BRING ON THE FUN - MY DREAMS ABOUT A SHINING TENNIS FUTURE
By Rich Neher
REMEMBER MY APPEAL TO USTA CEO MIKE DOWSE LAST MONTH?
"Without excitement, advocacy is an empty phrase lost in the whirlwind of change. Do something that excites people into loving tennis, the cool sport!"
However, I came to the conclusion that excitement is not in the USTA's DNA. A top-heavy, self-perpetuating organization that works with dozens of rusty committees and categorically rejects listening to outside opinion and advice can't produce anything exciting in my opinion. Ever!
JUST LOOK AT CHEVROLET
The American General Motors division started in 1911 and has yet to produce one exciting car. I leave it up to you to think that the Corvette is an exciting vehicle but look at all the other models.
How many decades have they looked now at the Japanese, Korean, and European car invasion? Do you think they made some drastic changes to manufacture modern, exciting, good-looking cars? No. They just can’t. Look at General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s vision: Environment, zero emissions, zero congestion on the roads. Great cars people want to buy are nowhere to be seen in her vision. Look at the models they are producing. It can’t get any more boring. Maybe she has to fight the GM Deep State, people who have always done things a certain way. Maybe they think boring is chic?
No, I don't think Mike Dowse is a boring guy. In fact, he is the ONLY executive of the USTA that has ever started communicating with us. Kudos to Dowse. I believe he's a good man. It's the "USTA Deep State" that's worrying me. There's a German saying: "They can't jump over their own shadow." They have always been and they will always be boring. And they will always justify their boring and uninspiring positions. Like the band on the Titanic. Remember? They kept playing when every passenger scrambled for the lifeboats. Sounds like the USTA Board, doesn't it?
The funny thing is: They probably don't think there's a problem. What's Rich or Javier talking about? The money is rolling in, our execs are getting their cushioned salaries, and the sections are getting their share, too.
WE DON'T HAVE A WORRY IN THE WORLD!
The wake-up call comes when the pandemic is really over and many of those beginner-racquet swinging adults will go back to less strenuous activities with very little competition stress. Yoga. Swimming. Zumba. Book club. Wine tasting. How many? Hard to say but without that missing excitement probably lots!
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ANOTHER EXAMPLE: IBM
I worked for IBM in Germany. They were giants in the mainframe computing business but were also moving like a sloth when it came to innovative ideas. Everything had to go through committees and boards.
Then all those small companies came up, like Microsoft, and showed the world what could be done when you are quick, nimble, thinking on your feet. Look at both companies today:
IBM Market Cap $128B
Microsoft Market Cap $2.2T (That's Trillions, folks!)
If you ask me, I think the USTA is basically at the same point IBM was decades ago. Everything has to go through committees. The decisions they make today may be put into action 2-3 years from now.
Now, could history repeat itself? Could the same thing that happened to IBM happen to the USTA? Do you think it's possible that one day an organization comes along that would offer similar products and services than the USTA only 10 times better and with an infectious message of fun and excitement?
Do you think because the USTA is the U.S. Governing Body of Tennis that could never happen to them? Just look at their mission statement. When was the last time they were actually showing growth in our tennis ecosystem? And we saw all too well in the last 10 years that being a nonprofit doesn't mean you are any good at achieving the goal(s) of your mission statement.
It is my opinion that for-profit organizations can do a much better job than nonprofits in certain areas. Tennis is one of those areas. Look at UTR on a national and international level. Look at Agape Tennis Academy on a regional level in Georgia and California. Look at Tennisbuddys at a local level in Austin, Texas. (There are other areas in our world where I'm convinced that for-profit companies can do a better job than e.g. the Government. The biggest in my opinion: the homeless epidemic. Corrupt governments cannot solve that problem but they have good reasons to perpetuate it.)
Mr. Dowse, if you don’t turn the USTA into a smaller, more nimble operation, someone else will come and take much of the tennis business away from you and maybe even from your sections. It's just a matter of time.
Do you want me to tell you how to capture millions of millennials for tennis and keep them engaged and excited?
Just look at the USTA sections. The all-important goal now is (and has been for years) to "capture the millennials." The big solution: Sip N Serve. Boring. I have the solution. I could tell them how to capture millions of millennials but you know what would happen? One (or more) of three scenarios:
Complete rejection because the idea wasn’t born inside mother USTA.
Pretend excitement with the intention to let it drown in Lake Nona.
It lands on Craig Morris’s desk who I was told will immediately go to work to copy it and call it his idea. In the process, my source tells me, he’ll completely bungle it and my great idea lands "on the same compost heap as Net Generation."
I was told Craig's 5-year term is soon over. Here is my advice for Mike Dowse:
Find or promote someone who can do a great job and is respected in the tennis ecosystem.
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SO, WHERE IS THAT SHINING FUTURE I WAS TALKING ABOUT?
Lately, I've been trying to brainstorm with friends and associates what a new tennis organization designed to make a difference and really grow the sport exponentially would have to look like. Let's call the organization USTF (United States Tennis Future). Are you ready for this? Put on your seatbelts, folks!
I'm seeing a small company with low overhead and built almost like the USAPA. How did pickleball get so big? By keeping small and nimble, build an emporium with an army of volunteers (Ambassadors) and making sure you can scale the business as it grows.
From day one, that new organization needs to give the appearance of a "hip" network with leaders that are fiercely devoted to a vision of becoming the most fun and innovative tennis provider.
Leadership must be obsessed with creating an organization that is 10 times better than the USTA.
Volunteers and staff must be equally obsessed with trumpeting the organization's message of fun and excitement from state to state, city to city, community to community.
Everyone who sees the USTF message, adults or kids, in every community, must immediately realize that a new tennis era has begun, an era where fun is mandatory and where everyone is immediately welcome to try the sport!
The last two points are key, folks. Think about it: How come the pickleball community got so big so quickly? Not only because they have a sport that's easier on their joints with smaller courts and lighter equipment. But because most of the people embracing pickleball early on were upset with the USTA and wanted to stick it to them. They were burned by cheaters. They were shunned by league captains because they weren't good enough. They were disappointed because no one at the local and national USTA level was listening to them. They had enough of an organization that did not make good customer service a priority and arrogantly pissed off its own members.
Most of the people embracing pickleball early on were upset with the USTA and wanted to stick it to them.
You may have read repeatedly in the past about my first ever contact with a pickleball group. As I was approaching the fence of their courts in Palm Desert, California, a female player saw me, came to the fence, and shouted with a smile, " Why don't you come in and try pickleball? We have a paddle for you!"
Let me continue with my vision for USTF:
Everyone playing tennis or being a USTF volunteer has to have that welcoming attitude. There always has to be a racquet available for anyone watching the tennis action.
USTF has to work with USPTA and PTR professionals to offer tennis programming under a new set of guidelines where those professionals e.g. are getting bonuses for bringing in new players.
Each weekend, a dozen USTF Street Teams are conducting tennis demonstrations on a rotating schedule in many U.S. cities.
In addition to offering tennis leagues, tournaments, clinics, lessons, USTF has to provide a social networking platform for players that are interesting in meetup-style, fun social events.
No Player Development Department. USTF leaves that to the professionals in the field.
There are probably a dozen other items I could list there including my "secret' for getting millennials into the fold. But you get my point. It is not too difficult to create an exciting, fun, tennis environment all sorts of people will pay to be part of. Especially with the kind of funds, the USTA has at their disposal.
My last advice for Mike Dowse this month: Don't be like Chevrolet!
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