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THE GOOD

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CONGRATULATIONS, USTA.

US OPEN 2022 WAS A COMPLETE SUCCESS!

Record numbers and millions of happy tennis fans. 

CONTEXT:  USTA executives are coming more and more under pressure for their inability to grow tennis at the grassroots level and also for two decades of reckless spending resulting in a hard-to-believe $726M of debt. However, one aspect of the USTA secured an undisputed win for those at the organization tasked with the monumental undertaking of organizing and running a Grand Slam. The 2022 US Open was such a success that we at Tennis Club Business have decided to give the USTA a break and quote from a press release about the event that may well go into the history books as the most successful US Open ever. At this point, we also don't care to know whether the 2022 US Open made any profits. We just want to celebrate with the USTA and congratulate them, on a Grand Slam well run. Here are some details:

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2022 US Open Redefines 'Spectacular'

 

Two years removed from being held without spectators, the US Open redefined 'spectacular' in 2022 by breaking records for attendance, viewership, engagement, food and beverage and merchandise sales. 

 

Among the highlights from the 2022 US Open:

 

On the Court

  • Nineteen-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defeated Norwegian Casper Ruud to win the men's singles title, becoming the youngest US Open men's singles champion since Pete Sampras in 1990 and the youngest-ever men's world No. 1. The young Spaniard's run to the title featured a flair for late-night drama, with Alcaraz winning five-set matches in the fourth round, quarterfinals and semifinals, with his 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal victory over Jannik Sinner setting the US Open record for latest finish, at 2:50 a.m.

  • Polish 21-year-old Iga Swiatek cemented her status as the world No. 1 by winning the women's singles title over Tunisian Ons Jabeur, her first US Open and third career Grand Slam singles title. Swiatek became the youngest woman to win her third major title since Maria Sharapova in 2008 and is only the ninth player of the Open Era (since 1968) to win her third major before turning 22. Jabeur, meanwhile, was the first African woman to reach the US Open singles final. 

  • Serena Williams' run to the third round in what was likely her final US Open saw the all-time great extend her leads atop a number of US Open record boards, including most singles matches won (108), most matches played (118) and won (103) inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and most matches played (56) and won (46) at night. 

  • Twenty-four-year-old American Frances Tiafoe's run to the singles semifinals captivated the New York crowd, as he became the first African-American man to reach the singles semifinals since Arthur Ashe in 1972.

  • Overall, 44 Americans competed in the singles main draws, a 20-year high outside of the 2020 US Open, which was impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

  • The US Open hosted a landmark Wheelchair Tournament that set a number of Grand Slam superlatives, including: Largest player field, with 56 players; First Grand Slam Wheelchair event awarding more than $1 million in prize money; and First Grand Slam Wheelchair event with a junior competition. 

  • The US Open also continued its commitment to inclusion by expanding its second consecutive HBCU Live Day and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community on Open Pride Day.

Attendance

  • The full, three-week attendance for the US Open, including Fan Week, was 888,044, eclipsing the previous record of 853,227, set in 2019. The two-week main draw attendance of 776,120 surpassed the previous record of 737,872, also set in 2019. 

  • The 2022 US Open also marked the first time in Arthur Ashe Stadium's 25 years that every session in the stadium, now with a capacity of 23,859, was sold out. 

  • Fan Week saw 111,924 fans experience the US Open for free, including a record 35,525 kids and families coming to the grounds on Arthur Ashe Kids' Day. 

 

Digital and Social

  • The US Open's digital platforms, powered by IBM, had a record-setting year: More than 35 million total visits to USOpen.org and the US Open app from 13 million unique devices, increases of more than 20 percent.

  • Total interactions and views across the US Open's official social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok reached upwards of 1 billion over the three weeks of the main draw and Fan Week. 

  • Total video views on the US Open's official Instagram page tallied more than 250 million, a near 250-percent increase over 2021.

 

Television Viewership

  • The Serena Williams-Ajla Tomljanovich third-round match was the most-watched tennis telecast on record in ESPN’s 43-year history. It averaged 4.6 million viewers and peaked with 6.9 million viewers in the 10:15 p.m. quarter-hour.

  • Frances Tiafoe's Labor Day upset over Rafael Nadal earned an average audience of 2.4 million fans, peaking at 3.4 million. The entire 11 a.m. window of nearly eight hours delivered an average audience of 1.7 million viewers, up more than double – 113 percent – over the same telecast last year.

 

'Tennis Plays for Peace' and Ukraine Crisis Relief

  • The US Open raised $2 million in crisis relief for Ukraine through its collection of fundraising efforts throughout the 2022 event, starting with the Tennis Plays for Peace exhibition during Fan Week and continuing with donations from the US Open's corporate partners, the USTA, fans and private donors. 

