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THE GOOD

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PTR INTERNATIONAL TENNIS SYMPOSIUM

Fun & Learning on Hilton Head Island Feb 6-9, 2023

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CONTEXT: Last year's big PTR International Symposium was still a virtual event. I heard they had record-breaking attendance; hosted a virtual cooking demonstration with Jorge Capestany with help of CITI Taste of Tennis; had a virtual trivia night and virtual poker night; and allowed attendees to connect in unique ways. Conference attendees could log in to the event platform long after the event was finished to watch presentations. 

The symposium is ideal for "new & seasoned tennis professionals, high school & college coaches, directors & leaders."

The schedule of presentations and activities looks quite promising.

Sunday, Feb 5: Adaptive tennis workshop and master classes.

 

Monday, Feb. 6: Symposium kick-off with flag ceremony followed by on-court presentations. At night: Awards Banquet. 

 

Tuesday, Feb 7: Presentations each day plus trade show and demo courts. Immediately following the last presentation, speakers of the day and attendees are invited to gather for Sips & Tips, panel discussion and recap of presentations, and any Q&A’s that may not have been covered during the individual presentations.

That evening: first Team Tennis Challenge. Several attendees have already registered for this event. Attendees will be separated into teams of 5 (2 doubles teams and 1 singles team). The scoring format is fast four – first to four games using no-ad scoring (there will be a 7 set tie break used at 3 games-all). Food and drinks are provided for players and anyone who wants to stop by and watch. Overall, just a fun, casual evening watching tennis. 
 

Wednesday, Feb 8: USTA + PTR Awards breakfast. Again, a full day of presentations followed by Sips & Tips, a PTRW Social. New this year, Dueling Piano dinner party presented by HEAD Penn outside in the beach pavilion at the resort (weather permitting) with live music that everyone can sing along with and enjoy.
 

Thursday, Feb 9: Symposium wrap-up with presentations. 

My take: There's nothing better than a well-run industry conference where you can learn, connect, and have fun!

NEW YORK TIMES UPBEAT ABOUT TENNIS
January 21 article "Inside the Battle to Control, and Fix, Tennis"

CONTEXT: Co-authors Matthew Futterman and Lauren Hirsch are seeing a trend worth mentioning here. They write, "The sport’s hit Netflix series and a rising collection of young stars has investors bullish on tennis, which is poised for a once-in-a-generation moment of disruption."

The authors continue, "Walking the grounds of Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is in full swing, one could easily believe that all is well and peaceful in professional tennis. Stadiums are packed. Champagne flows. Players are competing for more than $53 million in prize money at a major tournament the Swiss star Roger Federer nicknamed “the happy Slam.”

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Photo: Alana Holmberg

Here comes a little stinger, though: "​Behind the scenes though, over the past 18 months a coterie of billionaires, deep-pocketed companies and star players has engaged in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for disruption in a sport long known for its dysfunctional management and disparate power structure." Hahaha, what have I been writing about for years? (Just saying.)

Here is what this is really all about: The figures include Bill Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager and hard-core tennis hobbyist who built a tennis court atop his office tower in Midtown Manhattan. Ackman is funding a fledgling players’ organization led by the Serbian star Novak Djokovic. The group is searching for ways to grow the sport’s financial pie and the size of the players’ slice. In their ideal world, one day there might even be a major player-run event akin to a fifth Grand Slam tournament."

Read the entire article here.

My take: Being bullish on tennis is good. Anything to keep pickleball out of the headlines, haha.

CAPESTANY BULLISH ON SPEC TENNIS
Jorge Capestany recently did a Case Study with Spec Tennis to see if it's a potential revenue stream at his club, and he found that it's possible to make $600 in a 2 hour Spec Tennis event.

CONTEXT: Jorge Capestany a USPTA Master Professional and PTR International Professional. He is one of 10 people worldwide who has earned the Master Professional distinction with both the PTR and the USPTA. He is also the manager of the Dewitt Tennis Center in Holland, Michigan, and the founder of the Hope College Summer Tennis Academy.

Spec Tennis was created in 2016 by Nate Gross. It's being played with a paddle and low compression balls on a pickleball size court.

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Capestany says, "I decided to do this case study because I had run across his cool new sport called Spec Tennis. What caught my attention about Spec Tennis was that it seemed to be a sport that was promoting tennis and showed me how Spec Tennis could help new players to learn tennis in a much quicker way.

That was important to me because I'm never really for anything that's going to promote players leaving tennis for something else. Personally, I was interested because I have two knees that are in bad shape. I thought that perhaps I could play Spec Tennis with my family and get the workout that I am not able to do on the tennis court any longer.

I tested it out and things went quite well, so I decided to give it a try at my club with our members."

Jorge continues, "The purpose of this case study is to have you learn more about Spec Tennis and determine if it would be something that you want to offer at your Club. Spec Tennis can be offered as a play option in and of itself but I really think you should consider using it as a way to simplify the game for new players. This case study features an event that I did at my club and how it went. I'll show you everything you need to know if you decide to have an event like this at your facility. I hope you enjoy this case study. I hope you will give Spec Tennis a try."

Read the article about the study here.

My take: Go Spec Tennis! We need an alternative to pickleball that doesn't insult our eardrums!

COCHRANE NEW PLATFORM TENNIS CZAR
Good choice by USPTA. Kudos to John Embree.

