TIA Board Hears Updates on Industry, Initiatives During US Open

The Tennis Industry Association’s Board of Directors met during the US Open and heard updates from several segments of the tennis industry, including a “state of the industry” report by TIA President Jon Muir, key industry research from Sports Marketing Surveys, and an update on the youth tennis initiative from the USTA.

USTA President and Chairman of the Board Jon Vegosen welcomed attendees to the Aug. 27 board meeting. “The USTA and TIA partnership is one of our most valuable,” said Vegosen, who also praised USTA First Vice President Dave Haggerty for his service to the sport and industry. Haggerty, a former TIA president, will become the next USTA president and Chairman of the Board in January.

Muir then described key TIA efforts aligned with the TIA’s four key platforms: 1) the growth of tennis and the tennis economy, 2) the main source for tennis research, 3) communications and positioning, and 4) unifying the industry under one brand—Tennis. Among the efforts are promoting the single portal playtennis.com to help bring in new players and create frequent players; supporting and building awareness for the 10 and Under Tennis initiative; and striving to improve the communications network and outreach both in and out of the tennis industry.

Muir also updated the board on the state of the tennis industry. “Overall, the first half of 2012 has seen two consecutive quarters of growth, for the first time in a number of years,” he said. “There are a lot of positive signs, and we still have a lot of work to do. But at least the signs moving in the right direction.”

Keith Storey of Sports Marketing Surveys, the TIA’s research arm, echoed Muir’s sentiment: “The tennis market is showing some signs of recovering, but there’s a long way to go.” Storey reported that for the first half of 2012, ball shipments were up 4% in units and 7% in dollars. Tennis racquets overall are flat, strings are down 5%, and Red, Orange, & Green balls are up 42%.

Tom Cove, the CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (formerly the SGMA), reported that the overall sporting goods industry has exceeded the GDP for the last few years. “We held while the rest of the country dropped. Overall, the industry is not growing enormously, but not dropping.” Consumers are now looking for more than just the basics—they want the newest products, new colors, new fashion.

“Fitness is driving all of the sports business; there is huge growth in all fitness categories,” Cove said. “Tennis has a tremendous opportunity to tie itself to that.” He added that across the sporting goods industry, the need to drive participation at the grassroots is critical.

Concerns moving forward are rising production costs and increasing costs from China, Cove said, and traditional retail threatened by more “direct to consumer” purchasing from online retailers.

Cove also praised the USTA’s relationship with the TIA overall as a “beacon of light.” “The way in which you’ve committed to particular directions isn’t normal within the sports world,” he said. “The tennis industry is doing way better than most.”

Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, told the board that for 10 and Under Tennis, the focus is on keeping it local and fun for kids. The goal is to eliminate barriers, such as skill levels, and avoid overzealous parents and coaches who can put pressure on kids. “That’s why we created Kids Tennis Clubs, which are supervised spontaneous play,” he said. “That leads to Play Days—informal play. It’s a soft landing into competition.”

To date, 80,000 kids have joined the USTA, Kamperman added. The USTA continues to market beyond the tennis industry itself, and is trying to position tennis as the ideal sport in fighting childhood obesity.

Challenges Kamperman mentioned include raising the coaching standards for youth tennis (he said the USTA, working with the USPTA and PTR, is close to having a four-level youth coaching development plan); making sure more facilities and teaching pros are doing the complete 10 and Under Tennis program, not just parts of it; and making sure people realize that the Red, Orange and Green balls don’t last forever and need to be replaced (in fact, the USTA will be mandating that new balls be used at all sanctioned 10U tournaments).

Dave Miley from the International Tennis Federation updated the board about the worldwide “Tennis 10s” program, similar to the USTA’s 10 and Under Tennis initiative. He also said an ITF program for the 11- to 17-year-old market is in the works, and Tennis Xpress for adult beginners is rolling out. In addition, 160 of the ITF’s 200 member nations have signed up for the “Stay and Play” Campaign.

The TIA board also heard updates from the ATP Tour, WTA Tour, World TeamTennis and Tennis Channel.

Special guests at the TIA board meeting included the newest inductee into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame, legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, who was honored for his significant impact on tennis. Bollettieri was inducted in a ceremony two days earlier at the TIA Tennis Forum and Tennis Show. “I am thrilled to be honored by the tennis industry,” he said. Bollettieri also offered to help out “in any way” with the current 10 and Under Tennis initiative. “My life is dedicated to helping children.”

Also present was Jim Baugh, a former TIA president and USTA board member. Baugh told board members about a national year-round grassroots social media campaign to launch in January called “PHIT America” designed to “get America moving.” The goals are to educate Americans, increase physical activity in communities and schools, and pass key legislation that could allow for the use of pre-tax dollars to be used for sports and fitness activities and equipment, which would include tennis.