growing at all
Tennis Channel is losing subscribers
TC Studios, the channel's in-house production studio, looks like one of Solomon's costly hobbies (like heli-skiing)
In the last couple of years, Solomon has taken TC into other sports away from tennis. First came pickleball, of course, much to the chagrin of the few"real" tennis fans that watch the channel regularly. Last year, they also went into the football space. The documentary "Rivals" was created at TC Studios. (Insiders call this "long-form content")
WHAT IF THE TENNIS CHANNEL GOES UNDER?
That, of course, could only happen in case Sinclair Broadcasting doesn't find a buyer. After all, who would be stupid enough to invest in tennis broadcasting nowadays? Right? If we believe the media hype, it's pickleball we all should invest in. US Pickleball doesn't have the money to take them over. The USTA is cash-strapped and can't possible think about bailing them out. So, what's left? Nothing, nada.
I kinda doubt this will happen but let's take that hypothetical a step further. My broadcasting insider has thought about it a lot. He says, "In the near future, if the Tennis Channel is gone, the ATP and WTA are going to wake up one day and all of their tournaments are not going to have a distribution home in the U.S. market. People don’t want to believe it will happen, but it will. And, unfortunately, the sport will be even farther behind as it already is."
Boy, I pray that won't happen. But - congratulations to Jeff Williams and George Mackin. It appears they sold their tennis properties to Sinclair just in time. And made at least an $8M profit. Woohoo!
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