Two million more people are playing tennis now than last year, according to Mike May, Director of Communications for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, while the Taylor Research Group indicates that the number of people playing tennis has increased 20 percent since 2000. That’s a bigger increase than in any other traditional sport.
With close to 28 million Americans playing tennis in 2008, courts are going to be busier. Does that mean your community needs additional tennis facilities to accommodate a growing demand? Can you afford new courts?
Do You Need More Courts?
Tennis courts are tricky because community members have expectations. You may have plenty of courts on the north side of town, but residents may feel you don’t have enough courts if they aren’t within walking distance of their home. It’s not only how many, but where. Follow these four simple steps to determine a community’s true need for new tennis courts:
1. Benchmark. Find ten communities similar to yours–ideally, in both size and demographics. How many courts do they have? What’s their ratio of courts to population? How are they located–in clusters, in neighborhoods, along public transportation, by other amenities? Comparing data with other communities is often useful in making a case for more courts.
Many communities post this information on their Web site. If they don’t have it online, call and ask. And while you have a park professional on the phone, ask about that community’s tennis situation. Is it the right mix? How is the tennis program funded? Who are the best advocates and partners … and adversaries? Reach out to other professionals, and see what information you can gather.
2. Observe. No two communities are exactly alike. While it’s good to know what your peers are doing, it’s important to understand your specific community. How many people are actually using existing courts? At what times? What age groups? Are they empty or are people usually waiting to get on a court? When? Get out there and observe, especially during prime times. Record the data, and then analyze–don’t just rely on anecdotal information. This could be a good project for a high-school service club, marketing class or tennis team.
3. Ask. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, right? Maybe the courts aren’t used heavily because they need repair, or they are hard to get to. Ask in multiple ways–at community meetings, focus groups, world cafes (www.worldcafe.org), online surveys (www.surveymonkey.com or www.zoomerang.com) and other events. Chat with local tennis teams, tennis shops and players.
4. Think of the future. What would you do with new courts that you cannot do now? Are there new programs you could offer? For example, do you have a large youth population that could use the USTA QuickStart Tennis format (www.quickstarttennis.com)?
What about tournaments? Could hosting tournaments be an economic benefit for the community? Officials in Florence, S.C., estimated that a new 30-court facility could bring in approximately $2 million merely by hosting one large adult tennis event. A tennis complex has the ability to recover much of its court costs if managed properly. In addition to tournaments, think about court rental fees, socials, league play and instructional programs–all can bring in revenue. A new tennis facility in Carey, N.C., is recovering approximately 80 percent of its costs. Don’t restrict yourself to what currently is–think about what could be.
Building tennis courts is a big job–and expensive. Do not attempt this alone! Find partners and advocates. Determine the need, rally community support, find a location, and raise money–that’s all before you even start talking about construction specifications.
1. Community partners. If you’re not already involved with a local community tennis association (CTA), join one immediately, or start one. A CTA is a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting community tennis programs. CTAs act as advocates, program administrators, promoters and fund-raisers. And CTAs are often the prime movers in getting new tennis courts built. Check out www.usta.com, keyword CTA for more information.
In Brandon, S.D.–a community of approximately 8,000 located outside of Sioux Falls–residents recognized a need for more courts to grow the tennis programs. (Remember: think about the future, not just the current situation.) Residents formed a CTA, and immediately began fundraising and searching for additional partners. Partners showed the municipality the extent of grassroots support, and harnessed additional support to make it happen. According to Rebecca Blue, Brandon Tennis Association president, “To make this happen, we needed to put our money where our mouth is.”
The Brandon CTA not only showed them the money, but also brought in additional partners. By reaching out to local businesses, foundations and grant opportunities, the Brandon CTA raised more than $200,000. Throw in some money from the Brandon School Board and the city, and the CTA had enough money for eight new tennis courts. Blue warns that having many partners can get messy, but in the end “getting all those partners together … is so worth it. Without the partners, this project would never have come to fruition.”
2. National partners. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is the national governing body for the game of tennis, and one of its responsibilities is helping to grow the sport. The USTA offers numerous resources, ranging from helping advocate for new courts to providing technical assistance with planning and construction.
Need financial help? The USTA may be able to help there, too. Through its public-facility assistance program, the USTA offers matching grants covering up to 20 percent of the project cost. In Brandon, the USTA contributed over $60,000 in grants. With community finances the way they are, who couldn’t use the extra money?
To get USTA support, first register as a Tennis in the Parks community, a program through USTA. Being a Tennis in the Parks agency grants access to free marketing materials, construction information, advocacy tools and training support for coaches. According to Karen Ford, national manager of Tennis in the Parks, “Over 80 percent of tennis is played on public courts. It is a top priority of the USTA to assist public facilities in advocacy and construction of new courts.” This sounds like an offer you can’t refuse.
The second step to becoming involved in USTA is to sign up for The Big Serve, a national advocacy initiative aimed at building more tennis courts. Registering (www.thebigserve.usta.net) provides advocacy resources, connections to important partners and success stories on which to model efforts.
3. Schools and government agencies. The days of governments and schools providing for everything are over–that’s the bad news. The good news is that those organizations are also looking for partners. That’s an opportunity.
In Arlington, Va., the local government partnered with two local universities to build new fields and improve existing ones. The universities now have first-class fields for their games and practices, and the community benefits by having field time when the college teams are off the fields. According to Jeff Marin, deputy director for Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, “Finding partners is a win-win: the community benefits and the university benefits.”
4. And that’s not all. New tennis courts benefit a variety of community partners. When looking for partners, don’t restrict yourself to traditional outlets. Local teaching professionals may benefit by having more people playing tennis. How about local health organizations? Research indicates that people who participate in tennis three hours a week at a moderately vigorous intensity cut in half their risk of death from any cause. Perhaps a local hospital would like to be involved.
Need more ideas? Think about any organization in the community that could benefit from new courts. In Florence, S.C., the local CTA offered eight weeks of free tennis clinics for minority youth. Local churches served as one of its primary partners in reaching out to kids to get them involved. Not every organization may have money to offer, but many have an interest and a willingness to get involved.
Thoughtful planning–based on research and targeted development, using partners and advocates–will help grow a tennis business during these difficult financial times.
Eric Legg, CPRP, has been involved in tennis for many years–a player, coach and administrator. He is currently a sports programmer at Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, where his responsibilities include management of tennis programming. He is also a member of the USTA National Committee on Tennis in Public Parks.