Tennis Participation for 2015 Stable, Equipment Sales Mixed

Tennis participation for 2015 was generally stable, showing slight increases overall. Year-end stats for tennis equipment shipments and sales, however, were mixed.

Participation

For 2015, total tennis players numbered 17.96 million, which is a .3% increase from 2014, according to the Physical Activity Council (PAC) Annual Participation Study. “Core” tennis players—those who play 10 or more times a year—increased .5% to 9.96 million. The number of tennis “play occasions” also increased in 2015—overall play occasions were up .8% to 446.4 million; core players accounted for 418.3 million of those play occasions.

Last year, there were 2.07 million new tennis players, which is a 3.8% increase compared to 2014. Another 2.2 million players “returned” to the game in 2015, which is a 14.8% increase. The total for combined new and returning players in 2015 is a 9.2% increase from 2014.

In addition, 14.75 million Americans who are non-players are interested in playing tennis, and another 12.8 million who may not have played in the past year “consider themselves” tennis players.

Youth participation, however, saw slight declines for ages 6 to 12, with participation at 2.11 million, a 1.1% drop from 2014, and for ages 13 to 17, which fell 5.5%, also to 2.11 million players, while overall "core" youth participation rose in 2015 by 5%.

Of particular note is Cardio Tennis, which in 2015 alone grew 12.6% in participation, to 1.82 million players. Cardio Tennis, which was developed in 2005, was first measured by the PAC study in 2008 and has grown 119% in participation in the past seven years.

Also noteworthy is increasing tennis participation among Hispanics in the U.S., which has been a priority for the USTA. In 2015, Hispanic tennis players jumped 12.2%, to 1.79 million players. Participation among Asians in the U.S. increased 5.6% in 2015 to 1.98 million. However, African-American players declined by 1.7% to 1.9 million, and Caucasian participation dropped .8% to 11.89 million.

Equipment

The tennis equipment marketplace finished 2015 on an encouraging note with increases in the fourth quarter for both racquet and ball shipments (along with stable string shipments) when compared to 2014. Year-end totals, however, continue to reflect a sluggish wholesale market.

Unit and dollar sales of racquets in pro/specialty retailers managed to endure a tough Q4 to end the year with slight declines. Wholesale tennis balls shipments saw an impressive boost in the last quarter to end 2015 with overall increases in unit and dollar shipments, though the large gains suggest carry-over shipments from 2014 played a significant factor. Considering the market's late rebound relative to earlier in the year, 2016 offers some positive signs for tennis equipment manufacturers.

Tennis Balls

Q4 2015 showed a significant 25% increase year-over-year in ball unit shipments; however, industry leaders suspect this massive gain is likely due to carry-over from delayed 2014 shipments finally coming through the market. Comparing year-end 2015 to 2014, ball unit shipments in total improved 4.5% along with a 4.7% gain in ball dollar shipments. With 129.6 million total balls shipped in 2015, this is the highest year-end total since 2008.

Shipments of lower compression Red, Orange and Green (ROG) balls in Q4 also saw substantial year-over-year increases, largely attributed to the wholesale market's catch-up from 2014, with a 16.5% gain in unit shipments. Stage 3 Foam ball shipments carried the highest upturn among the ROG ball types—increasing 35.5% year-over-year. Year-end 2015 ROG shipments rose a modest 1.3% compared to 2014, while dollar shipments decreased slightly at 0.6%.

Racquets

Wholesale racquet unit shipments in the last quarter of 2015 increased 1.6% over the same period in 2014. Total year-end shipments, however, continue to reflect a slowing wholesale market for racquets as unit shipments fell 6% since 2014. Racquets in the $50-$99.99 wholesale price range felt the largest drop, decreasing 13.5% from 2014 to 2015. Youth racquets continued to struggle in wholesale distribution for 2015 with a year-end 9% decline. Premium racquets (those over $100 wholesale) were the sole price point group with a net increase, of 1.2% in unit shipments compared to year-end 2014.

Q4 2015 was a challenge for pro shops and specialty tennis dealers as racquet unit sales dipped 10% compared to the last quarter of 2014. Fortunately, small increases for the first three quarters absorbed the rough last stretch of 2015 as year-end unit sales declined by just 1%.

Despite a 9% drop in dollar sales for Q4 2015 compared to Q4 2014, year-end dollar sales also managed to only fall 2%. Note that differences in gains or losses between wholesale and retail can result from a number of factors, primarily being the natural delay between sell-in (wholesalers shipping racquets to stores) and sell-through (stores selling to customers).

Strings

2015 ended on a muted note for strings, as unit shipments fell 0.3% from both Q4 2014 to Q4 2015 and total year-end 2014 to 2015. Of the string types (synthetic, natural gut, hybrid), hybrid string shipments were largely responsible for the total 2015 decline, falling 10.2% compared to 2014; synthetic string shipments were up 0.2%, and natural gut shipments increased 5.3%.