CONTEXT: No, not every piece of news coming from the USPTA is disturbing and a reason for skepticism. Platform tennis is a racquet sport that was often played outdoors during cold weather. It was created in the 1920s in New York during a particularly frigid winter. New Yorkers wanted to play a racquet sport that would work in their cold climate, so they built a raised, wooden court outside with heaters underneath. The court is smaller than a tennis court and is surrounded by tightly strung wire fencing that lets players keep the ball in play after the ball hits off the court and bounces off the screens.

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USPTA CEO John Embree writes, "With the growth of Platform Tennis over the past several years, especially coming out of COVID, we have not done as much as we could have to keep up with that surge in interest by certifying USPTA professionals in Platform Tennis. I am pleased to say that will be changing beginning in 2023.
 

Michael Cochrane is and has been one of the most influential platform tennis players and teaching professionals in the sport for the last 30+ years. He won the APTA Men’s Open National Championships in 2007 and was a finalist two prior. Not only has he served on the APTA Board of Directors for two years (2006-2008), but he also co-founded the Master Athletics/Viking Academy over 25 years ago, has been the Director of Platform Tennis at such reputable clubs as the Country Club at Fairfield, Brooklawn Country Club and is currently at the Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, PA. 

To my absolute delight, Mike has agreed to serve as our new lead Coach Developer for USPTA Platform Tennis. In this new role, he will be coordinating Platform Tennis certifications throughout our divisions where Platform Tennis is vibrant and where we have other Platform Tennis testers/CDs in place to deliver these certification exams. In those areas where we do not have a CD in place, Mike will conduct certifications for those that need USPTA Platform Tennis certification. As he travels the country to play in various Platform Tennis events, he will add on to his trip to conduct a certification day in that market."

Embree ends the press release by writing, "Should you wish to reach out to Mike, his contact information is as follows:Mike.cochrane16@gmail.com  Tel 914-772-4600. 

My take: I don't know Mike Cochrane. However, I was told he is one of the good guys, a good player, and a good teaching pro. So I'm saying kudos to John Embree for getting Mike on board with Platform Tennis. I look forward to some good news about his work with the USPTA this year.

MACMAHON DOESN'T CHASE CUSTOMERS,
HE CREATES FANS

I was lucky to speak with one of his biggest fans

CONTEXT: We had reported about Mark MacMahon and his relationship with the USPTA in our March 2022 issue. I shared with our readers that he started The CSRE program  (Certified Racquet Sports Executive) in March of 2020 and Mark said, "It is designed to be relevant and responsive to evolving needs of those who manage and lead racquet sports programs."

So why am I writing that Mark creates fans instead of chasing customers? Because I met one of his fans. I spoke with San Diego teaching professional Franco Castejon who took the CSRE class recently. It was a 10-month online course and meetings at the USPTA Conference last year. Franco said he had a great experience with CSRE and he can "highly recommend it to any tennis professional who wants to take the next step toward tennis management, head pro, or tennis director."

My take: Very nice. Mark, you owe me a beer for putting this in our newsletter, you hear?  

VORHEES NEW 'DIRECTOR OF TENNIS OPERATIONS

AT USTA FLORIDA
Congratulations, Laura, you picked a real professional!

CONTEXT: Stephen Vorhees is no stranger to Tennis Club Business. We wrote about him in our March 2018 issue when he was our Tennis Professional of the Month as Director of Tennis at Southern California's Canyon Crest Country Club. (Excuse the way TCB looked long ago...)

At the time, I wrote, "Steve takes personal satisfaction in introducing new players to the game of tennis as well as helping others to reach their personal best on the court. Steve takes personal satisfaction in introducing new players to the game of tennis as well as helping others to reach their personal best on the court."

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Well, last week we received notice that Steve Vorhees is moving to Florida. He wrote on his Facebook page, "I have accepted the USTA Director of Tennis Operations in Florida. I’m very blessed and excited to be working with so many great people at the USTA in Florida. I will miss all my friends here in So Cal."

And I say SoCal will miss him, too. I asked USTA Florida ED Laura Bowen about the move and she replied, "This position was previously called Director of Tennis Management. Frank Swope retired from that role last April." 

My take: Well, knowing Steve a little, I can say that Bowen couldn't have selected a better person for this job. His experience and people skills will move tennis forward in Florida.

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THE BAD

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STAFF EXODUS AT USTA MID-ATLANTIC?
Six people left in the first week of January

CONTEXT: Last year (April, May), we reported about the USTA Mid-Atlantic section where "former and current staff members told us about a CEO who didn't treat her staff with respect and reigned like Vladimir Putin." This month we were hearing about 6 of those staff members leaving the section, all within a 1-week period. That looked quite suspicious and we went into detective mode.

FALSE ALARM? Well, people keep telling us that our suspicion was unfounded. So far. They say the "exodus" was a coincidence. But, come on! Six people leaving this office where all those problems were uncovered last year? Do you think that's normal?

 

My take: Where there is smoke, there is fire! We'll stay on the ball and keep scrutinizing everything that comes out of that office.

Never forget, folks:

WE EMPOWER THE POWERLESS!

Anyone reading this who works for USTA national or a section and has evidence of grievances, injustices, or executives enriching themselves with a Board in cahoots, please come forward. We'll guarantee anonymity.

