Among sports that grew in overall participation last year, tennis is the only “traditional” sport
to make the Top 10 list, adding more than 658,000 players.
Tennis is the only traditional participation sport to be ranked in the Top 10 in terms of participation growth, out of nearly 120 sports and activities surveyed in the recently released Physical Activity Council (PAC) 2014 Participation Report. In the U.S., tennis grew by 658,000 players, or 4%, in the last year, to bring total tennis participation to 17.68 million players, according to PAC data.
Tennis ranked No. 10 on the PAC list for participant growth. The nine sports that saw participation increases greater than 658,000 in 2013 are, starting from No. 1: walking for fitness, swimming for fitness, running/jogging, bicycling on a non-paved surface, aerobics (high-impact), backpacking overnight, bicycling on a paved surface, yoga, and trail running. “It’s interesting to note that tennis is the only ‘traditional’ sport on the PAC Top 10 list,” says Greg Mason, president of the Tennis Industry Association (TIA).
“The majority of sports and activities on this list are fitness-based, and tennis fits nicely into the fitness arena,” Mason adds. “More and more people continue to realize the great workout they can get on the tennis court, while still having a lot of fun. In fact, the growth this industry has seen in the Cardio Tennis program over the last nine years speaks to the desire for more people to use tennis as a way to improve their health and fitness.” Cardio Tennis, which was created in 2005, now has 1.5 million participants, according to PAC research.
Also adding to tennis’s overall growth in participation is the explosion in the number of youngsters playing tennis over the last few years, spearheaded by the USTA’s Youth Tennis initiative targeting kids ages 10 and under. “This evolution in Youth Tennis is making the game easier for kids and allows for much faster play opportunities,” says Dave Haggerty, chairman of the board, CEO and president of the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA).
According to PAC research, in 2013, more than 2 million players between the ages of 6 and 12 took to the courts, an increase of 4.8% over 2012.
The shorter courts and lower-pressure tennis balls used for Youth Tennis, however, have also been migrating to the adult tennis population, adds Kurt Kamperman, chief executive of Community Tennis for the USTA. “We’re seeing more and more adults who enjoy playing tennis on shorter, 36-foot and 60-foot courts with red, orange or green tennis balls. They’re enjoying the longer rallies, along with all the social and fitness benefits of the game.”
TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer says the tennis industry’s unified efforts on many initiatives, programs, and promotions, including Youth Tennis and Cardio Tennis, have been bearing fruit when it comes to increasing overall participation. “A key collaborative effort by this industry is the unbranded website PlayTennis.com, designed as a ‘one-stop portal’ for consumers who want to get into the game or play more tennis,” she adds. The site has valuable information and searches to find places to play, partners, coaches, programs, retailers, and more.
A new promotion that launched this past May, and will be conducted again throughout September during the US Open, is “Try Tennis for Free.” Run through the PlayTennis.com website, the promotion is designed to bring new and returning players into the sport and is for players of all ages and skill levels. Try Tennis for Free is supported by the two main tennis-teaching organizations in the U.S.—the Professional Tennis Registry and the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. Free sessions for consumers can vary depending on the location, as each individual facility or certified professional can choose the best introductory session or program they feel will encourage new and returning players to step onto the court.
“It’s great to see our collective industry efforts to grow tennis taking hold,” Mason says. “We're excited about the future direction of our sport as we continue to work with industry stakeholders and the USTA to bring tennis—and all its great benefits—to more people, of all ages.”