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Record number attend TIA UK’s Business of Tennis Forum

It’s becoming an annual event which shouldn’t be missed. In just a few years the attendance has grown dramatically with 114 delegates attending the Tennis Industry Association UK’s Business of Tennis Forum held, this year, at the All England Club. It was a record attendance for the TIA and if they continue to find subjects which can be of help to various categories within the sport, that attendance will continue to rise.

In collaboration with the LTA, the subject this year was ‘Progressive Clubs Driving Growth?’ sponsored by Control Costs addressing some of the key business and financial issues which tennis clubs are facing with regards to their development these days.

With nine speakers scheduled, delegates had plenty to take in during a well organised day which included an excellent lunch, a trip round the Wimbledon grounds for those who had not been there before, and a late afternoon/early evening drinks reception sponsored by Tennis Threads to bring the day to a satisfactory close.

Following some opening remarks from TIA Chairman Steve Matthews, the morning’s proceedings were opened by Sky Sports’ tennis anchor Marcus Buckland who had the responsibility of keeping the programme running smoothly.

First up was Paul Burditt, Head of the LTA’s Insight and Strategy Team who spoke about ‘Understanding the Market: Sport, Activity and Behaviour in a Changing World’ in which he provided a variety of graphs and statistics to underline the changes and the assumptions they indicate.

He revealed that tennis was still in decline but remained the fourth biggest traditional sport behind football, golf and badminton which are all also facing waning participation problems. 

The reasons behind this trend was put down to a lack of visibility, the sport’s relevance and what the ‘customer’ requires. In addition, fitness has been singled out as having redefined the ‘market’ so tennis must start looking at becoming a ‘lifestyle’ product. It must fit around a busy schedule and include opportunities to mix with like-minded people. Even the clothing you wear is a factor — it needs to be branded!

Tennis has a solid base to grow from. Research has shown that 4 million people aged 16+ played once or more in a year; 1.2 million played monthly and 420,000 played weekly. In addition, 27 million engaged in the game of which 20 million confined their interest to just Wimbledon time. 

Clubs and Parks were the places to play with Britain offering 23,175 courts nationwide, but Clubs needed to correct a misapprehension, especially amongst lapsed players who needed reassurance as regards facilities available in addition to improved communications.

A lot of what Burditt said was later supported by his colleague Rob Dearing, the LTA’s Head of Delivery and Innovation but in the meantime the theme of communication was picked up by an electric Glaswegian who very eloquently demonstrated what communicating was all about! 

Kirsty Mac is one of Raise the Bar’s Senior Consultants and Coaches who specialises in leadership development, communications and coaching. She virtually grabbed the delegates by ‘the scruff of their necks’, shaking them up. She was most certainly the star of the show!

She shunned the Podium and strode around the floor to gain the attention of everyone present. Her strong personality not only reinforced her words, but illustrated her points as regards leadership and communication as well as presentation skills for that matter. 

Her various anecdotes drove her points home. She had the audience deciding whether they were an Asda or a Woolworth! She even had them all drawing their version of a flying horse! 

She illustrated a lot of her messages with diagrams and flow charts to show ‘Your Tennis Landscape’, the ’Business of Tennis Programme Focuses’ and a ‘Business Model’, all leading to the ‘The Moment of Truth’ – that is the moment the customer comes into contact with any aspect of your club. 

The importance of presentation, first appearances, leadership of your team, were all covered, plus other elements associated with making your product attractive.

She then asked the question ‘What do your customers want?’ and answered herself by identifying areas which should be considered, like: what do they need and what would be the best experience for them.  

She entitled her presentation ‘Stop Talking Tennis!’ and basically discussed and explained the merits of simple marketing and management for those involved in running clubs. Her basic message was not to think with your tennis head, but commercially.

In the afternoon she returned to deliver another high-octane performance, this time ‘Talking Tennis!’ itself, and its growth. And it wasn’t long before she had the delegates up off their seats!

Having established a fictional cross-section of a house with each room depicting some form of a person’s mental state, namely ‘despair’, ‘confusion’, ‘denial’, ‘contentment’, ‘renewal’, and ‘paralysis’, she then — having designated areas of the conference room with these epithets — asked the delegates to rise from their chairs and go to the area which best defined their current situation. Needless to say, the majority made their way to the ‘contentment’ room though a couple did go to ‘despair’!     

Returning to the scheduled programme, Helena Raven, the LTA’s Head of Marketing and Digital, had the task of following Ms Mac before the lunch-break. She reaffirmed much of what the ebullient previous speaker had said, but in a digital context. Despite  suffering from a cold, her delivery remained clear as she explained the various aspects which digital communication can offer both the player/customer and the club/centre. The objective would seem to be making the sport easier to participate in, but you obviously have to be technologically minded to take advantage of that.

Following the lunch, the main attraction of the day took to the stage, Scott Lloyd the CEO of the LTA, who has the task of re-igniting the game in this country. 

He updated his audience on his work to provide foundations in which the game can grow. He would like to see ‘experience consistency’ and to that extent the LTA itself must put the customer/player first.

He acknowledged that participation has continued to decline after it had stabilised when Andy Murray became World No.1 and maintained the challenges were bigger for those outside the sport than within.

The sport must become enjoyable, fresh and interesting but agreed it was perceived expensive and was competing against Rugby and Cricket.

He then outlined the new five-year strategy which he had announced in the Spring with regard to the Academies and confirmed he was investing in new facilities. He also revealed that some new and exciting sponsors were coming on board.

Scott outlined the main objectives of the LTA 5-year plan taking them through to 2013. Namely:

  1. increase the number of fans engaging with tennis from 623,000 to 1,000,000, 
  2. increase adult participation from 4,000,000 to 4,400,000, 
  3. increase the percentage of adults playing twice a week, and 
  4. enable 5 new players to break into the top 100 to inspire the tennis audience.

They also have plans to increase child involvement in line with Sport England’s Child Participation survey due to be published by the end of the year.

To achieve these objectives the LTA board is focusing on the following key areas: Visibility, Innovation, Investment, Accessibility, Engagement, Performance, and Leadership.

He concluded: “The challenges are significant, but our resources are limited.”

When asked whether the LTA would change its name to a more modern title, like British Tennis, he replied that it wasn’t on the agenda as he and the Board were concentrating on the framework of what he had already outlined.

Club Business Tools followed with three speakers outlining their answers to various challenges. First up was Anthony Franklin of fibodo, discussing ‘Creating Acting Communities’ through grass root coaches and instructors using their latest in on line technology which last year, won the company the TIA UK’s inaugural innovation Award. He was followed by Michael Beveridge of Control Costs, sponsors of this year’s Forum, who used the opportunity to show how Clubs could reduce their operating costs and improve their bottom line. The key areas would be operational expenditure, customer service and business infrastructure implementation. 

The ‘Tennis Club Benchmarking Project’ launched by the TIA brought this series to a natural conclusion by Ed Willis of Sports Marketing Surveys Inc before the afternoon refreshment break.

Following that Ms Mac made her second appearance which has already been logged and those still standing then had a chance to question a panel consisting of the TIA UK’s Steve Matthews and Philip Sandilands, plus the LTA’s Paul Burditt and Rob Dearing and Gayle Yorston from Westside LTC, Wimbledon, winner of the ‘Heads and Tails’ parlour game on Wimbledon facts, organised during the lunch break.

That was a light-hearted moment in what proved to be a serious contribution to the running of the sport. Hopefully the TIA UK will continue this annual Forum. But will they be able to unearth another star in the mould of Kirsty Mac?

Written by Henry Wancke and reproduced by kind permission of Tennis Threads