YAHOO! SPORT AUSTRALIA'S AWFUL HEADLINES

Sensationalism sells in a very competitive marketplace.

CONTEXT: We are to believe that Yahoo! Sport Australia is serious about reporting sports news professionally. Some of their headlines tell a different story, though. So we had to call them out on it. Here are some examples.

Headline: Roger Federer's wife sparks tennis fan frenzy amid Australian Open absence
What caused the so-called frenzy? Mirka's sweater.

Headline: Australian Open 'asking for trouble' as fans erupt over 'unreal' semi-final

What did the fans erupt over? "Two of the top women's players clashed on the big stage."

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Photo: Getty Images

Headline: Todd Woodbridge slams 'heartbreaking' Wimbledon move during Australian Open

What was so "heartbreaking" for Woodbridge? "The decision of Wimbledon officials to do away with five-set doubles matches and move to best-of-three."

Headline: Novak Djokovic savaged over ugly act at Australian Open: 'Deport him again'

What was that "ugly act" about? Comments Nole made during the presser about Alex de Minaur: “I respect him as a rival, a colleague, as I respect everyone. I have no problem contacting him, congratulating him, etc. But I don’t have any other relationship. I don’t have any communication with him. He showed last year what he thinks about me.” (De Minaur was critical of Djokovic's anti-vaccine stand)

My take: It goes on and on in this style, day after day. Pleeeease. Give me a break!

ITA ABANDONS UTR FOR WTN

WTN becomes "exclusive rating" of college tennis

CONTEXT: For the longest time, UTR was the only rating system most (or all of the) college coaches were using. That was, of course, a big thorn in the side for the USTA, especially since they have high hopes the new World Tennis Number (WTN) would become the de facto standard for all of tennis. The fact that the USTA adult league system has decided to stick with NTRP for a while shows us, however, that all is not quite kosher and there are issues with that program. Then we saw the ITA announcement that WTN is now the "exclusive rating of college tennis." Boom. I'd say the USTA has gotten to Tim Russel and wonder how much money was exchanged in the process...

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According to dictionary.com, exclusive means "not admitting of something else; incompatible."

The official ITA press release includes the usual hot air, statements so general it is laughable. I kind of doubt Craig Morris knows what he's talking about when I read: “The World Tennis Number, as developed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and adopted by USTA and 152 tennis federations around the globe, will support college teams and coaches, as well as current and prospective student-athletes, and will enhance the consequential role of tennis within college and university athletic programs.” 

Well, the official UTR reply "UNIVERSAL TENNIS EXPANDS ITS COMMITMENT TO COLLEGE TENNIS" didn't take long to post on its website. It opens with "Universal Tennis is officially announcing the launch of the Universal Tennis Collegiate Alliance (“UTCA”) to support the future of all college programs in the United States." Strong reply. It continues: "Created at the urging of many college coaches, the UTCA will be a dedicated effort to help guide and drive innovation and growth in college tennis with a board of college leaders and coaches from all five collegiate divisions. All Universal Tennis college program subscribers will be members without any incremental costs. Members will continue to benefit from our continuing investment in technology, events, and world-class support."

Everyone was wondering, of course, whether the ITA is not planning to provide results to or otherwise inhibit UTR from incorporating match results in their rating. The college coaches I talked to seem to be quite irritated by the ITA move and plan to continue using UTR.

Chase Hodges, 15-time NAIA national champion and Vice President, Universal Tennis, writes, “We are a technology and solutions provider that believes in giving freedom and flexibility to college programs, coaches, and players to be tailored to their needs. It is unfortunate that the ITA is now eliminating Universal Tennis’ access to college dual match results, which belong to the teams, in an attempt to keep Universal Tennis from being able to maintain updated college player UTR Ratings which we provide free to all players and programs. Universal Tennis is committed to not letting this happen since so many college programs and players currently rely on our technology and UTR Ratings for performance, monetization and opportunities.”

I asked UTR CEO Mark Leschly to comment and here is his reply. "We decided not to renew our partnership with ITA since we think the investment is better used elsewhere to support college tennis. We are the leading and dominant partner in technology, events, analytics, and monetization with college coaches.  Nearly 90% of college coaches use our products.

 

The WTN announcement has little/no impact on college coaches who operate independently of ITA (which is a coaches association) and does not have meaningful governing authority over them. 

 

Furthermore, it will not change recruiting practices which are 100 percent up to coaches and ITA has no role.

 

Actions we are taking after walking away from ITA are:

1) increasing our investment in college tennis

2) expanding our events (circuits, camps, etc) including UT College Circuits

3) establishing the Universal Tennis Collegiate Alliance (UTCA) as a body to guide and direct innovation in college tennis

4) create a direct relationship with college coaches for their dual match results"

My take: To me, that looks like ITA went for the most moola. Interestingly, UTR is one of the main sponsors of the USPTA. Will that now change, also? We'll stay on this and hopefully have another update on the situation soon.