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NEW TENNIS STORE CONCEPT OPENED IN BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA

Adeline's 'trés chic' Love Love Tennis Boutique near Rodeo Drive is not your average tennis shop

CONTEXT:  When was the last time you heard of a new tennis shop opening doors? Maybe here and there but more often you hear of tennis shops closing. Love Love Tennis Boutique in Beverly Hills is indeed not like any of the tennis businesses in California. But then again, tennis player, tournament organizer, vendor, and manufacturer Adeline Arjad Cook is not your average entrepreneur. Iranian heritage, born in Bath, England, and raised there and in Beverly Hills, Adeline has demonstrated time and again that a tennis business can be successful if you cater to your core clients and provide exceptional experiences for them.

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Adeline with Birthday Cake

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Love Love Tennis Boutique at 9627 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

'Like father, like son' really means like mother, like daughter for Adeline. Forty years ago, her mother owned a children's boutique called "Adeline' in Beverly Hills. After a successful banking career, Adeline started investing in tennis. Her company 'I Love My Doubles Partner' manufactures and sells fashionable tennis apparel and jewelry to women over 40. Her signature 'Court to Cocktail' line is exactly how it sounds. Her website states, "You shouldn't have to choose between sporty/comfortable and flattering/casual! You can wear any of our #CourttoCocktails dresses right off of the court straight to the bar -- in style." She is also well known in Southern California for organizing tennis tournaments combined with trips to luxury destinations like the Turks and Caicos Islands. All for women over 40.

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Ribbon cutting on September 15. Next to Adeline: Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse and Chamber President Todd Johnson

The Love Love Tennis Boutique store concept is quite unique with a relatively small entrance area leading to larger spaces on three levels. The top level has more of general tennis merchandise, a stringing machine, and lots of space to sit and talk tennis.

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Love Love Tennis Boutique entrance area

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Back area with staircase to upper floors

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Love Love Tennis Boutique mid-level

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Love Love Top level

Next up on the busy calendar for Adeline: La Quinta ILMDP Ladies Tennis Doubles Tourney. Wanna come? This event is for "Women who LOVE doubles - and are SWEET + FUN."

NEW DICK GOULD BOOK: ANATOMY OF A CHAMPION

Building and Sustaining Success in Sport, Business, and Life

To understand the value of this book, one has to know who Dick Gould is. While many of our readers know him or at least heard of him, few realize the mind-blowing enormity of his achievements: After 52 years with Stanford University, (38 as Head Tennis Coach, 14 as Director of Tennis) he had amassed 17 NCAA Championships in a span of 28 years. All in all 50 of his players were selected All-Americans. This makes Dick Gould the most successful coach in the history of intercollegiate tennis.

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Dick's extraordinary success in developing great players, supporting their academic endeavors, and forging great teams is unsurpassed in NCAA history. His book gives insights into his holistic approach, and we can all learn, whatever our profession, from this outstanding coach and exceptional man.

Condoleezza Rice
Provost, Stanford University

Dick Gould's best-selling book ‘Tennis, Anyone?’ from 1969 is still available on Amazon and is now, 53 years later, in its 6th edition. He could have now simply expanded on his obviously considerable teaching skills and written another How-To book but I guess that’s not what he considered valuable since there are so many excellent coaches with great books out there already.

On the other hand, he remembered that people often used to ask him about the reason for his success, the ‘secret sauce’ so to speak. But he was never able to give them that one answer to explain it all. He writes, “Ultimately, instead of trying to analyze my own career and methodologies, I decided the right thing to do was to let the answers come from the players themselves. It was their shots and competitiveness that won those seventeen national titles, so it seemed logical that their thoughts and reflections, not mine, tell the tale.”

 

So he sent a list of twenty challenging questions regarding aspects of their team experience to 200 former players. “I was elated when 166 - 83 percent - returned the questionnaire, particularly since a full response took at least two hours to complete. I hoped that, among other things, I would be able to coax the formula we used to win for thirty-eight years from these hundreds of extraordinary and eye-opening insights and revelations.”

 

While assembling all this information, he made a surprising revelation about his former Stanford team members. Their thoughts turned out to be as much about leadership and management as coaching. “The lessons they took from our time together transcend sport, extending in time to business, public service, the military, and very often, family and parenting. What they value from their college tennis careers seems not to be the championship rings, as much as, I am happy to say, life lessons."

When you joined the team, you automatically felt like you were there to do your job and that was to help win an NCAA championship. Coach magnified this sense of pride and purpose each and every day. Coach Gould had an aura that demanded respect and he had all the attributes that made it easy for players to put their faith in him.

