top of page
corrected TappS_TCB 660x180px Ad c0a FINALok.jpg


Was ClubSpark a wise choice for the USTA?


By Rich Neher

When I was told that the USTA renewed their contract with The Active Network (formerly San Diego, now Dallas), I had to smile and say to myself "see, I told you so." Why is that? I'm glad you asked. Let's start at the very beginning.

This goes back to 2005. The USTA had a suite of software commonly known as Tennislink which must have been a real headache for their tech staff in White Plains because they began negotiating with Active to become their technology partner. That contract was signed in mid-2006 and Active began to take over some of the Tennislink staff and hired others. As community tennis organizer and Board member of the San Diego District Tennis Association, I landed on the radar of Bill Rennie who lead the negotiations between those two organizations, and in October I was hired to become the team lead for USTA adult leagues and NTRP ratings.

At the time I wasn't aware of what happened as far as the technology and architecture of the suite of Tennislink applications Active was taking over from the USTA (to "maintain and enhance") were concerned. I know now that Active had to continuously fix old USTA problems and had to put band-aid onto band-aid just to make it work. Instead of paying Active to build a completely new site, they were happy with patchwork because that worked for a while until a new band-aid was required.

For the next few years, this worked well for the USTA because it took technology headaches away and added online registration (the biggest expertise of Active) as a main functionality.


For the next four years, I was busy visiting most of the 17 USTA sections, training their league staff, and assisting the USTA's NTRP Coordinator Larry Jones in keeping NTRP running and improving. Soon after I left in 2010, they were able to renew that contract for another 5 years and Active had gotten into pre-IPO mode. The company went public and a few years later went private again and the new owner moved its headquarters to the Dallas, Texas area. I assume that was about the time when the relationship sort of soured. That was also the time when the USTA began working with US Open sponsor Deloitte as a consultant and thought that company could be their new technology partner to create a new Tennislink application. Little did they know that Deloitte was totally over its head with this new task.

Heck, they outsourced all tech jobs overseas. To me, it looked like a complete disaster but, since they are one of the biggest US Open sponsors, USTA execs kept throwing millions of dollars at them. 

No one held them accountable and no one thought about paying some of those millions to Active and asking those real technology experts to create a new Tennislink. In the meantime, a new USTA regime had taken control, Kamperman and Smith left and the person responsible to make sense of all this was Craig Morris. Turns out he is a man just not capable of dealing with technology in any shape or form. 

Then a former USTA President, Dave Haggerty, ITF President since 2015, came up with the glorious idea to suggest to the USTA (or was it more than a suggestion?) to hire a small UK company by the name of ClubSpark to create the new Tennislink. Since there are licensing issues with the name Tennislink, they subsequently decided to give it a new name: Serve Tennis. I vividly remember some of the USTA people proclaiming that Serve Tennis would replace Tennislink in a short period of time

There were only three problems with that scenario:

1. ClubSpark had never done a project of that magnitude
2. The USTA made a former Tennislink coordinator with no technology or project management experience in charge of technology and liaison to ClubSpark.

3. That person was also in charge of NTRP with no prior experience in the challenging field of tennis ratings.

Recipe for disaster, if you ask me.


Recipe for disaster:

1. Give a huge project to a company that has only done small projects

2. Appoint a project manager who has no experience in technology

3. Appoint NTRP liaison to a person who doesn't understand NTRP

When it became apparent that ClubSpark could not deliver at what an inexperienced project manager thought was a target delivery date, no one at the USTA was willing or able to do anything about it. At about the same time came the fateful meeting between UTR CEO Mark Leschly and USTA executives. Leschly was coming to Orlando with an offer to cooperate and make UTR the ratings application for the USTA. Little did he know that the same USTA executives were drunken with confidence that they not only could do it themselves but also had the right partner to do that: ClubSpark. As I had previously posted in TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS, I can clearly see what happened. Before the door of the conference room closed behind Mark Leschly they had already decided to copy UTR and contract with ClubSpark to do it. (According to my sources, the former USTA Community Tennis CEO Kurt Kamperman was heard years ago describing that mo as R&D - Rip off & Duplicate.)