15 TENNIS COURTS LOST IN TAMPA BAY

Re-development and pickleball are the biggest threat to tennis today

CONTEXT: U.S. tennis courts are disappearing at an alarming rate. I thought this was a Southern California thing but no, it happens everywhere - even in Florida. Most of the time, besides the alarming assaults on tennis courts by pickleball ambassadors, it's a matter of better ROI selling a property to a developer vs running a tennis business.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports about the latest example in its January 20 issue: Harbour Island Athletic Club, long eyed for redevelopment, is closing. See photo. I was made aware of this case by Mike Baugh's post on LinkedIn. He wrote, "This is absolutely horrible for the Tampa Bay community. Harbor Island is one of the largest tennis centers in the region. There was already not enough courts in the area, especially at one location, this is a loss of 15.
We desperately need to find a way to get more courts. About 2 years ago, this area also lost Total Tennis/Royal Racquet in Clearwater. 12 courts. To build more apartments. Two years later, the courts are still there (not maintained) & no construction has started. What a waste of property. The management wouldn't even accept a proposal for a temporary tenant to rent and upkeep the courts."

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Emilio Sanchez Vicario chimed in: "Tennis courts in hands of fitness chains? Different models and different mindsets. We need more tennis business chains. To lose 15 courts in the middle of the most improved city is a huge loss."

Lance Martin commented, "Longwood Athletic Club in Sarasota is another victim."

USTA Florida section ED Laura Bowen said that re-development is the biggest threat to our courts. "We need more/better advocacy, better management of facilities, and a clear strategy for TENNIS Court growth/improvement. We may have lost this one, but let’s step up and expand our footprint."

My take: I couldn't have said it any better, Laura.

NIKE LOST CONFIDENCE IN WOMEN'S TENNIS?

More and more female players are being dropped.

CONTEXT: When I saw the headline "Bye bye, Nike! Sloane Stephens starts 2023 without the Swoosh" in Women's Tennis Blog, I shrugged it off as Sloane moving on to a better-paying sponsor. Diving deeper into the article written by Blog founder Marija Zivlak, a Serbian tennis blogger, I noticed the following statement: "Nike is significantly reducing its presence in women’s tennis, at least we can conclude that from the number of WTA players that no longer endorse the brand at the start of the 2023 season." Stephens played her first match of the 2023 season wearing Free People Movement, a brand Sofia Kenin began wearing last year. 

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Sloane Stephens at the 2022 Guadalajara Open, while still representing Nike. Photo: Jimmy48 Photography

Wow. That set the tone that more research was needed. I found a January 4 article on tennis.com "Nike purge appears to hit Sloane Stephens. The former US Open champ joins a growing list of recent departures from the brand, some of whom have opted to launch their own sportswear lines." They continue, "The 2023 season is starting out as the Nike exodus. Sloane Stephens is the latest WTA tour player to begin the year without the Swoosh on her chest, joining Donna Vekic, Marta Kostyuk and Marketa Vondrousova. On the men’s side, Andrey Rublev has also ended his relationship with the apparel giant, opting to start his own label, Rublo."

Marija responded to the tennis.com article "... as they say in the article, Nike dropping so many players at the start of the year is actually nothing new. In 2020, they ended contracts with four WTA players by January 5th: Ajla Tomljanovic, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia and Iga Swiatek."

My take: Although it appears that Nike lost confidence in women's tennis, it still sponsors a lot of female players as scoreandchange.com shows in their latest complete list of tennis sponsorships for women.

UPDATE: THE LATEST ON THE ITF DAVIS CUP DISASTER

Lawsuits were reportedly filed by both parties

CONTEXT: In our Mid-January issue we reported"Did David Haggerty produce a truly epic fail? After only 5 of a planned 25-year relationship between the ITF and Piqué's Kosmos Tennis to run and commercialize the Davis Cup, both parties called it quits."

Here's what AP wrote last week: 

Former Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué’s investment group Kosmos Tennis said Wednesday it has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the International Tennis Federation for ending their partnership to organize the Davis Cup.

Kosmos, which is chaired by Piqué, filed a suit at the Court of Arbitration for Sport blaming the ITF for an “unjustified termination of the contract between both parties for the organization of the Davis Cup for 25 years, and for damages to the company.”

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The ITF earlier this month said it ended its Davis Cup partnership with Kosmos without providing details for the reasons behind the decision. It said it will run this year’s Davis Cup on its own.

Spanish media said the ITF was also considering legal action against Kosmos for allegedly not meeting the payments that had been agreed between the parts.

The ITF reached a 25-year partnership with Kosmos in 2018, when a new Davis Cup format was launched in an effort to revitalize the most prestigious team event in tennis and make it more lucrative.

Piqué, who ended his playing career in November, became the public face for Kosmos and had pledged that the group would invest $3 billion in tennis during the 25-year partnership.

Breaking News: Haggerty is now trying to lay his hands on the Billie Jean King Cup also. The headline in CITYA.M. reads: Billie Jean King Cup lined up for private investment as International Tennis Federation is accused of risking another Kosmos Davis Cup $3bn fiasco.

The report continues, "The International Tennis Federation is in talks with private investors over a major new partnership to revamp the Billie Jean King Cup just weeks after the embarrassing demise of a similar deal for the Davis Cup, City A.M. can reveal. And the move has sparked serious concerns, with some insiders demanding greater transparency and scrutiny around any investment in the Billie Jean King Cup – formerly the Fed Cup – before contracts are signed. 

There are also calls for ITF president David Haggerty to step aside and allow an investigation into the signing and premature dissolution of the $3bn Davis Cup deal with Kosmos, the investment vehicle of former footballer Gerard Pique." Read the entire article.