Mike Bryan
Stanford Tennis Team, '00

So, here is the real value of ‘Anatomy of a Champion’ as Dick Gould sees it: Life lessons described by successful people that happened to accompany him and Stanford on their journey as young men trying to be part of successful teams. In their own words, they were able to give us a pretty good picture of Dick’s ‘secret sauce’ to success.

 

I enjoyed reading the book and want to quote one of the 166 former Stanford players who comes with impressive credentials as a teaching professional: Martin Blackman. He is quoted on page 11 as saying, “My biggest takeaway was that although winning was very important, representing the team, Stanford, and ourselves with integrity and class was always more important.”

 

On page 72, Blackman explains why often the best way to win was to take the focus off winning: “Winning is a by-Product of commitment to process and excellence. Coach was very process-focused. I don’t remember him ever talking about winning before a match - only about what we needed to do, about our opponents’ strengths and weakness, etc. He never put pressure on us to win, only to play our best. As much as possible, Coach tried to have us focus on the process, work on our weaknesses and enjoy the battle. He forced me to work on my weaknesses and made me accountable for the things that were in my control, like preparation, punctuality and attitude. That is a winning formula. I think all great team cultures are process focused.”

 

Amazon

It is critical to understand that the results that Dick Gould had are truly the by-product of his personal greatness. His pursuit of constant and relentness improvement. His pursuit of fulfilling and executing the value systems of work ethic, attention to detail, perseverance, determination, a willingness to take chances to do and be special, never letting his competitors see him down or discouraged, his amazing recruiting skills and optimism. If I were to summarize it all up, it would be that Dick had and has a profound understanding that life is about the journey and for God sakes make the most of it!

Nick Saviano
Stanford Tennis Team, '73

NEW EMMA DOYLE BOOK: WHAT MAKES A GREAT COACH?

Top 10 Practices of the World’s Best Coaches

Emma Doyle is easily the most amazing Ambassador Tennis and also Pickleball has today. Judy Murray calls her an Edutainer and the effervescent Aussie. Whether she's doing a TED Talk, teaching on a court, taping a podcast, recording some video, speaking at an industry convention, or writing a new book, I don't know how she does it. Where does she get the energy to do all this and slip in the occasional skiing trip with partner Tina Samara?

I mean, just consider the opening story of how Emma flew to Florida wanting to coach tennis. She knew it  was her destiny and despite none of the organizations like Bollettieri or Hopman ever calling her back, she decided to just show up on Hopman's doorstep. I mean, that's a 30-hour flight Melbourne-Sydney-Los Angeles-Dallas-Tampa. She found the Hopman Academy and said to the security guard at the gate, "Good morning, I'm Coach Emma Doyle from Australia. I'm here for a meeting with Mr. Howard Moore." Moore was the Director of Tennis who hadn't returned any of Emma's phone calls.

 

The guard let her through, she found Moore's office and he greeted her by saying, "Are you that Aussie girl who's been calling and leaving messages for me this past month? And now you're here?" What an opening! Emma smiled and after some niceties, she came right to the point. "I am here because I want to coach for you. I would be happy to coach for free, any day or time, in exchange for accommodation. If, after seven days, you feel that I am not a suitable fit for Saddlebrook, then I will move on."

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Moore agreed to give her a shot for seven days not knowing how his decision became a catalyst for a whirlwind of tennis education coming over our country and other parts of the world. It's a great story of knowing what you want to be, perseverance in obtaining that goal, and not taking 'no reply' for an answer.

 

After many years of teaching, speaking, traveling, and listening, Emma decided to embark on a journey to write this beautiful book. She has researched over 500 of the world's leading coaches asking them, 'In one to a maximum of three words, what makes a great coach?' Together with, Natalie Ashdown, they have condensed these responses into the top 10 practices of what makes a great coach. 

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What Makes A Great Coach is not a book about techniques, forehands, or split steps. While the last pages of the book list the answers from each coach (Bollettieri: "Knowing your student" or Mouratoglou: "Hear, Results, Expectations"), the core of the book is best described by Judy Murray: "What Makes a Great Coach focuses on what you bring to the table - the passion, the intuition, the nurturing skills, and the personality traits that can set you apart as a coach in your sport and in the business world."

Judy Murray knows. She's been there, done that. She continues, "Truly great coaches are lifelong learners - always evaluating and analyzing their sessions, listening to, and observing others, studying the latest technologies and products, and investing in their personal growth."

