It's been 15 years since the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) launched the Initiative to Grow the Game. At that time, competitors, organizations and associations throughout the tennis came together in support of a common mission to increase tennis participation.
Jim Baugh and others were instrumental in getting each manufacturer, association and organization (USPTA, PTR, USTA, Wilson, Prince, Head, Babolat, ATP, WTA, etc) to recognize that we have to Grow one brand – T.E.N.N.I.S. If we fail to grow T.E.N.N.I.S., then eventually everyone would be in trouble. The industry began to focus on the long term rather than Quarter to Quarter mentality that prevails in most companies and organizations.
It was the manufacturers that recognized the need and made the tough choices to fund the initiative while their budgets were declining. At first, the USTA was skeptical and slow to back the initiative. Many within the USTA did not see the need to focus on increasing participation since the US Open revenues were up.
The TIA knew that it would take the USTA's funding and resources for the Initiative to Grow the Game to be successful. So, it was a major step when the USTA Board changed their Mission Statement to "Promote and Develop the Growth of Tennis". This helped to change the USTA’s focus from US Open success to grassroots tennis results.
The TIA first launched the Free Lesson Blitz in 15 markets. The Blitz provided an opportunity for kids and adults to try Tennis through a free group lesson at facilities across a community. Participants where then given the opportunity to join a Play Tennis America program that made it fast and easy to learn the game.
The TIA conducted Town Hall Meetings across America to help bring local communities together with the same common mission -- to increase participation. Teaching professionals, coaches, retailers, park directors, club owners, writers, tennis enthusiasts and volunteers were motivated and mobilized. These Town Hall Meetings helped secure participation by thousands of facilities across the country. In just 5 years, the Free Lesson Blitz went from 15 cities to over 175 communities.
At the same Play Tennis America was being introduced, the TIA launched an Image campaign within large shopping malls called "Mall Tennis" that was Not successful in changing kid's impressions of tennis or getting them to try tennis.
As the USTA commitment to grow tennis increased, The Plan for Growth was launched. Play Tennis America became USA Tennis 1 2 3 and the USTA introduced the pathway for new players.
The TIA and ATP developed a partnership with the Cartoon Network and launched SMASH Tennis that went to large events around the country. Kid's were exposed to the fun of tennis on colorful courts around a Cartoon Network atmosphere. Scooby Doo and other characters participated in tennis with the kids. Eventually, this program was too costly to maintain.
In 2003 the TIA/USTA launched an image campaign to drive consumers to the website TennisWelcomeCenter.com. The television commercials showed images of empty tennis courts ready for play. The image campaign was eventually dropped after some conflicting opinions on it's effectiveness to building the sports image. TennisWelcomeCenter.com continues today.
Tennis has always lost thousands of young players as they transition from high school to college. The USTA Tennis on Campus program keeps young adults that are Not making the jump to college varsity tennis playing. Tennis on Campus provides college students opportunities for social networking, team camaraderie and competition. This programs has been a tremendous success with over 500 colleges and over 30,000 students.
The USTA No-Cut School Tennis Teams help keep sudents of all abilities playing. This initiative plays a critical role in keeping tennis growing.
Next, the TIA launched the Cardio Tennis program that helped get players back on the court for a great cardio workout. A recent study indicated that Cardio Tennis has 1.2 million participants. That’s more than the entire sport of squash! It's a fantastic program to retain existing players or attract lapsed players back to tennis. Unfortunately, funding for Cardio Tennis has been limited because the program was not invented by the USTA. Hopefully, the USTA will recognize the true value of Cardio Tennis and increase funding.
The USTA funded Tennis Service Reps (TSRs) originally conceived to be sales and marketing support for grassroots programs within sections and communities. TSRs are still in place today and are instrumental in helping facilities to be successful promoting and growing new programs.
Now, the USTA has launched QuickStart Tennis. This new program introduces kids to the game quickly with smaller racquets on short courts with low compression balls and modified scoring. The court size and ball vary with age and size. QuickStart Tennis is a new and exciting format for leaning tennis. It combines many components of other programs and should be tremendously successful. It may take the re-introduction of Town Hall meetings again to help gain the support and momentum that this program deserves. We should consider QuickStart Tennis for adults.
Well that should be a fairly complete history of the last 15 years of the Initiative to Grow the Game. Please leave comments below. In future weeks, we will look at additional opportunities for Growing Tennis.
Be Happy, Play Tennis,