My take: Why is David Haggerty still employed by the ITF?

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THE SKEPTIC

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LATE BREAKING NEWS

  • essentiallysports.com reports a 40% drop in Australian Open viewership for Channel Nine in Australia.

  • sportbusiness.com reports about the coming surge of fees for viewers of the 2024 Australian Open thanks to "Disney's aggression." They write that Disney’s deal includes exclusive rights to live matches, unlike the previous deal during which the Tennis Channel showed a small number of live games.
    (If I read this right, that means
     the Tennis Channel can not broadcast from the AO anymore from next year on. We'll follow up on these developments next month.)

TENNIS CHANNEL IS PRIORITIZING MAJOR LEAGUE PICKLEBALL OVER ATP AND WTA TOUR TENNIS AND LOST 20 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS

Is it time for another tennis media and entertainment player to emerge?

CONTEXT: We reported about Tennis Channel woes in our January issue (Who could throw the Tennis Channel a lifeline?). Since then more information has emerged that is really quite troubling.

 

Catastrophic viewer numbers

The latest news came mid-January: According to Nielsen Media Research (industry standard for TV audience measurement), Tennis Channel’s current distribution (as of January 10, 2023) is 41.4 million U.S. households. This distribution number means that Tennis Channel has seen a loss of 20 million U.S. households since the network’s distribution peaked in 2019 (according to Nielsen Media Research).

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One may, of course, ask of those 41.4 million remaining households, how many people are actually watching TC? More than 50%? Less than 10% is more likely. I can see that the majority of households are getting TC bundled in their sports package and rather watch paint dry than check the content of Bethanie Mattek-Sands' tennis bag. USTVDB.com writes on January 22, "Tennis Channel is currently the 107th most popular channel on TV, watched by a total number of 36,000 people (up +89% from last week) throughout the day, as of the average weekly audience measurement for the period ending January 22, 2023."

Major move to pickleball

Front Office Sports tweeted on January 19: "The Tennis Channel will televise Major League Pickleball's Mesa tournament semi-finals and final next week. After broadcasting one tournament in 2021, the network will escalate pickleball coverage "significantly" in 2023." I assume they quoted TC CEO Ken Solomon when they posted "We have big plans."

 

It is easy to conclude because Solomon likes pickleball, therefore we see increased coverage. But that would be too simple an explanation. I tend to go in a different direction: They probably think their tennis product is "as good as it gets" and not worth investing any more money in it. Let's move into other sports. Like pickleball. Or football (see their football docuseries "Rivals")

Sinclair's Sports Channels in financial wasteland

Bloomberg reported on January 25: Sinclair Sports Channels Prepare Bankruptcy, Putting Team Payments at Risk.

Wow! The report says that "America’s largest owner of local sports channels is heading toward a complex $8.6 billion debt restructuring in bankruptcy court as it stakes its future on a new direct-to-consumer streaming service."

They are referring to Diamond Sports Group LLC, a Sinclair-owned firm that is suffering a huge decline in cable TV subscribers. The report goes on, "With financial troubles mounting, the Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.-owned firm will likely skip $140 million in interest payments due mid-February, kickstarting a 30-day grace period, according to people familiar with the matter. A stark divide is emerging between would-be winners and losers: its $630 million first-lien loan is trading at 92 cents on the dollar, while nearly $5 billion of lower-ranked bonds change hands for under 10 cents — signaling a near-total wipeout for subordinated creditors."

Average weekly Tennis Channel audience for the period ending January 22, 2023

36,000

(Source: US TVDB)

How does all that affect TC? As I wrote last month, "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

SBJ wrote on January 12 "MLB hires Billy Chambers as EVP/Local Media" with certain hints as to what's going on. Like, "MLB hired Billy Chambers, one of the country’s most experienced RSN executives, to figure out what to do with its regional media rights, as the market for RSNs continues to crumble." (The “crumble” referenced in this article carries over to other Sinclair assets (which includes Tennis Channel) given the business model is dependent on “bundling networks together” for driving revenue. A lot of volatility within Sinclair currently which is impacting rightsholders and strategic partners’ confidence.)

 

Bloomberg writes about Dimond Sports Group's transition plans: "In an attempt to reach more cord-cutters, Diamond launched a streaming service across all its markets last September that allowed people to watch games online for $20 a month without a cable subscription. It’s now considering a new streaming service that would give fans the option to pay to watch individual games or just the last few minutes." 

I say good luck with those plans. The same Bloomberg reported "Streaming TV is only going to get more expensive from here. Demand for new streaming video entertainment has stopped growing in the US.

Ouch!

Last month I wrote that the Tennis Channel is the only linear cable network. But I had to learn now that the regional sports networks (RSNs) are also linear cable networks in Sinclair’s portfolio. If I had to guess, when I look at the cheesy commercials that air on Tennis Channel, I would say that over 90% of Tennis Channel’s revenue comes from distribution by being bundled in cable/satellite agreements with Sinclair’s other media assets. If all the Regional Sports Networks move away from the cable/satellite distribution business model or simply go away completely, how does Tennis Channel actually survive? And if Tennis Express can afford to advertise on the TC, what does that mean? I guess it means the ads are dirt cheap. If you can't produce eyeballs, you can't ask for good advertising rates. Right?

