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Key dynamics for measuring the health of British tennis

John Bushell of SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. shares some statistics that delve deep into the state of tennis in the UK, and demonstrates that it is not all gloomy according to some key performance indicators.

According to the Sport England Active people Survey (7), in the 12 months up to April 2013, 424,300 people over the age of 16 played tennis in the UK at least once a week. Back in October 2009 the figure was just over 500,000. So in the last four years there has been a marked and much publicised decline in participation in the sport, although Bushell was quick to point out that this figure only included those who meet the definition of having played four times in the last four weeks – a Sport England measure that is used for all sports, and is the equivalent of playing weekly.

Citing the involvement of young people in the sport as one of the key indicators of the health of tennis, Bushell illustrated how an innovative approach to the sport could be used to engage young people. Sixty five per cent of 16–19 year olds surveyed agreed with the statement that using video games “makes you more likely to play the sport for real”. Interestingly the figure dropped to 56% for 20–24 year olds and 34% for 35–44 year olds. This was also evidenced in an anecdotal response that shows how promoting the sport as “fun” can also help engage youngsters. “You need to promote fun. Then they’re hooked and they want to get better because they want to have more fun.”

The frequency with which core players participate in tennis is also cited as an indicator of the appeal of the sport. In the UK 63% of the core market play several times a week, while for other countries this figure rises to 69%, suggesting there is the possibility to engage these people even more. In the UK the average number of times a core player plays tennis in any given year is 73, compared to 77 in other countries.

Perhaps the most marked difference between the habits of these players inside and outside of the UK is the location of play. Only 40% of UK players take to a public court compared with 57% of players outside of the UK. There is a resource outside of the private members club that could provide a real boost to the game – and getting more people playing on courts in public parks or utilizing facilities further at schools or colleges could be key to unlocking the potential of the sport.

The UK is blessed with the Grand Slam at Wimbledon, which has a high level of interest both within the UK and further afield (4.8 out of 5 was the level of interest score for the UK players). Interest in the UK in the Davis Cup is lower than for overseas countries, however the recent advancement of Team GB to the quarter-finals, Britain’s best result for 28 years, should raise interest in the men’s international team competition.

Of particular interest to the manufacturers operating in the UK were Bushell’s figures for equipment sales in the UK, which have been encouraging in the last two years. Between 2011 and 2013 racket sales increased by 23%, resulting in a 4.1 percentage point increase in share of Britain in the wider European market. Overall UK volume share within Europe is now 21.5% compared with 17.4% in 2011.

Ball sales have increased a staggering 36% in the UK in the last five years since the start of the global economic crisis, compared to a similarly healthy but not so spectacular 17% increase across wider European markets, taking the UK’s overall share of ball sales within Europe by volume to 19.2%. This has been influenced by the tennis ball prices not having increased during this period – so that new balls are comparatively more affordable.

And finally, as an indicator of the health of tennis in the UK, it was noted that in 1993 Britain had six male players in the world Top 300, compared with five in 2013. In the women’s game ten years ago there were four women ranked in the world’s Top 300 and by 2013 this had increased to seven.

Bushell concluded by suggesting some ways that tennis could position itself based on these findings to maximize levels of interest. Getting to new players early – and starting them playing whilst at primary school age is important. Being seen as a fun sport was top of that list for bringing in young players – and the sport needs to work on this aspect. Over 75% of current players see tennis as providing a good workout – and with obesity and inactivity being high on the health agenda of the nation, this is another real opportunity. There are some “givens” for all leisure activities which remain true for tennis, namely the need to be affordable, accessible and welcoming. Tennis has a number of real opportunities to grow participation and importantly as well as improve the health of our sport – improve the health of Great Britain.

TIA UK Members interested in finding out more, can access the full survey by contacting SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. directly via Laura Puddle or phoning on 01932 345 539.

SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. is an independent sports research agency that has been conducting research amongst regular sports participant for over 25 years. Key sports include Tennis, Running, Swimming, Golf, Cycling, Snow Sports, Football and Outdoor Sports. SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. provides a full research service primarily for Sports Equipment Manufacturers and Distributors, for Federations, Retailers and Sports Venue Operators where the general public or members play their sport. Services, solutions and insights are provided to all those interested in participation rates, equipment and facility usage, sports brand images, customer and retailer satisfaction, operating costs and associated areas.