More Tennis Courts, Anyone?

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.

Find Partners

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.

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