What Makes a Great Coach is divided into 10 'Practice' sections. From Decision-making, Belief, Purpose, Passion, and Energy to Empathy, Listening, Curiosity, Communication, and Resilience. I liked Practice 3: Purpose a lot because the questions raised are also questions I'm asking myself all the time. It starts out with a quote from Peter McCraw, former coach of Maria Sharapova. "Everything I do has a purpose and a plan. No stone is left unturned." Emma examines the question 'What am I doing here?' and brings an example of a young student who couldn't really explain why she played tennis but talked about the pressure she was under to always perform. Emma writes, "Experienced coaches also know that only rarely will a player's goals and dreams be achieved if they are playing their sports for the wrong reasons, for example only to meet their parents' expectations. Whether it's in sport or business, we have to play for the right reasons - the reasons that are meaningful to us."

Whether it's in sport or business, we have to play for the right reasons - the reasons that are meaningful to us.

I don't want to give too much away but Emma is able to quote other coaches who are always ready to dive deeper, peeling back responses and continuing to ask questions until they arrive at the meaningful purpose that is driving one's goal. Asking "What excites you when you get out of bed in the morning?" isn't just a meaningless question. It's another layer to peel away for "getting under the surface and finding out about the person's intrinsic motivation - their purpose and their 'why'."

That's the style of What Makes a Great Coach. Taking coaches' answers, diving deeper into those recommendations, and giving real-life examples. You gotta love that approach from someone like Emma Doyle who's in the trenches like many of her coaches.

Amazon.

SERENA WILLIAMS & ROGER FEDERER - TWO LEGENDS ANNOUNCED THEIR RETIREMENT

Goat or not Goat, the tennis world lost two of our best!

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Photo: Reuters

CONTEXT:  We all expected it. We knew once a tennis player turns 40, retirement can't be far away. I mean, most professionals on both tours don't even make it beyond 35, right? Well, both Serena's and Roger's announcements came in the same month (September) and were still met with disbelief by most fans. 

Below I have listed the most interesting media coverage for both legends of tennis. After so many years on the tour (24 for Roger, 27 for Serena) and after amassing so many Grand Slams (20 Sgls for Roger, 39 sgls/dbls/mxd for Serena), the articles were all positive and worth reading in my opinion.

ROGER FEDERER

CBS Sport: Roger Federer announces retirement: Tennis world reacts to to 20-time Grand Slam winner leaving the game

CBS Sport: Roger Federer retires: Tennis legend ends career with 20 Grand Slam titles, will play one last tournament

NPR: Roger Federer announces his retirement from competitive tennis

The Washington PostWith Roger Federer’s retirement, tennis loses another golden star

The New York Times: Roger Federer to Retire From Tennis: ‘He Made the Game Look So Easy’

CNBCRoger Federer, Swiss tennis great, announces he’s leaving the sport

Tennis.comROGER FEDERER TO RETIRE AT LAVER CUP: "TO THE GAME OF TENNIS—I LOVE YOU, AND WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU"

Sports IllustratedTennis, Sports World Reacts to Legend Roger Federer’s Retirement

NPR: These photos follow the career of tennis great Roger Federer

The Indian ExpressRoger Federer retires: For tennis lovers, the pedestal he sits on is greater than any podium

10 News San DiegoRoger Federer announces end of tennis career

WAMU88.5Tennis legend Roger Federer announces upcoming retirement

CNN: Roger Federer, a genius who made tennis look effortless

Tennis World USA'Roger Federer won't turn his back on tennis', says top coach

Daily MailRoger Federer's tennis farewell in DOUBT with the Swiss legend leaving it to the last minute to decide if he's fit enough for final tournament at London's Laver Cup this week

YouTubeJohn McEnroe & Björn Borg say farewell to Roger Federer | Eurosport Tennis

NBC News: Roger Federer says he’s ‘definitely done’ with professional tennis and has no plans to come out of retirement

Today ShowRoger Federer says he is 'definitely' retiring from tennis

Daily MailRoger Federer says his four KIDS are the reason for his tennis success as he reveals their presence on the road helped him stay hungry... and insists he would rather have retired a DECADE ago than left them at home

Sky SportsRoger Federer says he won't walk away from tennis, promising his fans he'll still be involved in some capacity

ESPNRoger Federer pairs with Rafael Nadal in last match, falls in doubles at Laver Cup

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Photo: Getty Images

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Photo: AP

Tennis Coach and friend of this newsletter Jack Broudy of Broudy Tennis found some interesting words to describe Roger Federer's style and how it impacted his teachings:

 

"Roger has been the quintessential poster boy for the Broudy Tennis System. He had it all: the continuous figure 8 motion in the hips, line up to the 45º angle to the net, and flowing sine wave arm motion. It all produced the effortless hit. I studied his strokes more than any other player and will continue to use his strokes as our blueprint.

