Q & A With New TIA President, Greg Mason

Greg Mason, the TIA’s new president, has been in the sporting goods industry for more than 25 years in a variety of senior management roles. Currently the vice president of sales and marketing for Head Penn Racquet Sports, where he’s been for the last 12 years, Mason recently shared his thoughts about the industry, the TIA and priorities moving forward.

What do you feel is the top TIA priority?

The TIA is all about the economy of the game. Overall, our charge is to continue to offer opportunities to grow revenue, and that means doing what we can to support initiatives to get more people playing more often and to create more frequent players. That will grow the tennis economy for everyone. The good news is that frequent players increased by 10 percent in 2012, and we know frequent players are responsible for over 70% of the economic impact and a focus of the TIA. So we have a bit of a tailwind going into 2013 in this area. The USTA is charged with growth of the game—and they do that. We focus on the growth of the tennis economy.

What is a key challenge facing the TIA?

I’m not sure if people truly understand all the components and all the pieces that are involved in this industry, and all the areas the TIA is involved with. This is a challenge for us, but I think it’s also one of the opportunities we have moving forward, to let people know what the TIA is doing so they are more willing to support the ideas and initiatives that can help the industry. Also, we’re impacting virtually every segment of this industry. We’ve often stayed under the radar. Now, it’s time we let people know we’re there for them.

Different components of what we do are important for different segments of this industry. There are so many elements that cross so many areas—whether it’s research that manufacturers can use, or maintaining the largest industry database so we can reach tennis providers effectively, or promoting Cardio Tennis as a way to create frequent players and for tennis providers to make money, or providing tools and resources for retailers, or the dozens of other areas the TIA affects—many people simply aren’t aware that they’re impacted by the TIA.

How does the TIA do that?

We need to be more consistent and more relevant. We need to show every segment of this industry that what we’re doing is relevant to their business and to the tennis industry as a whole. We need to make sure each segment of the industry knows what’s in it for them, what they’re getting through the TIA.

We also need to communicate succinctly with a unified, simple message we can all rally behind. The TIA is in a unique position to craft that message and combine the energies of all the various groups in this industry—retailers, manufacturers, teaching pros, the pro tours, and more—all under the umbrella of growing the revenue of the game. If we combine the energy and the efforts of these multiple segments, then the whole becomes much greater than the parts.

Also, an important part of what we do, and how we communicate it, is our comprehensive database, the largest in the tennis industry. It’s critical that we maintain an accurate database so we can communicate to all stakeholders and get our messages in front of them consistently and in a timely manner. When you talk about a collective, unified voice of the industry, that’s what the database can provide for us.

The TIA is heavily into industry research. How important is this for tennis?

The industry research that the TIA spearheads is unique in the sporting goods industry. Ask people at the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA-formerly the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association) and other sports retailers that carry multiple categories, and they’ll tell you that tennis is the gold standard when it comes to compiling and using research to grow the industry.  It’s important that we continue this, so that all industry stakeholders can makeinformed, timely decisions. People who only have been in the tennis industry may not realize what a unique strength we have with our research compared to other sports categories.

How can all the different elements, organizations and companies in this industry work together?

For many years, we’ve said we need to unify this industry under one brand—TENNIS, and that’s still very true. And that’s a major part of what the TIA does. We all need to realize we’re part of the same goal, which is to grow tennis. It doesn’t mean that we’ll always be in agreement on everything, but we all need to look out for the greater good. When we get together in the TIA, it’s been said, “Check your logo at the door.”

Each individual group in the sport, including the USTA, can only touch a portion of the tennis-playing community.  The only group that touches every tennis player is the TIA itself because you need a racquet, a ball and a court to play the game. We’re the best delivery system in the industry.  Tennis in the U.S. a $5.4 billion industry, and obviously there will be times when we’re not all going to agree, and sometimes passions boil over. But we need to minimize and eliminate the personal challenges and focus on constructive criticism. While the pieces have all been coming together in recent years, this infrastructure is still a work in progress.

What is the TIA’s relationship with the USTA?

We’re solid partners in growing the game, because initiatives that get more people playing tennis more often will impact the economics of this industry, and that’s right in our wheelhouse.

In many ways, we’re a consultant to the USTA, helping to measure and anticipate the impact their decisions have on the revenue of the game and on industry stakeholders. And in some cases, we need to be a voice of reason, especially when decisions that may make sense from a governing body’s point of view may not make sense when taken to the next level within the industry. That means we won’t always be on the same page and agree with everything they do, and they may have the same opinion on our efforts at times. The goal is to have common ground that works for both of us. It’s all about TENNIS, and in the long run, everyone is better off if we can deliver messages that satisfy both the economic side of the sport and the grow-the-game side.

In recent years, 10 and Under Tennis has been pushed on all fronts. What should be the TIA’s role in Youth Tennis?

It’s impossible to argue that bringing more kids into tennis is a bad thing. The TIA is 100 percent behind getting more kids into tennis. With the USTA’s significant investment in the marketing and growth of this area, we need to support this in every way we can because it’s good for the economic vitality of the game, both short- and long-term, and that’s our mission. We need to bring in young players and get them involved so they become frequent players, and to do that, we’re supporting manufacturers and retailers so the consumer has the right products to make the game easier to play for kids.

To help consumers, we’re producing hang tags that will appear on graduated-length racquets. We’re also labeling the different types of balls to make it easier for parents to find what they need. And, among other things, we’re producing material for retailers and facilities that they can use to bring kids into the game. Importantly, 64 percent of retailers say they’ve seen a significant spike in consumer interest in 10 and Under Tennis in the last 10 months, and half say this segment will continue to grow through the next year. So retailers see the opportunity here.