I say between cord-cutting and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s financial issues, Tennis Channel’s business is heading in the wrong direction - from a rock to a hard place. I’ve heard from people with access to Nielsen Television Index that Tennis Channel’s average audience is 65 years old. Clearly, the Tennis Channel product is not engaging younger audiences. Maybe that’s why you can see Shriners Hospital commercials and awful Bag Checks airing nonstop in every commercial break. It’s amateurish and almost embarrassing.

At 36,000 daily viewers, will anyone notice

if the Tennis Channel is gone?

My take: Do you think the Tennis Channel will still be around 3 years from now? I think it’s a crucial time in tennis for a new media company to emerge and get the sport younger.

WHAT'S THE APPEAL OF THIRTY30 TENNIS?

The existing short-set formats work well. No?

CONTEXT: Mark Milne, the Thirty30 Tennis inventor, likes to describe it as "a shortened format of tennis where every point really counts and can be described as the tennis equivalent of the Twenty20 format of cricket." Hmm, I don't follow cricket. Mark also says that Thirty30 tennis is an alternative to the 8-game pro-set and to 'sets to 4 games with No Ads' (Fast4).

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I'm really having a hard time wrapping my head around this format ever since I heard of it years ago. Mark is hyping it like this is the much-needed shot-in-the-arm for tennis. He says, "We have big plans for Thirty30 tennis as we think that alternative shorter and faster-paced scoring formats are the future." What are those plans and who will be involved? Who's funding that format? Anyone?

 

Mark Milne goes on, "We also think that Thirty30 is the gold standard for shorter formats as it still maintains the DNA of traditional tennis - matches still feel, look and sound like traditional tennis." But I say so does the 8-game pro set and fast 4. What's the fuzz all about?

I asked Mark how he plans to make money with Thirty30 Tennis. Legitimate question, don't you think? If it has such a huge promise of a great ROI, maybe a few more people want to get in on it. But he keeps that information tight to the vest. Hmmm. 

My take: I like most of the buzz anyone creates about tennis but I don't see it, Mark. Sorry. If Thirty30 Tennis ever gets critical mass, I'll be the first to give it another look.

How about Fourty40?

WHY DOES PATRICK MCENROE THINK HE IS STILL RELEVANT?

A very unsuccessful tennis guy with a very memorable body shaming history

CONTEXT: Patrick McEnroe may be an excellent tennis player. No doubt about that. But in my book, that's all there's to this man. His two main employers after his pro tennis career were the USTA and ESPN where he is the lead play-by-play man for tennis events. His broadcasting work is similar to his work as head honcho for USTA Player Development, colorless, with little demonstrable expertise, and downright unsuccessful.

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Photo: US Open

PM basically wasted 7 years as head of PD and has nothing to show for that he was even present. But one thing stands out about him. Taylor Townsend's body shaming incident in 2012. In a January 18 New York Times article titled "A Decade After U.S.T.A. Sidelined Her, Taylor Townsend Is Looking Forward" Matthew Futterman writes "In 2012, Townsend, a star of the U.S.T.A.’s then four-year-old development program, was the No. 1 junior player in the world. That January, she was the girls’ singles champion at the Australian Open. In July 2012, she won the girls’ doubles title at Wimbledon with Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. But just weeks later, as The Wall Street Journal revealed, after a loss in the first round of qualifying at a lower-tier professional event in Canada, coaches at the U.S.T.A. decided the 16-year-old Townsend needed to work on her fitness. They requested her to pull out of the national girls championships and sent her back to their training center in Boca Raton, Fla." He goes on to write, "They turned her down that August when she asked for a wild-card entry into the main draw of the U.S. Open, a spot she could have earned had she won the national girls title. They refused to cover her expenses to play in the U.S. Open girls tournament. She paid her own way, made the quarterfinals of the singles tournament, and won the doubles. Flash forward a decade, to last September. Townsend is standing at midcourt in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, accepting the runner-up trophy in the women’s doubles tournament with her partner, her fellow American Caty McNally. The master of ceremonies for the trophy presentation is Patrick McEnroe. Ten years ago, he was the general manager of the U.S.T.A.’s player development program, the guy who sent Townsend back to Boca Raton."

My take: Still today I say shame on you, Mr. McEnroe. Body shaming should have no place in sports. Just look at what's going on in Hollywood right now where actresses call out the body shamers. So my question remains, why is that man still relevant? What has he done for tennis that would make me want to listen to him on ESPN?

HOW OLD IS THE TENNIS-VIEWING DEMOGRAPHIC REALLY?

With ads like "Toenail Clippers for Seniors" you can tell.

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CONTEXT: If you ask ten people about the average age of the tennis demographic, you'll most likely get ten different answers. You have to define: Do you mean pro tour players, recreational players, fans in the stands, or viewers at home? Well, after I've been to two US Opens and about 10 BNP Paribas Open, my observation is that the average tennis fan is well over sixty years of age.

My take: Guess why I think I'm spot on with my analysis. Because watching Australian Open coverage online, the ad that most often came over my screen was for bloody SENIOR TOENAIL CLIPPERS! Yep, you better believe it!

NEW PICKLEBALL NUMBERS JUST A BIG HOAX?

Why should pickleball be any different than tennis?

CONTEXT: While USA Pickleball reports on their site that in 2021 participation grew to 4.8 million players, CNBC reported on January 5 "More than 36.5 million people played pickleball from August 2021 to August 2022, according to a new report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals." I'm having big problems with these numbers.