I began my journey to find, perform and teach the perfect tennis strokes was set in motion through Agassi's groundstrokes, Sampras' serve and net play. It became accelerated the first time I saw Roger play when he lost at 17yo in the first round of the U.S. Open. I knew then he had geometrically perfect strokes and my quest was complete, and just beginning. And we are all better for it.

Thanks to Roger for looking good while kicking ass, and for pushing BT into high gear. The fact he was a class act was a bonus. BT Members, Fed has a special place in our hearts - those of us who strive to play and teach the effortless game.

I already miss watching you. I imagine everyone today competing out there was influenced greatly by your game. We all - but especially BT Members - owe you a debt of gratitude. For us it's not just what you did, but how you did it. What a game. What a ride. We were all blessed to have had the privilege of observing such tennis mastery."

“When Roger leaves the tour, yeah, an important part of my life is leaving too because all the moments he has been next or in front me in important moments of my life. So has been emotional (to) see the family, see all the people. Yeah, difficult to describe. But, yeah, amazing moment.”

Rafa Nadal

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German tennis is trending: 62,000 new members in German tennis clubs

Tennis is one of the most popular sports in Germany. In 2022, Germany's NGB Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB) had 1,444,711 club members. That's approximately 62,000 more than in 2021, a 4.5% increase. The last time a similar increase happened was more than 30 years ago.

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The Complicated Engineering Behind the U.S. Open Retractable Roofs

Popular Mechanics spoke to the engineers behind the 6,500-ton steel roof of the world’s largest tennis stadium. Arthur Ashe Stadium is 25 years old, but the retractable roof was added in 2016, requiring special engineering to keep the load from imposing on the venue. Read the article here.

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USTA Florida's 'Here To Serve' podcast is a great resource for coaches and clubs

USTA Florida ED Laura Bowen speaks with Director of Community Tennis Danielle Gooding and USTA Florida Foundation Grants Officer Cameron Wood as they discuss High School Tennis, including resources, training, grant opportunities and, more to support programs across the state. Podcast

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Construction to reverse pickleball to tennis courts

It’s goodbye pickleball and hello again tennis at Green Hollow Park in Patton Township.

Patton Township is reversing course on where their pickleball courts are located following a series of noise complaints from nearby residents.

Read the article here.

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A 6-year-old boy upstaged John McEnroe at 1989 Davis Cup

Ryan Redondo remembers his big moment on center court that changed his life and inspired him to bring professional tennis to San Diego. In 1989, one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world came to the San Diego Sports Arena, but all eyes were on a six-year-old boy. Read the article here.

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Martina Navratilova taking to VR in latest business move

The 65-year-old has taken to VR to help grow the game, partnering with Sense Arena, a Czech Republic-founded company that is launching a new tennis product. She believes Sense Arena can give "a lot more people" access to the sport.

Short Video on Instagram.

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THE BAD

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CAN ANYONE STOP THE TENNIS CHANNEL'S DECLINE?

If they can't bundle their distribution anymore, trouble will be on the horizon

CONTEXT:  In August, SBJ Media suggested that Sinclair’s Regional Sports Networks could be on the sales block. A lot of insiders asked if the Regional Sports Networks are sold, how would that move impact the Tennis Channel? Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired Tennis Channel in 2016. At the time, Tennis Channel had approximately 30 million subscribers.

At the time of the acquisition, TC had about $200M in net operating losses, dearly needed by Sinclair for the tax write-off it provided. Sinclair's then-CEO David Smith indicated that the company already had agreements in hand that will boost Tennis Channel’s distribution from 30 million to 50 million subscribers within a year of closing. Well, that would have meant a 66% increase in one year but the total today, 6 years later, is estimated to be just over 60 million subscribers, so that growth rate must have slowed down considerable - despite the country suffering a pandemic with many tennis fans staying at home watching sports.

Additionally, the company suffered some significant setbacks lately.

  • In 2020, YouTube TV dropped TC, reportedly over a carriage fee dispute.

  • In 2021, TC started carrying Pickleball which began to tick off a lot of subscribers.

  • The app Tennis Channel Plus started to get really bad reviews because of bad streaming quality, high prices, and people not being able to cancel it.

  • In 2022, Media Referee reported, “Embarrassing for the Tennis Channel” – Fans were enraged as Tennis Channel shows Pickleball instead of WTA Washington Final.

  • New Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley noted that the channel is also expanding its coverage of Pickleball.

  • Last month, Sports Business Journal Media asked 'Could Sinclair's RSNs be on the sales block?'

The last item is of particular interest because it states that Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group, one of the biggest owners of RSNs (Regional Sports Networks) if not THE biggest, may be planning to sell its entire portfolio of RSNs - including the Tennis Channel. SBJ Media also posted, "Companies that have considered buying Sinclair’s RSNs consistently predict that Diamond Sports Group eventually will have to file for bankruptcy. At that point, potential buyers believe they would be able to swoop in and make a deal."

