Steve Milano has been involved in the tennis industry since the late 1970s in a wide variety of roles, as well as a corporate and nonprofit executive for decades outside of tennis. In addition to his corporate work, Steve Milano is currently the executive director of USHSTA, the United States High School Tennis Association.
One Tennis Hiring Practice Has Doomed the Sport
By Steve Milano
What do too many tennis employees have in common that they shouldn’t?
Whether they are working in marketing, promotions, programming, meetings, management, publishing, social media, staff management or other important areas at tennis manufacturers, nonprofit organizations, publications, websites or retailers, the #1 qualification tennis industry managers and executives have is that most of them can hit the ball hard.
Apparently, if you played tennis at a high level, you are qualified to run a major tennis organization or a corporate or nonprofit department or division.
The tennis industry is apparently not impressed with people who have degrees in their field of responsibility or who have worked at Apple, Ford, General Mills, Amazon, etc.
High-level tennis industry employees are often former sales reps, collegiate players, touring pros or teaching pros who worked their way up the ladder, getting hired by other former sales reps, collegiate players, touring pros and teaching pros. Many have never worked outside the tennis industry, and never will.
The Tennis Industry Carousel
After a former tennis player gets a job at a racquet company in "promotions", he or she goes to work for a USTA section office in “programs.” After they leave there, they go to work for a shoe company in “marketing.” A few years later, they go to work for the USPTA or PTR, then back to another USTA office or a clothing company.
The tennis industry simply does not hire enough trained marketing, association management, sales, supply chain, education, or other function professionals -- it hires "tennis people." Look at the CVs of the people in marketing, promotions, advertising, programming, PR, management, meetings planning, education, etc. who work at the alphabet associations. Look at the executive directors and heads of departments.
What's the ONE thing almost all of them have in common? They are often former tennis players. Most of these people would never get hired outside of the tennis industry at the salaries they make in the tennis industry -- because they were never trained to do the jobs they’ve done for decades. It is a "fake it until you make it" issue all over the industry.
This is why so many high-profile tennis industry programs and initiatives fail one after the other.
Why Many Industry Problems Don’t Get Seriously Discussed
Tennis’s incestuous hiring practices cause our industry’s managers and executives to fear speaking up or speaking out because the same people have been hiring each other in this industry-wide staffing circle jerk for 30 years or more. If you rock the boat and offend Bob at this company or Jill at that nonprofit or Hank at this publication, you will likely lose your lifelong tennis career when it’s time to switch jobs.
Until tennis companies and organizations start hiring people for their specific training and experience in the jobs being advertised instead of perpetuating the current jockocracy, tennis has no serious chance of addressing its decline.
MBA or NTRP?
The tennis industry needs more "non-tennis people" in positions of importance. It needs more business people. Marketing people should have studied marketing in college. Association managers should have a CAE or other association management training. Programming people should understand the Four Ps of Product, Price, Place, and THEN Promotion.
Experienced industry outsiders can and should be supported by tennis people, but tennis organizations must place more value on the letters “MBA” than “NTRP.”
When you get a chance, check out the LinkedIn profiles of many key tennis executives and managers. How many have degrees related to their job functions? How many have worked outside the tennis industry?
Now, look at how many of them can hit the ball hard.