While Novak Djokovic and Flavia Pennetta were working their way to the singles titles at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., the tennis industry came together for the inaugural Future of Tennis Summit, held during the tournament.
The two-day Summit, presented by the Tennis Industry Association, featured more than two dozen speakers and panelists from a broad spectrum of executives within and outside the tennis industry, including the men’s and women’s professional tours, youth-focused marketing agencies, health and fitness experts, tennis teaching professional organizations, market research firms, media, ITF and the U.S. Tennis Association. Former pro players and current tennis TV broadcasters Jim Courier and Justin Gimelstob also spoke at the Summit.
“Our goal is to start the collective discussion about how, as an industry, we can get increased tennis participation and engagement with the sport,” said TIA President Greg Mason at the opening session of the Future of Tennis Summit. “We realize this is a long-term effort, but it needs to involve all aspects of tennis, from grassroots organizations right through to the professional tours, and we’re glad we are able to involve these various segments in the Summit.”
About 175 tennis industry executives representing major stakeholders including the TIA Board of Directors, sports manufacturers, tennis teaching pros, retailers, facility owners, tennis media, and others in the tennis business attended the event at the Renaissance Esmeralda Indian Wells Resort & Spa, March 11-12.
“Getting more players, more fans and more tennis consumers are keys for a bright future,” said TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. “We need to work together and continue developing ongoing communication and collaboration to grow the game and grow the business of tennis.”
Future of Tennis Summit speakers and panelists included a keynote session with former world No. 1 tennis player and current U.S. Davis Cup captain and TV tennis analyst Jim Courier, who answered questions from longtime USA Today tennis writer Doug Robson. “I have a lot of people my age coming back to tennis,” said the 43-year-old Courier. “Now, they realize all the health benefits of the game.” He also said there should be more combined men’s and women’s pro events, including possibly combining the Davis and Fed Cup competition into a two-week event.
A separate session on professional tennis included updates from Stacey Allaster, the chairman and CEO of the WTA and Gavin Forbes of the ATP Tour Americas, who both answered questions from New York Times writer Ben Rothenberg. Allaster said the WTA’s marketing effort for women’s tennis is on enhancing digital and editorial content for tennis fans, continuing to push “big event” marketing, and growth in China and Asia-Pacific. Forbes said that on the men’s pro tour, the ATP “is investing maximum resources to grow the game even further,” and has been increasing its sponsorships, focusing on marketing the game, and strengthening the ATP Challenger Tour.
Broadcaster, producer and former tennis pro Justin Gimelstob offered his thoughts on tennis and bringing more people into the sport. To maintain interest in the pro game, he said, “It’s critical we get them emotionally invested” through storytelling. Gimelstob then moderated a panel discussion with pro tour and media executives on “Creating the Buzz” about tennis. Panel members included Jason Bernstein of ESPN, George Ciz of the ATP, John Learing of the WTA, David Egdes of Tennis Channel and Jeff Williams of Tennis magazine.
U.S. Tennis Association Chairman, CEO and President David Haggerty shared the organization’s vision for the future of the game, including three 2014 “game changers”: 1) Membership Innovation—“to remain relevant and offer value” to USTA members analyze and test new membership models; 2) Adult Product Line—developing new adult play formats in order to increase participation and attract more players under age 40; and 3) Youth Imperative—attract and retain more young players (especially under 10) by “offering a pathway of age- and skill-appropriate individual and team competition and play opportunities.” Haggerty also offered an update on major renovations and expansion of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the home of the US Open.
The Summit also included speakers from outside of tennis, who offered expertise, suggestions and a fresh viewpoint to the industry. Youth marketing expert Gary Colen of the AMP Agency brought the audience up to date on messaging to today’s youth, including five key ways to connect: authenticity, shared experiences, instant gratification, community, and inspiration. Colen creates strategic marketing programs for leading youth-focused brands such as Hasbro, Converse, Verizon, US Cellular and Maybelline.
Global business development expert Mona Pearl discussed trends and insights into the global consumer market, including the importance of understanding market dynamics in different regions of the world, choosing the appropriate “game style” for different areas, and how to identify the key players in international markets. She focused on emerging middle-class markets with increasing economic opportunities and shared her knowledge with the audience.
Bernstein of ESPN presented a session on consumer habits and trends in the overall sports world, and how to use those insights to reach more consumers. Among the stats he presented on “the connected device consumer” is that smartphone penetration in the U.S. has reached 67 percent and tablet penetration is 29 percent, the majority of smartphone sessions are 5 to 15 minutes long. Also, 65 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices while watching TV, most often for checking email, surfing the web and on Facebook.
Kristin Carroll of the Active Network presented data and insights on how technology is being used to increase adult participation throughout recreational sports. She also shared data from Active that showed active adults spend significantly more money than the general adult population on apparel, footwear, facility fees, event registrations, gear and sports nutrition. Carroll presented real-time examples from other sports that are reaching greater audiences through technology, and she surprised the audience with some ideas on how tennis can also try new approaches similar to other sports efforts.
USTA Community Tennis Chief Executive Kurt Kamperman moderated a panel discussion on “Youth and the Next Generations,” which included Colen, health and fitness expert Dr. Mark Kovacs, the International Tennis Federation’s Dave Miley, and Dr. Robert Pangrazi, a physical education professor at Arizona State and top expert in youth sports. Among the topics discussed were how “spontaneous free play” is disappearing among today’s youngsters and that 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by age 14. In terms of why kids quit sports, there’s a “professionalization” of youth sports that includes it no longer becoming fun, overzealous parents and coaches, and failure to meet adults’ expectations. The best athletes move to extreme sports, the panel noted, because there are “no parents, no coaches and no rules.”
The TIA’s Mason and de Boer, along with Sports Marketing Surveys Vice President Keith Storey, presented key research and data into the tennis market, including an analysis of the 5.38 million frequent tennis players, who play at least 21 times a year and account for 70 percent of consumer spending in tennis.
“Frequent players play the most tennis, watch the most tennis and buy the most tennis products,” Storey said. The good news for the sport is that frequent players grew 3 percent from 2012 to 2013. Also, frequent players are playing more; “play occasions” grew 4 percent in that time. The industry’s plan to increase frequent player to 10 million by 2020, could add an additional $3.9 billion to the tennis economy, currently estimated to be $5.55 billion.
That presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the frequent player market featuring Miley of the ITF; John Embree, the CEO of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association; Dan Santorum, CEO of the Professional Tennis Registry; Delaine Mast, national director of recreational leagues for Mylan World TeamTennis; and Jeff Waters, managing director of adult tennis for the USTA. The panel was moderated by Jeff Williams of Tennis magazine, who noted the challenge of an aging frequent player base: “64 percent of adult frequent players are 35 or older, and the average age of a league tennis player 18 and over is 46 years old,” he said.
“Our goal was to bring together the many different stakeholders in tennis, to show how truly interconnected this industry is,” said the TIA’s de Boer. “This Summit was designed to be fluid, dynamic and engaging with short segments with industry and sports experts, panel discussions and ‘networking’ opportunities. Outside viewpoints definitely added to the overall impact set for the summit. We trust this will be a first step in what has been and will continue to be a collaborative effort to grow our sport and help make tennis industry businesses more profitable well into the future.”