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2014: Is British Tennis fighting back?

Tennis Industry Association executive director Brett Watson asks whether 2014 will see a revival for British tennis. 

The key question at the start of 2014 is will we see more reports of an apparent decline in the tennis participation numbers or will this year mark the resurgence of the game in Britain?

Firstly I have to admit to some surprise of the reported downturn in tennis numbers. My personal experience of talking to various club chairmen and others in the industry has indicated that the “Murray effect” has been positive and enquiries, membership and coaching programmes have had an upturn as a result of Andy’s spectacular success.

However, this is by no means a scientific view and reinforces yet again the need for timely, accurate market research that will give us a truly independent and consistent view of where we are. This is particularly important in the areas of current focus such as the very young, where there has been much money and time spent rolling out programmes such as mini-tennis.

As you will have gathered from my last piece I am naturally an optimist but I do see many reasons why my optimism is well-founded in respect of a successful year for British Tennis. On court, our leading players appear to have recovered from injury and illness and we have an imminent and mouth-watering tie in the Davis Cup against our trans-Atlantic friends which we all hope will be an epic and engrossing encounter.

Off the court the economic predictions continue to head North with the unemployment rate dropping to 7.1%. This provides the prospect of growth and wealth creation which should encourage more people to spend on discretionary items such as tennis rackets, balls, kit and lessons. (Unless you are like me and regard these as compulsory!)

At the National Governing Body, the LTA, Michael Downey is now in place and has already made his mark declaring a focus on facilities and participation, particularly with the young and simply getting more people playing, more often. Let us also remember that the new Chief Executive comes with a perfect blend of business and marketing experience as well as eight years of proven success at Tennis Canada, seemingly a great recipe for success.

Supporting Michael is Cathie Sabin, the recently appointed President of the LTA who has a great love of all sports, many years of experience administering tennis and who is still an active competitor. Cathie also represents another wonderful aspect of our sport – the gender diversity with almost as many female as male players in tennis.

I am also delighted that Michael and Cathie will be joining us at the Olympic Park in April for the TIA UK’s first Tennis Summit, where we will be providing the unifying focus for all the major stakeholders in British tennis to come together to understand where we are and what we can do collectively to move the sport forward.

So we have the ingredients for success but my plea to all would be do not leave the growth and future of tennis in the hands of a few, albeit powerfully placed, people. Instead let’s actively help them. We must ALL become evangelists for this wonderful sport supporting organisations such as the LTA and the TIA UK who are the facilitators, not the dictators, of success.

Remember the fact that tennis is pretty much a whole life sport, caters for both sexes and all abilities, is inexpensive to play, provides the opportunity to join a global community of friends and that whether you aspire to be one of the world’s greatest and richest athletes or just want a healthy family interest, tennis has the answers. Go forth and spread the word now!

Brett Watson

Executive Director

Tennis Industry Association UK