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Tennis Industry News from the USA

“Rally the Family” is the new TIA USA programme being developed in collaboration with the USTA in an attempt to reverse some of the negative trends within the sport, and in particular to encourage more youth participation.

At the start of the US Open the United States Tennis Industry Association held its annual forum and presented research outlining the state of the tennis industry. All of the figures are taken from the 2015 Physical Activity Council (PAC) Participation Study, the largest single source independent sports participation project in the USA. 

The total US tennis economy in 2014 was worth approximately $5.73 billion, a 3.2% increase on 2013, which at the top level sounds positive. But the number of core players (classified as those people who play 10 or more times a year) dropped 1% to 9.91 million. Those players account for an estimated 90% of total expenditure in the sport.

Overall tennis participation increased 1% to 17.9 million players. There was also growth in the youth tennis market up 4% for players aged 6 – 12 years and 9% among 13 – 17 year olds. While sales of red, orange and green tennis balls increased however, sales of youth rackets declined. The long-term decline in the wholesale adult racket market continues too. Total shipments from 2008 to 2014 dropped 35% with the largest reductions in distribution through mass and chain stores.

Unit shipments of balls, perhaps one of the most predictive measurements for participation, declined by 4% and string shipments decreased 10%.

In terms of gear sales, core players spent $823 million on tennis equipment in 2014 about eight times as much as other players. Tennis shoes and apparel were the largest expenditure categories among core players in 2014. The research reiterated the findings of previous studies that one of the biggest challenges facing tennis is the aging core player base.

Nearly 60% of all tennis players in the Unites States are now over the age of 35. In 2014 the percentage of adult core players aged over 55 years increased 1% while the number of core players in the 18 – 24 year old market declined by nearly 3%. Not only this, but the average age of teaching professionals also continues to increase.

As a result, the US tennis industry is focusing its efforts on bringing younger people into the game with programmes like Youth Tennis, Playtennis.com and campaigns like Try Tennis Free and Play Tennis Fast. At the same time, it cannot afford to ignore baby boomers, who are so important to the market.

The study found that there were almost 15 million people who were “interested in playing tennis” and another 12 million, who consider themselves tennis players but have not played in the last year. These people were seen to represent a real opportunity to grow the sport.

In an effort to combat some of the negative indicators in the sport Kurt Kamperman, USTA Chief Executive Community Tennis, unveiled the “Rally the Family” initiative. In essence, the objective is to increase participation by positioning tennis as a family activity, rather than a sport.

“To the millennial family today, sports means a lot of work, a lot of expense and a lot of travel,” he said. “And that’s not for everybody.”

Kamperman said the use of lower compression red, orange and green tennis balls, along with shorter courts; shorter rackets and modified scoring can bring more children into the game in a fun, social way.

“Tennis can be a sport that families play in a driveway,” he said, “and an activity just like running, just like playing Monopoly.”

The USTA and the TIA have come together for the “Rally the Family” programme and will be collaborating on a test programme within six geographical areas. Testing will take place in Autumn 2015 with a planned roll-out for Spring 2016. Businesses within the tennis industry were encouraged to get involved with social media and local events to take the “Rally the Family” message out. 

Greg Mason, TIA President, said: “This is first time in at least five or six years that the USTA and the industry has really come together to get people on the court and the opportunity is with us now.” 

The positioning of tennis as an activity, which is more about having fun than results and outcomes is set to be at the heart of the US TIA’s work to re-invigorate and grow tennis participation.

2014vs. 2013
Total Tennis Economy$5.73 billion +3%
Total Participation17.9 million +1%
Youth Tennis Participation (ages 6-12)2.14 million +4%
Youth Tennis Participation (ages 13-17)2.23 million +9%
Core tennis players (>10 times a year)9.91 million -1%
Cardio Tennis1.62 million 
The US Tennis Industry at a Glance
2014vs. 2013
Tennis Rackets2.96 million -4%
Tennis Balls124 million -3%
Red, Orange, Green Tennis Balls5.54 million +4%
Tennis Strings3.16 million -10%
Manufacturer Year-end Wholesale Shipments (units)