The article continues, "The latest numbers unveiled in the 2023 APP Pickleball Participation report, via a study conducted by YouGov, shows that 14% of Americans played pickleball at least once in that 12-month period. And over 8.5 million people played pickleball eight times or more.

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Numerous times in the past I've been calling the TIA's participation numbers bogus because of mainly four reasons:

1. It's a market research report that is being used as a census. Question is: how representative is it, really?

2. The U.S. ball sales published by the manufacturers do not corroborate the participation numbers.

3. The USTA is paying for the study and they have every reason to keep the participation numbers as high as possible.
4. There are no checks and balances to ensure the participation numbers are reasonable.

At best, the sports participation numbers may spot trends (up or down). 

 

I have similar concerns about the 36.5 million pickleball players. And it's even worse than in tennis.

 

Just look at the courts these 36.5 million pickleballers need.

Getting the real numbers for how many tennis courts are in the U.S. is not easy. Let’s say we believe the New York Times. 250,000. We gotta believe that’s all 3 types, private clubs, public facilities, and private courts. Let’s forget the private courts and estimate that private clubs and public facilities together are a good, round number: 100,000.

So, 20 million tennis players use 100,000 courts. Forget the discussion about whether they do singles and doubles play, just say it’s like pickleball, mostly doubles. That’s 200 players per court. (proves how bogus the tennis numbers are)

We all know there are more pickleballers than tennis players on one tennis court. Let’s say it’s 3 times more. There are 600 pickleballers per tennis court. So 36.5M divided by 600 equals a little over 60,000 courts.

As of August 30, 2022, we are to believe there are 10,320 pickleball courts according to pickleheads.com. On the other hand, USA Pickleball just published that there are 44,490 pickleball courts according to Sports Business Journal. Which one is it, folks? Where is the proof?

It looks to me like a big hoax, folks. They're hyping up pickleball to get even more players, investors, and pro teams. And to justify why they're raiding tennis courts all over the country.

Let's start again, this time with those supposed 10,320 pickleball courts
 

If you use the GSS Test (Greeley Stockyards Smell), the numbers don't make sense.  On average that would mean about 3,600 people would play at each facility.  Probably not the case. Even at 44,490 courts, the numbers don't add up.

Ok, then let's look at paddle sales

 

They said paddle sales were $152.8 million.  At $100 a paddle that is about 1.53 million rackets. At $50 racket that is about 3 million rackets. That means 32 million new players are playing with invisible rackets. The numbers don't make sense. 

I wonder if they - similar to the USTA - mistake unique players with registrations.

On a side note: They say the study was conducted by an outfit called YouGove America, Inc in Redwood City, California. That company has an F-rating with the local Better Business Bureau, for trying to stiff their survey volunteers, it seems. What else are they capable of?

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My take: By inflating numbers, pickleball is taking pages out of the USTA textbook. Nice!

THE USTA

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USTA CEO APPOINTS NEW CPCO

Newly created position for entertainment executive

From the press release: "The USTA today announced that Henry Lescaille, a multi-talented human resources executive with more than 30 years of experience in the field has been named the USTA’s Chief People & Culture Officer.  The position is newly-created by USTA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Lew Sherr.  Lescaille will be based at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. and will report directly to Sherr.

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The Chief People & Culture Officer (CPCO) will serve as the architect of the Association’s culture initiatives and talent strategy, all in support of the mission and values of the USTA. The CPCO will lead the strategy and processes relating to building a culture that facilitates the recruitment, engagement and retention of an exceptional team of staff and volunteers, through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion and helps inspire those who deliver the sport."

Here is Lew Sherr's statement: "Our people are our most important resource... The USTA, on all levels, needs to invest in its culture to meet the many demands of today’s world."

My take: It's nice that you want to invest in YOUR culture, Lew, whatever that means. How about investing in tennis in ALL zip codes of the United States? Oh, and btw, we'll watch out for how you treat your people and how you reward them.

Never forget, Mister Sherr:

WE EMPOWER THE POWERLESS!

USTA RELEASES USTA TENNIS APP

This latest addition makes it now 4 USTA mobile apps

From the press release: The USTA today announced the release of a new app, USTA Tennis, which is now available via the Apple App Store. The USTA Tennis mobile app, which will be free of charge, will give users access to a variety of resources, making it easier than ever for players to find play opportunities and improve their games.

With the new USTA App, players will gain access to:

  • ITF World Tennis Number.

  • National Rankings Lists

  • Net Generation PlayTracker

  • Personal Player Profile

  • Play Opportunity Search 

  • Personalized Home Feature

  • Tennis Digital Schedule

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List of all apps and their platforms

On iOS: USTA Tennis App, Tennislink, Net Generation, USTA Serve

On Android: Net Generation, USTA Serve

My take: Is that a pickleball on this guy's shirt?

USTA USING DATA AND VIDEO

Finally - we knew it had to happen one day!

Sports Business Journal article from January 13 "How the USTA is using data and video to create innovative analysis and training programs in tennis" I'm so happy that there is a tennis mention in a tech journal. Why? Because that usually only happens once in a blue moon.

During the US Open, the USTA player and coach development staffs introduced the Physicality Index and published a series of web stories using this new metric to describe the intensity and toll of matches.