The New York Post reported in September that three pro-sports leagues, MLB, the NBA, and the NHL, may orchestrate a buyout of "the nation's dominant owner of regional sports TV networks (Diamond), whose shaky finance pose an increasing threat to their teams." Insiders are telling me that the Tennis Channel may be hit hard when this starts happening. "It interrupts their business model. Distribution bundling is how they make all their money. When it goes away, it's trouble."

It would be a real shame if the Tennis Channel was forced to fold its business. If things get really dicey in the coming months, I doubt even Pickleball could help them much to survive.

A WARNING FOR LEBRON JAMES

I hope you're not putting all your eggs in the Pickleball basket!

CONTEXT: It went through all the media during the last week of September: LeBron James (and others) have invested in a Pro Pickleball Team. They are in good company. The latest investors in Major League Pickleball include James Blake, Drew Breeze, Gary Vaynerchuk, and many more. Fueled by the news that Bill Gates, Kevin Durant, and the Kardashians are fans of the sport, and by the hype of "the fastest growing sport in the U.S." a lot of people may think Major League Pickleball will soon be a billion-dollar business. To top it all, CNBC reported that the league’s newest investors and the exposure they provide will help the sport reach its goal of 40 million pickleball players by 2030.

40 million Pickleball players by 2030?

Get real, people!

Morning Brew's article on September 29 starts with "More like LeBrine, amirite? LeBron James, his business partner Maverick Carter, and several other NBA stars are the proud new owners of a Major League Pickleball team. It’s another sign that pickleball’s (literally) loud entrance during the pandemic just keeps growing as more high-profile names sign on. MLP was only founded in 2021, but it’s already expanding from 12 teams to 16..." Then they list some star investors and continue, "But with an average of three new pickleball venues opening up per day in the US, some people have half-soured on the sport as it takes over their cherished tennis courts and public spaces. "

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Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

They are also quoting from an article in the New York Post on September 29: Parents furious as pickleball players overtake playgrounds: ‘They’re the lantern flies of the sports world’ - Ouch!

 

I would never call Pickleball players 'lantern flies of the sports world' because I have too many friends playing that sport that are just the opposite. A lot of tennis players, however, would call them 'pariahs of the tennis world' because of the increasingly violent nature of the turf wars that are going on everywhere right now. Let's do a quick analysis of the above-mentioned and get real about the hype, shall we?

40 million Pickleball players by 2030

It took the USTA (and its predecessor USNLTA) 141 years to get to the currently reported 21.6 million players. Everyone knows I dispute these numbers (from the PAC Study) as unrealistically high but let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, they are good. I was always curious about one part of that PAC Study that is being mentioned year after year but I never see any focused action by our NGB reaching out to them: Latent demand. The 2021 TIA Tennis Industry Participation Report states, 'In addition, “latent demand” for tennis remains strong. The PAC Study shows that more than 11 million non-players intend to play tennis within the next year, and another 17 million Americans “consider themselves players” (also known as “intermittent participants)” but may not have been on court in the last two years.'

Seems pretty obvious to me that Pickleball is drawing heavily from

 

a. older tennis players

b. unhappy USTA adult league players

c. this huge group of people sitting on the sideline wanting to play tennis (so they say)

d. now also high schools and colleges

Let's take a moment and analyze why those 'latent demand' people are not already playing tennis. Here are the main reasons in my opinion:

1. High barrier of entry - tennis is a sport that's hard to learn. At least that's what thousands of tennis professionals tell their new students every day. Amirite? Pickleball, on the other hand, is very easy to learn, especially if you are already quite a sporty type and know how to move.

2. High cost of entry - equipment, clothing, club fees, court fees, lessons, clinics. Pickleball is not cheap but nowhere near the cost of playing tennis.

3. Cliquishness and unwelcoming - try to find a match as a beginner. Be it in clubs or even in public facilities, no one wants to play with you. You hope for meetups of lower-level groups that let you in. But even as an intermediate player who's new in town, try to get a game going when even the public courts are being monopolized by the same people day in and day out. Amirite? Pickleball is still quite welcoming to beginners ("Come on in, we have a paddle for you...") As long as you can find a court, it's likely you'll find a game.

As long as you can find a Pickleball court,

it's likely you'll find a game.

I have now identified areas where tennis must change to have an opportunity to organically grow again without the help of a Pandemic. But if you think any of the NGBs in our sport would try and focus on any of these areas, I have a bridge to sell to you. If they do, let me hear it.