What other strategies is the TIA pursuing to increase frequent play?

It’s important to note that there’s a real difference between bringing new people into the game, versus increasing play frequency. By getting players on the court more often—whether it’s kids involved in Youth Tennis, adults playing in leagues and tournaments, players taking regular clinics and lessons, consumers doing Cardio Tennis twice a week to improve their health, fitness and overall tennis game—the better this sport’s economy will be.

Frequent players, who play at least 21 times a year, account for 70 percent of all consumer tennis expenditures. While it was great to see overall participation increase by 4 percent in 2012, the 10 percent increase in frequent players, to 5.3 million, is truly good news. Our goal is to have 10 million frequent players by 2020, which will add another $3.9 billion to the tennis economy.

Not to oversimplify, but we can increase play frequency by making it easier for people to find matches, find partners, find programming and lessons, and find places to play. Research says that finding a partner is the #1 reason people don’t play more often. That’s where playtennis.com, along with other initiatives already in place, come into play—they make it easier to play tennis more often.

How does playtennis.com help the tennis economy?

Playtennis.com is a consumer portal for all things tennis—it’s designed to be a single, unbranded gateway where all industry stakeholders can direct consumers so they can get involved in tennis, stay involved in the game and play more often. This should be the single message for the industry—everyone should be saying “playtennis.com.”

The USTA has invested a lot in playtennis.com, and now the TIA will be taking more of a direct role in the day-to-day operations of the site. We’re looking into how best to enhance functionality to improve the way people communicate through the site, set up matches, and interact. Execution and marketing will be key, and there will be a high-level focus on Youth Tennis, too.

But make no mistake: playtennis.com is a long-term piece of the TIA’s portfolio. It’s a great example of what we can do when we combine energies with other organizations to enhance frequent play—which is target No. 1 for the TIA.

There has been much discussion recently on tennis retailing. What should the TIA be doing to help this segment of the industry?

Tennis retailers are facing more challenges today than they ever have. But the important fact is they are on the front lines of this industry. They talk to players more often than any other group, and they have more influence on their communities than any other segment of the industry—engaging with influencers, sponsoring events, and promoting tennis locally.

We’ve been committed to helping tennis retailers, and we provide an increasing number of tools and resources to do that. But also, retailers have a voice that should be heard, and we need to make sure they’re consistently brought into thediscussion. We’re helping a tennis retailer division grow and become a unifying force. A retail association in tennis is important not just for retailers themselves—it will help keep the TIA current on what’s happening at the local level, with consumers directly. So it will help the industry as a whole.

Where does the TIA-managed Cardio Tennis program fit in terms of the economic growth of this industry?

Since its start in 2005, with key support from the USTA, Cardio Tennis has developed into a self-sustaining program, and when you look at it, Cardio Tennis hits all the right notes for many segments of this industry. It appeals to consumers and offers them tangible benefits such asweight loss and game improvement, it fills courts, it makes money for teaching pros, it helps sell equipment and apparel—basically, it creates frequent players and keeps them active and healthy.

The latest survey shows that 1.3 million people participate in Cardio Tennis—which is pretty amazing since this program started just seven years ago. That speaks to a real need among consumers for this type of fun, healthy activity. And it’s spreading internationally—more than 30 countries are doing Cardio Tennis, and we have partnership agreements with six of them. Plus, we continue to expand our offerings, with TRX Cardio Tennis, Cardio Tennis Interactive, coaching programs, and more.

It’s important to understand that Cardio Tennis was developed because our research 10 years ago anticipated the inroads that the fitness industry was making. To ensure tennis’s future, we needed to get a piece of that market. So, partnering with the USTA, we developed a program that addresses health and fitness, helps improve a player’s game, and helps build and sustain revenue for teaching pros and facilities.

Cardio Tennis can greatly expand the tennis consumer market by reaching into the fitness arena. It also shows that when something is a good idea, it has a viral effect that becomes sustainable as it has succeeded without a great deal of financial support in the past few years.

How do we make this industry attractive to younger professionals?

Many people entered this industry back in the tennis “boom” days of the 1970s, so we’re seeing a “graying” of the industry in many respects. Getting younger people involved is critical for our continued growth.

One way we support this is with our highly successful Careers In Tennis initiative (CareersInTennis.com), which is probably the largest job resource in this industry. CIT has more than 1,000 tennis-specific job listings, over 30,000 annual views of listed jobs, and nearly 1,500 registered job seekers. And, it’s all free to both job seekers and employers.

Importantly, we have both the USPTA and PTR behind Careers in Tennis. The site also highlights Professional Tennis Management programs, and provides career development information and resources. Plus, we work with Tennis on Campus and Tennis Service Reps to help push out the message that tennis is a viable industry with growth opportunities.

What other opportunities is the TIA pursuing?

If there is one area that I’ve heard industry folks time and again is that with the focus on 10 and under, are we doing things for the adult player? They are still the most frequent player. It’s an area we need to address and that may be through cardio tennis, through partnerships outside the industry, etc but it is important we don’t ignore this consumer. We’re looking at ways to further engage them and will make this a priority.

Also, while clearly we’re focused on growing the economic vitality of tennis in the U.S., we can’t ignore that business is global, and we’re pleased that we’re able to work more with other countries to grow this sport. It’s a great testament to our efforts and initiatives in many areas that other countries are looking to the U.S. TIA as a model to implement in their part of the world, too.