There’s an old adage in tennis that the player who runs less, wins more, but like any saying aged enough to be an adage, it was born before the advent of sport science and advanced tracking technologies to scrutinize its veracity.

This particular maxim may indeed be true more often than not, but two of the world’s top players — reigning US Open champ Carlos Alcaraz and his finals opponent, Casper Ruud — are actually covering a lot more distance, according to data analysis from USTA’s player development team.

Read the article here

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My take: I applaud the USTA for bringing the US Open into the 21st century!

2023 USTA FELLOWSHIP BRINGS UP QUESTIONS

Chipping away at USPTA and PTR - one initiative at a time!

 

The email came in January 24 with the subject line "Applications Open until 2/12/23 - 2023 Fellowship in Tennis Coaching & Leadership." When you click on the flyer, you'll get to this page: http://www.playerdevelopment.usta.com/about_the_fellowship_program/. It says that "the 2023 Fellowship in Tennis Coaching & Leadership Powered by Athleta is designed to train the next generation of leaders in tennis coaching through an integrative approach that focuses on the core competencies of foundational coaching." They are accepting up to 16 applicants for this 12-week program and specifically target college graduates that are Level 1 certified and have a minimum of 2 years of coaching experience.

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My take: While I applaud the initiative and think this is great for developing future Head Coaches and Tennis Directors, I get that nagging feeling this is just another nail in the coffin for USPTA and PTR. Or, as a USPTA friend puts it, "The USTA is essentially saying we don't really need the PTR and we really really really don't need the USPTA."

SURGE IN TENNIS PARTICIPATION. REALLY?

Does the USTA need a W so desperately, that they publish anything to make them look good?

The USTA reported on January 12 that in 2022, "tennis participation increased for the third consecutive year in the U.S. Tennis participation grew by one million players last year with more than 23.6 million people playing the sport. This number, when added to the previous two years, represents an increase of 5.9 million, or 33 percent, since the start of 2020. This information was compiled by the Tennis Industry Association, and will be presented in greater detail in the 2023 Tennis National Participation Report available later this month."

And: "The growth and health of the sport was not limited to just participation, as a variety of key efforts and initiatives were focused on increasing access to the game and making the overall tennis experience better for all players."

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There are many reasons why the USTA publishes these kinds of messages. Their financial situation is only one of them. I have a feeling they meddle with data by including league registrations instead of unique players. Together with bogus survey data, they come up with numbers inflated enough to make even the hyped pickleball participation hoax more believable.

 

As I wrote earlier, at best, the sports participation numbers may spot trends (up or down). I asked an expert if those numbers are useful at all. He agreed that they provide a trend but added that the data is not used for anything other than bragging rights. Most pros say they don't care about the data, they are interested in their own club and what they can control. The expert continued, "Was the participation data collected between 2010 and 2020 used for the betterment of tennis? Look at the USTA. They used the data to make revisions to the USTA adult leagues which seems to me it made that program worse. But ask yourself, would the tennis industry benefit from a more accurate survey?  Possibly not."

 

My take: There are no checks and balances to ensure the participation numbers are reasonable. In business many decisions are made without complete information - the participation surveys fall in that category. Good advice: Never believe ANY number in a USTA press release.

UPDATE ON THE KYLIE MCKENZIE LAWSUIT

Sexual assault by tennis professionals on minors is unacceptable.

CONTEXT: Last April, we reported about a lawsuit former tour player Kylie McKenzie filed against the USTA. We wrote  "A publication called AZCentral posted this headline on March 29: Phoenix tennis player Kylie McKenzie sues USTA over alleged sexual assault from coach.

In the article, they detailed what allegedly happened to her at the USTA National Campus. The tennis coach in whose care Kylie was, is named as Anibal Aranda. She also accused the USTA of allegedly knowing that Aranda had a history of assault before assigning him to be her coach. "

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Photo: Michael Chow/The Republic 

Last month we learned that Federal Courts in Florida, much like others around the country, are just now pulling out of Covid-associated delays.  No depositions have been taken but it is expected that the process will start in March.

Her attorney says, "She is a genuinely good, sweet, and nice person.  All she wants to do is play tennis."

My take: Last year we learned from Pam Shriver about her ordeal and most people applauded her for coming forward with it. I hope Kylie's case will give the topic of sexual assaults of minors by professionals of any kind much-needed attention. 

JAVIER PALENQUE: 

TEN MINUTES WITH ME IN A USTA BOARD MEETING

The author is not giving up his fight for transparency and organic growth in tennis.

Javier writes, "Fear is an intensely unpleasant emotion in response to perceiving or recognizing a danger or threat. Fear causes physiological changes that may produce behavioral reactions such as mounting an aggressive response, fleeing the threat, or blocking the threat (like the leadership of the USTA does to me and my articles).

He continues, "What I will uncover in a meeting will prove how they act on behalf of the sport. They do not care about the sport; they say they do but the asset allocation says they do not. So, you do not have to like me or believe me, all you got to do is follow the money."

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Read the full article here or listen to the podcast.

My take: The minute some USTA executive or board member reaches out to Javier, we will have hope for change. But as long as they think ultra-high debt, making people believe in bogus participation numbers with a 33% growth, obscene executive salaries, and league players flocking to pickleball are all normal, that won't happen. 

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