NEW YORK, N.Y. — More than 350 tennis leaders, industry executives and tennis providers came together on the first day of play at the US Open for the 11th annual Tennis Industry Association (TIA) Tennis Forum, held at the Grand Hyatt New York.
The Tennis Forum included the latest news and research about the state of the tennis and sports industries, including the current challenges, potential opportunities, and collaborative ways to move the sport and industry forward.
U.S. Tennis Association Chairman of the Board and President Katrina Adams welcomed attendees with updates on the USTA and US Open. “We’ve seen some ups and down within our industry, and we’re working together to address things,” she said. Adams emphasized the importance of updating court infrastructure, especially with an emphasis on public park & rec facilities, as long-standing research in the tennis industry has shown that half of all tennis play takes place on public courts.
Tom Cove, the president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, discussed the state of sports participation in the U.S. and how tennis fits into the overall picture. “When the economy is good overall, the sports industry is good,” he said. “We think there should be generally good growth in this industry” in the near term.
“The biggest story in sports participation is the move from ‘core’ to ‘casual,’” Cove said. That’s born out in the tennis industry, as “core” participants—those who play tennis 10 or more times a year—declined slightly in 2017 to 9.52 million players. “For years, we’ve lived off core participants. When core goes down, that’s an issue.” In tennis, core participants account for nearly 90% of estimated total expenditures.
However, Cove noted, “It’s not so much about participation, but about retention—how many people are coming back.” Tennis for years has had a challenge with a “leaky bucket” in terms of participation. This past year, according to TIA research, 4.2 million players joined the game, but 4.6 million players left the game. Total U.S. tennis participation for 2017 (those over age 6 who played at least once) was 17.68 million players, down 2.2% from 2016.
In terms of participation growth, two of the fastest growing sports are Cardio Tennis, now with 2.2 million players and 11.3% average annual growth over the last three years (ranked No.2 compared to other activities), and pickleball, with 8.5% average annual growth over the last three years (ranked No. 5).
While Cove noted that, “Consumers are changing away from spending on ‘stuff,’” the “retail apocalypse” is actually overstated. “The retail world has changed dramatically, but it’s sort of stabilized now.” Product sales, he says, are lagging, but manufacturers are “staying above water” by increasing their prices. However, Cove said, “Cost for sports in America is a way bigger deal than we think it is.” Other trends Cove said the SFIA is seeing are more products being sold direct to consumer, and the increasing use of purchases on mobile devices.
TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) Vice President Keith Storey presented data from the tennis industry. Among the opportunities, says de Boer, is that “millions of Americans ‘aspire’ to play tennis.” According to SMS research, more than 15.7 million non-players indicated they were interested in playing tennis, up nearly 5% from 2016. In addition, another 13.7 million “consider themselves to be tennis players,” but didn’t play in the previous year.
De Boer noted that once again, the No. 1 reason former players haven’t played in the past two years is “no one to play with” (34% of respondents), followed by “increased family commitments” (17%) then “no courts nearby” (16%). Storey described a correlation between household income and the likelihood of playing tennis. “A household with a total income of less than $50,000 a year is about half as likely to play tennis as a household making over $50,000 a year,” he said.
Andrew Lafiosca, the senior vice president of Teams and Brands Business at Nielsen Sports, told the crowd that around the world, more than 50 million people play tennis regularly. “The sports that are innovating are the ones that are growing,” he noted.
USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Craig Morris talked about grow-the-game initiatives from the USTA and in particular, the Net Generation youth initiative.
TIA President Jeff Williams introduced the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. The two inductees for 2018 were Jim Fromuth, founder of distributor Fromuth Tennis, and the late Vic Braden, pro player, world-renown coach, author and sports scientist. Fromuth was introduced by Pat Shields, CEO of Fromuth Tennis, and Braden was honored by John Embree, CEO of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. Both inductees will be listed on a plaque that is displayed at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
“The industry heard a lot of great information at this year’s Tennis Forum,” de Boer said. “We need to continue to address openly the challenges this industry faces and to take advantage of our opportunities, so that we can collaboratively move this sport and industry forward.”
For more information, and to view a short video of industry stats and research, visit TennisIndustry.org.