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DOES TENNIS NEED A NEW GOVERNING BODY?

Is the time right for a breakaway group to start anew?

By Rich Neher

CONTEXT: For how many years have I been writing about the USTA and hardly found anything good to report? Four years? Five? The reason for my mostly negative reporting is, I did not focus on the hundreds of employees below top level executives up to middle management. The people that do the work but have usually little say when it comes to why and how they're doing it. I focused on the big shots that are responsible for mismanaging tennis for millions of recreational players and instead focused on just a few things:

US OPEN
As I noted in the Publisher's Notes this month, they are doing a pretty good job organizing the Grand Slam each year and especially in 2022. Unfortunately, all the revenue in the world is for nothing is the spending is out of control. What good does it do if you make $400 million and spend $430 million? An organization of that size should be much leaner so it could actually grow tennis for everybody (scroll down for the USTA Mission Statement).

OUT-OF-CONTROL SALARIES

Just look at the annual 990s and you know what I'm talking about. So many people make over $500K annually. Top executives that are leaving the organization get hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown at them. And the crown jewel in that unheard of payroll fiesta: A Chief Revenue Officer (now CEO) who, in the middle of a Pandemic, where millions of people are scared for their jobs, their families, where over 20% of USTA staff was laid off, gets a $237K pay raise. Are you OK with that?

OUT-OF-CONTROL SPENDING

Where should I start? The big spenders had left the sinking ship USTA they burdened with $726M debt just

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in time. And some with an $800K handshake. That's your USTA, folks. Money means nothing to them because the Board - for some mysterious reason - never seems to question salaries. And the internal financial people wouldn't say anything anyways because they, too, have royal incomes. When the General Council in a nonprofit makes a cool million dollars, you know something's not right with that culture. And don't get me started on some of the programs that waste millions and millions of dollars every year because no one has the guts or the willpower to stop them. Player Development, Net Generation, National Campus are just some of those programs. Overpaying for clay courts there? No problem, it's not our money. Employing coaches that make $500-600K annually? Why not? It's not our money. Buying roofs for Arthur Ashe and Luis Armstrong? As long as they are lending us money, why not? Wasting countless millions on Deloitte? Not our money. Shall I go on?

Out-of-control salaries and spending - reason enough to contemplate a new governing body for U.S. tennis?

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Out-of-control salaries and spending - reason enough to contemplate a new governing body for tennis?

Would it surprise you if I told you I didn't think so? OK, hear me out. I have sound reasons for that.

 

First of all, it's the U.S. Olympic Committee that determines the NGB in each country. And, as we all know, that decision was made long ago. We can't just create a new and beautiful organization and call it NGB. Not possible. That train has left the station.

Second, as I stated above, the USTA has hundreds of very capable employees that are doing a very good job despite being paid just a fraction of the executives' income. And hundreds more work at the Sections and volunteer for growing the sport. Tennis needs those people! Much more than most of the USTA executives and some of the section leaders.

Third, we need new USTA executives and a new Board of Directors. How can we affect those kinds of changes? We need to organize clubs that have voting rights in many sections and make their voices heard. The USTA Board knows this is the biggest threat to their fiefdoms and they will fight it. But I see that as the only way to really turn that ship around and make them follow their own Mission Statement.

With a new Board and new executives, we could achieve so much, like...

... limit those obscene salaries

... reign in the reckless spending

... focus on growing tennis in EVERY U.S. zip code

Let's take a quick look at the USTA's Mission Statement and compare it with what's going on in reality.

Advertised USTA Mission Statement

The USTA is a progressive and diverse not-for-profit organization whose

volunteers, professional staff and financial resources support a single mission:

to promote and develop the growth of tennis.

This should be the USTA Mission Statement

The USTA is a progressive and diverse not-for-profit organization whose

volunteers, professional staff and financial resources support a triple mission:

to promote and develop the growth of their own executives' salaries and perks, the growth of all section executives' salaries and perks, and the growth of the US Open.

Is that it? No more changes needed? Oh, yes, there is one more change we really need in the U.S.A. Scroll down...

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We need a new TIA!

Yep. Since the USTA practically took over the TIA, things have really gone downhill. This used to be a relatively independent organization collecting and providing data for the industry. They used to have a capable Executive Director (Jolyn de Boer) who communicated and got things done. They used to have meetings and a trade show. What happened to that once formidable organization?

I have a feeling that the ever so elusive Gorge Mackin had his hand in this game. I was told he helped bundle the sale of tennis.com, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel to Sinclair Media in 2016. How the heck did Tennis Industry Magazine (now Racquet Sports Industry magazine) get into the same mix? Was it his to sell? It was the property of the TIA, No? Oh, yes, and the Publisher of RSI, Jeff Williams, was Mackin's business partner in Tennis magazine and he still is the publisher of that publication. Why The Tennis Channel is now listed as the entity publishing RSI is another mystery.

This all looks very much like cronyism to me with a good dose of backscratching and probably a boatload of tax advantages for everyone involved. And would you believe it, all that happened during the reign of 'tag team' Kurt Kamperman and Gordon Smith at the USTA. Why am I not surprised? 

To sum it all up:

 

1. No, we don't need a new NGB. We need a new Board and new leadership at the USTA.

2. Yes, we need a new TIA. Independent. For tennis and not for pickleball or padel.

3. And we need to put an end to cronyism in tennis and get back to pre-Smith/Kamperman times.

CONCLUSION

We need a new Board and new leadership at the USTA.

We need a new TIA for tennis only and not for pickleball or padel

We need to put an end to cronyism and get back to pre-Smith/Kamperman times

Send your comments here. Let us know if you do NOT want them to be posted under LETTERS TO THE EDITOR or if you want them posted under THE COMMISH. Thank you.

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