Tennis became the victim
Poorly designed USTA survey
TIA - asleep at the switch
Is there hope?
Reconstructing Tennis Leadership
Rumblings at Lake Nona
Special content this month
Virtual Happy Hour Zoom meetings
Rich Neher is the owner of Tennis Media Group, a Consulting and Publishing Firm for Tennis Clubs, Organizations, and Coaches worldwide. He is also the Executive Director of Los Angeles based California Social Tennis Network. Besides managing tennis clubs and organizing community tennis, Rich has been the Team Lead for Adult Leagues and NTRP ratings on the USTA Tennislink Team and was a Board Member of the San Diego District Tennis Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 Community Service Award from the USPTA San Diego Division and of the 2019 PTR Media Excellent Award.
What a difference one month made in all our lives. It looked pretty normal in the first few days. Yes, we heard about a virus far away and thought, "so what?" March 3 I had a phone call with the new USTA CEO Michael Dowse about his future plans and at that time I guess we both had no clue what was about to unfold.
TENNIS BECAME THE VICTIM OF A DISEASE
And then the hammer came down on all of us. COVAD-19 was declared a Pandemic. Within a week we had a pretty good idea that business wasn't going to continue as usual. Tournaments were canceled. First the smaller once, then the adult leagues, then Indian Wells and other large ones. As soon as the 'social distancing' orders came we saw clubs closing and things went downhill from there. We hadn't heard much from the USTA until Match 24 when they sent out the Industry Survey. In the LETTER TO THE PUBLISHER section, you'll find messages from Michael Dowse (and others) and links to an impressive collection of information on the USTA website about the Pandemic with resources and the help we can all expect.
I am keenly aware of the hardship this situation means for thousands of tennis professionals, club staff, owners, managers, and players all over the country. I used to manage a tennis and fitness club once. I know what's going on. My question is: do the staff and executives at our governing body of tennis know this? Most of us lowly tennis folks do not have cushy jobs with nice expense accounts and great pensions. My suggestion: The folks at the USTA, especially the ones that (incomprehensively) make high six and seven-figure incomes, should be aware of that, humble themselves, and go out of their way to support the industry, the people who enable them to make that much money.
My heart goes out to the sidelined coaches and staff at most tennis facilities, to their owners and members and all the ancillary industry connected to them. I salute the tennis industry suppliers that are struggling to keep their staff on the payroll with no or very little business right now. I hope things will pick up quickly for everyone after we have all overcome the biggest challenge in our lifetime.
AND THEN CAME A "POORLY DESIGNED" INDUSTRY SURVEY
After I looked at the survey for the first time, a tennis pro asked me, "shouldn't they know most of the answers to those questions?" Another mentioned that this must be the most poorly designed industry survey she had ever seen. One well-known industry analyst wrote to me about the question What content can we offer to support you in engaging with your local players? (check all that apply): "This question must have been submitted by the TIA and USTA. It is a leading question designed to get an answer that will allow them to justify the promotion of the interests of their organization. It is presumptuous in assuming that providing content is a reasonable solution to the problem. This question explains why the industry has been in a funk for the past decade – the trade associations are self-serving and only focused on imposing themselves on the industry. This question shows how disingenuous the TIA and USTA are. The industry doesn’t need content at a time like this." I rest my case.
TIA - ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH
I don't know what's going on at that organization. Compare them to the IHRSA, it's like day and night. Shame on the TIA for waiting until March 27 to come out with information that looks like it was probably produced by the USTA. Just look at their website no one seems to be updating right now. The TIA is the biggest example of why tennis industry leadership has been so dysfunctional for many years.
IS THERE HOPE?
I think there is. And the only reason I say that is because of Michael Dowse. Although the survey had been sent out under his watch. But I have a feeling his head is in the right place. Fighting a tiresome fight against the forces that have "always done things our way" can't be easy. Remember my headline last month? CAN MICHAEL DOWSE SURVIVE 2020? Here is my recipe for not only his survival but also for him guiding the American tennis world to better times.
RECONSTRUCTING TENNIS LEADERSHIP
1. Recognize what went wrong for the last twenty years
The industry survey speaks volumes of the quality of leadership in the U.S. tennis industry. A trio of executives what one reader called the TENNIS CARTEL had their say for far too long: Williams-Haggerty-Smith. TIA President Jeff Williams, an industry veteran with way too much influence and no ability to offer solutions for decades now. ITF President David Haggerty, another one of those good old boys with an industry career that sees him moving up by default with no real accomplishments to show for. USTA CEO Gordon Smith has left his position. Thank God. Too much has gone wrong during his leadership but his buddy at the helm of iTennis and Racquet Sports Magazine will never admit this, of course. He went out of his way of celebrating him last year. But that's how the good old boy club works in tennis. You buy my magazine to send to your members for free because no one would pay a buck to read it, I play nice and help you get elected, we're having a good time because there's plenty of money for us. No one sees a reason for rattling cages. Everyone is toeing the line. And who doesn't like a good expense account?