So Pickleball grew from a couple of million players 10 years ago to now almost 5 million players. They (the USAPA) know that these numbers are far less impressive than the hype created by some key players and the media. The 'goal' of 40 million players in the coming 8 years is so unrealistic, it hurts. You'd have to build 100 courts a day to get anywhere near that number or take ALL tennis courts over in that time frame. So, friends, don't believe the hype.

You'd have to build 100 Pickleball courts a day to get anywhere near 40 million players by 2030

or take ALL tennis courts over in that time frame.

Major League Pickleball

There are pro pickleball tournaments and many events between four organizations (PPA, APP, MLP, and USA Pickleball). Major League Pickleball (MLP) league was formed last year and the schedule of events looks like this: Austin (June 3-5), Newport Beach, August 5-7), and Columbus (October 14-16). They already expanded from 8 to 12 teams and now plan to add 4 more.

So far, there is only sporadic Pickleball coverage on TV, mainly by The Tennis Channel and a little on CBS, ESPN, Hulu, and Disney. The ratings are extremely low but that may change over time. However, I don't see numbers growing so much that major networks would jump into it big time.  

To be honest, I don't see millions of viewers paying extra to watch pro-Pickleball matches. Not even in 5 years from now. They don't have the stars, the venues, the organization. Tennis players will be reluctant to watch Pickleball on TV. So, they have to create their own live streaming for the most part.

My take

I'm not buying into the hype. Pickleball is nice, I played it, but I find tennis more challenging, more of a workout, and more interesting. I predicted months ago that the Pickleball growth curve will flatten out. Many of my friends have noticed that the Pickleball culture is changing right now. Not so welcoming anymore. Angry players that can't find courts. Cliquish players that won't let beginners in anymore. The gear is getting more expensive. The pros are charging more for clinics and lessons. Is Pickleball quickly going where tennis went decades ago? There's a lot of investment in large Sports facilities with Pickleball, restaurants, axe throwing, and other activities. That's all good but what the sport needs are more public courts. Tennis players are waking up to the thread and fighting back. "Get your own damn courts!" We're in the middle of the "Pickleball Wars" of the '2020s. Woohoo!

LeBron, I hope your investment is small. You'd be better off buying a Chicken N Pickle franchise. It'll cost more but it's ROI is probably ten times higher.

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THE UGLY

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WTN A HOPELESS, HODGEPODGE MESS?

We haven’t heard anything from WTN for a month. That can only mean there are huge, catastrophic, unresolved issues. 

 

CONTEXT: According to insiders, USTA top executives (remember the ‘tag team’?) were so outraged that ‘a punk’ like Mark Leschly came along to disrupt their cushy NTRP ratings nest, they decided to create an even better system than UTR. We all know what happens when the USTA, equipped with amateur staff, tries to manage the introduction of new technology and a new, professional program. Net Gen and Serve Tennis come to mind.

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I am a follower of Schmidt Computer Ratings. Kevin Schmidt, a software engineer very heavily into ratings algorithms, is constantly watching WTN, checking up on its claims, and calling out problems. He also noticed the odd silence around WTN right now after the USTA made such a big deal when it was launched on June 1st. Two weeks later he already reported about a delay in matches being included. He wrote on June 16, “As stated by the ITF/USTA, a player's WTN is supposed to be updated once a week on Wednesday and incorporate matches through the previous Sunday.” Upon checking a bunch of matches that were reported, he concluded, “I've seen several cases where players played matches between 6/5 (the previous Sunday) and 6/12 (the Sunday before the 6/15 publish) and all indications are those matches were not included in the calculations.  And yes, I checked, the matches were entered on time and prior to 6/12.”

NTRP 1 - WTN 0

That was happening in June. On July 3 he reported under “WTN lookup now available on ITF's site with additional features” that he noticed a footnote on the ITF player search page, that it is currently only showing USTA players. He wrote, “I'm not sure why this is as the LTA launched WTN about six months ago so you'd think those players could be available too, but at least for now they aren't.”

Apart from an unusual search functionality that only lets you search for players by the last name, he found that “All in all it is a nice presentation, and it does provide more information than the USTA's site does and adds some additional useful context to help understand more about your WTN and playing history.”

NTRP 1 - WTN 1

Early on, Kevin noticed strange inaccuracies comparing men’s WTN ratings to NTRP for the same player. The WTN numbers are often so wildly off, it’s not even funny anymore. Looking at his men's analysis the range of WTNs for the same NTRP level just doesn’t make sense. 

Example: The charts he published show a significant deviation of men’s NTRP 4.0s from WTN 12 all the way to 23.  That is an unacceptably huge range.  He says, “Either the ITF/USTA are saying NTRP is a joke with that many players at the same level being of wildly different ability, or WTN is a joke by not aligning close at all with an established rating system (NTRP) that does seem to work for the majority of players to get compatible matches.  WTN says their "game zone" is basically one's rating plus or minus about 2 so that range of 12 to 23 (12-23 WTN levels!) covering one NTRP level is completely unrealistic.