To effectively disguise the fact that UTR was being copied, they made some amateurish changes. UTR ratings go from 1 (lowest) to 16.50 (highest). The brilliant USTA minds behind those decisions thought if they go to 40 the rating quality will be even better. And to make it even more apparent that this was not a UTR copy, they turned the numbers around and made 40 the lowest rating and 1 the highest. Fascinating!

By 2019, the situation presented itself as follows:

  • ClubSpark became way behind in delivering Serve Tennis.

  • The USTA wanted ClubSpark to create a UTR copy and call it World Tennis Number (WTN).

  • The USTA's technology liaison to ClubSpark with no technology background became the USTA's NTRP liaison to ClubSpark with no NTRP background. And that person handled both projects with no technical project management background.

I don't want to mention names, so let's call her Miss X.

The USTA's technology liaison to ClubSpark with no technology background became the USTA's NTRP liaison to ClubSpark with no NTRP background. And that person handled both projects with no technical project management background.

Insiders told me that Miss X, known for a series of blunders in regard to the adult league program and NTRP, became infatuated with the idea of getting rid of NTRP and replacing it with WTN. Naturally, the timeline for WTN to be rolled out and replace NTRP was totally unrealistic. That didn't prevent Miss X to begin dismantling the institution of NTRP and she started by disbanding NOG, the National Oversight Group for NTRP ratings because, hey, ClubSpark will get the job done before year's end and then we don't need NTRP anymore. NOG was gone by October of 2020 and with it decades of experience with tennis leagues and ratings. I think Miss X had a very disturbing relationship with the volunteers on that committee, possibly stoked by her former boss's decision that the USTA should abandon working with volunteers and focus more on staff.


Then came the delayed rollout mess of Serve Tennis. The powers responsible for the USTA's cash cow adult leagues were very concerned in regard to the idea that a new, untested program could disrupt the Holy Grail of USTA tennis. The same powers had made sure that Active's Tennislink contract was renewed every 4-5 years to ensure the smooth continuation of adult leagues.

It was therefore decided that the rollout for Serve Tennis would come for tournaments first. So it began in 2021, basically a year and a half behind schedule and it turned into the expected mess. One USTA Coordinator described it to me as a real "shit show." I was told today, almost two years later, the tournament side of Serve Tennis is still not bug-free.

In early 2022, when the WTN rollout was seriously behind, as well, and people became worried about ClubSpark's ability to even do it, I found out that Miss X had left the USTA. Not sure what happened and don't want to speculate. 

Several things are worth mentioning in regard to the entire ClubSpark disaster.

  • When ClubSpark started working on Serve Tennis it was said that this was going to replace Tennislink. When the delays piled up the tune changed to "Oh no, Serve Tennis was not designed to ever replace Tennislink."

  • When ClubSpark started working on WTN it was said that this was going to replace NTRP. When the delays piled up and league folks became concerned, that tune changed to "Oh no, WTN wasn't even designed to replace NTRP."


And I heard that it was announced at the USTA Annual Meeting last month, that the Tennislink contract with Active was extended another 4 years. That's how much confidence USTA executives have in ClubSpark's ability to finish Serve Tennis as planned.

Last but not least, I'm not actually blaming ClubSpark for all the delays and the mess they created. This is a small company with capable people that was roped in to do a job way too big for them. And to make matters worse they had to work with USTA staff with no history of ever managing any project on time and within or under budget. 

My last conclusion: NTRP will live forever and
may actually outlive me!

Do you like our content? If you do so, please consider supporting us.  For as little as $1 a month, you can help ensure the long-term future of TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS.

Click here to support and please share this with all the tennis lovers you know.

bottom of page