My recommendation for Michael Dowse: Work with Haggerty but don't listen to his misguided plans. Use your influence to make a change at the helm of the TIA. Maybe someone from the outside with a fresh approach and experience in running an industry organization. Check out the IHRSA leadership.
2. Slim down the USTA
Fire the entire top management that has done a miserable job of stopping the downfall of tennis in our country for over a decade. Change out the Board to better represent the tennis community. Get rid of Player Development and NetGen. Put those $25-30 Million saved into grassroots tennis in its entirety. Leave the creation of U.S. champions to capable coaches like Richard Williams and Paul Annacone. Look at each department in Lake Nona and White Plains and slim them down. At a time when the entire industry is hurting, a non-profit governing body cannot be allowed to keep their bloated staff structure. Did you know that IHRSA is taking care of almost 8,000 member clubs with a staff of 55?
3. Take charge and lead the industry
It is clear to me that it is now up to the USTA, TIA, PTR, and USPTA to do something meaningful to help the industry. And you, Michael Dowse, need to be out in front. I'm quoting a tennis friend who is very attuned to all matters USTA: "The industry has been given an opportunity to learn and grow and the industry has a chance to refocus - they need to get to know their members and they need to start serving the players and the pros better. The USTA needs to speak with one voice, they need to reduce their staff and focus on building the infrastructure, not their bureaucracy - this includes a smaller organization that is more reliant on technology."
You know what? Those measures combined will also enable you to fortify the industry so the next Pandemic may be a little easier to weather and may not create such havoc among clubs, professionals, and players.
RUMBLINGS AT LAKE NONA
My sources are telling me that Craig Morris and Elliott Pettit are finding themselves under the gun of the new CEO. It seems they are being tested, folks. Morris was seen coming out of a meeting "with his tail between his legs." A lot of people seem to agree on one thing: The ideas behind NetGen are not the problem, it's the people executing those ideas. One insider put it this way: "Craig Morris should not be running NetGen. In fact, he shouldn't be running anything. He's just not CEO material!"
SPECIAL CONTENT THIS MONTH
Besides our 'regular' content we started featuring articles that discuss the COVID-19 Pandemic and its impact on our industry, such as
- Pandemic and club business survey (but - be aware that things change so quickly nowadays)
- Bill Patton: The Coronavirus Event Opportunity - Once in a Lifetime?
- Rod Heckelman: What's next?
- Javier Palenque: Cancel the US Open and repurpose the time NOW.
- Feature by Gary Horvath: How will the tennis industry answer the wakeup call?
- Tennis Under Attack: Collection of messages and opinions from governing bodies, industry and pros.
- Ed Shanaphy: Equity and Corporate Clubs Have Different Strategies in the Corona Virus Era
You will recognize those articles with this graphic:
I like the way Rod Heckelman describes how the Pandemic exposed the basic dysfunctionality of the tennis club industry. He writes, "Managers/owners found themselves in a Mexican standoff."
We are also featuring two writers new to TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS, Scott Mitchell and Tim Bainton. Together with Ken DeHart, Joe Dinoffer, Bill Patton, Gary Horvath, Rod Heckelman, Javier Palenque, Alice Tym, Barbara Wintroub, Suzanna McGee, and Ed Shanaphy, we now have a first-class group of writers at TCB.
Thank you, everyone, for participating in our two surveys. The winners of the Starbucks cards:
Survey - How does your tennis club attract new members? Winner: Doug Atkinson. Congrats!
Survey - Tennis Facilities and the Pandemic. Winner: Karen Fisher. Congrats!
Happy Hour Zoom Meetings
I had started virtual Happy Hour-type meetings on the Zoom platform with my local tennis peeps in Southern Cal. Very nice! Drink-in-hand we're coming together and talk about anything and everything on our minds. Lots of fun.
Last Saturday, we also had an industry virtual Happy Hour and that was fun, too. Bill Patton, Joe and Kalindi Dinoffer, Jeff Richards, Dr. Martin Baroch, and Tim Bainton came together and shared information, discussed stuff. We can take many more participants. Let me know if you want to be invited to the next one on Thursday, April 2.
That's it for this month, folks. Be safe, think positively, learn and stay sharp, and practice social distancing. There's not much else we can do right now.
I can't wait to come to you with good news for May!