NTRP 2 - WTN 1

Kevin also reports that the women’s ratings aren’t much better. He sys that his wife, a middle-of=-the-road 4.0, ha a better (lower) WTN than he himself, a middle-of-the-road 4.5. At the same time, his UTR is 3.5 points better (higher) than his wife’s.

NTRP 3 - WTN 1

I can see the ClubSpark guys in Orlando and their USTA counterparts running around like chickens with their heads cut off right now. Come on, Mr. Zaidi, do something!

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THE WEIRD

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THE MYSTERIOUS DISEASE ONLY TENNIS PLAYERS HAVE: 'PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME'

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a tennis player's brain when Pickleball comes into the mix

What's up with those tennis players everywhere? And it's Pickleball that had brought those weird oddities to the foreground. Regardless of whether they play Pickleball or not, they go through some changes that can only be described as 'PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME.' And it's not that these are subtle changes that appear over time. Oh no, it's immediate and it's life-changing. 

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ODD BEHAVIOR 1 - BECOMING FRIENDLY AND WELCOMING

We all know that tennis is considered the most cliquish, unwelcoming sport there is. Outsiders are generally not welcome making it almost impossible for beginners to find others to play with. "We play Wednesday mornings with our group and we don't like newcomers." Or, "You have to be at least a 4.0 to be considered a sub. Maybe."

PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME

As soon as the same players begin playing Pickleball, they change completely. "Welcome, everybody." Come on in, we have a paddle for you." Or, "Everybody can play, we'll teach you!"

ODD BEHAVIOR 2 - BECOMING NET RUSHERS

All year long, some tennis players camp out on the baseline during doubles or singles play. They feel comfortable trading ground strokes or lobs from there and don't dare to go anywhere near the net. "I've been burned a few times. I don't do that anymore. It's safer on the baseline."

PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME

As soon as the same players begin playing Pickleball, they fall over themselves rushing to the kitchen and taking control of the net position. "Only losers stay back. I want to win."

ODD BEHAVIOR 3 - HATING THE NOISE

All year long, some players are confronted with noise on the court. Phone calls, airplanes, dogs barking, music, you name it. "When I play, I'm focused. I don't even hear the music."

 

PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME

As soon as some Pickleballers start to play next door, 5 courts over, or in the next town, the same players scream bloody hell. "Clack, clack, clack, drives me crazy. I can't focus. Stop that awful noise!"

ODD BEHAVIOR 4 - BECOMING IRATE ADVOCATES

All year long, most tennis players refuse to advocate for their sport. They feel they're too good to go to city planning meetings and make their voices heard. Even when a hundred Pickleball Ambassadors come to the Parks&Rec meeting to have all tennis courts in the area changed over, no tennis player will show up. "The USTA should do that, not me. My section should be at those meetings."

PB TRANSFORMATION SYNDROME

When Pickleballers invade their turf and demand to have courts changed for their sport, tennis players all of a sudden get irate and start screaming. "These are our courts. We have built them. Build your own damn courts!

Weird, isn't it?

IS PADEL PULLING THE WOOL OVER OUR EYES?

Master salesman and showman Marcos Del Pilar is trying to tell us Padel is the fastest growing sport

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Am I the only person in this country expressing some doubts in regards to the hyped euphoria about Padel? I mean, yes, Del Pilar is selling the crap out of the Padel story. He is making us believe that Padel is a force to be dealt with. That may be true in Argentina and also in Spain, but certainly not in the USA.

 

Del Pilar is a very sharp salesperson, I have to give him that. But I really don't know what is truth and what is wishful thinking anymore. I saw a claim somewhere that there are over a thousand Padel courts in Mexico. Man, we have less than a hundred in the U.S. so I think that Mexican number is bogus.

This is all smoke and mirror, folks. Someone told me that Padel is being played by tennis pros who want more action than Pickleball could give them. And by advanced level tennis players who are bored with tennis. It is unlikely that the sport will ever appeal to the millions of league players and lower-level novices in this country. All the people who speak so highly of Padel are bored pros and ex-tour players, it seems.

I don't want to get into the 'conflict of interest' side of Del Pilar's positions as Padel investor, Pro Padel League CEO, and President of the U.S. Padel Association. I let someone else look into this. But I really have to give it to him for talking the USTA into giving him office space in their Lake Nona building AND building four Padel courts right next to the Pickleball courts. Say, Mr. McNulty, is money still growing on trees for USTA executives?

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