“We know that it will take some time to turn around the decline in participation,” said Paul Burditt, Head of Insight and Strategy at the Lawn Tennis Association, “But we know who and where the growth segments are and can work with their needs.”
Speaking at the 2016 Business of Tennis Forum, Burditt’s keynote speech, titled “Growing the Game: Challenges, Opportunities” addressed the barriers to participation and identified potential areas of growth.
There is no shying away from the fact that tennis participation is in decline.Sport England’s Active People Survey – which measures adults who played at least once a month – has fallen by 16% in the past ten years to 730,800 in 2015.
However, Burditt believes there is some cause for optimism, revealing that the rate of decline has fallen from eight per cent to three percent by the start of the year, and in the May had actually slowed to zero. He also identified that there are 5.3 million adults in the UK who played tennis at least once in the last year – showing a depth of following around the game, and it is this area of the market that the LTA is keen to tap into.
Through detailed analysis of tennis participation data, research into behaviours and attitudes among a range of audiences, and surveys, the LTA has developed a detailed profiling of the types of people who play tennis.
From the Tennis Titans (14%), for whom tennis is a passion, to the Social Butterflies (14%) who play a few times during the summer with friends, players have been grouped into six segments based on their tennis habits.
“By having these six segments we can better understand their needs and respond to what they want from tennis, and this will help us rebuild the base and grow the game,” explained Burditt. “It really helps us visualise our players and get closer to their needs and these are the segments that we always think of when planning campaigns or products.”
The LTA has identified two of the segments – the Wimbledon Warriors and Seasonal Spinners as areas for potential growth. The Wimbledon Warriors are typically men (84%) with an average age of 26, who love all sports. Tennis is currently confined to the summer, when they play a few competitive matches with their friends in the park. While the current frequency of play is low to medium, the desire to play more is high, which is why this audience of 950,000 is a key focus for the LTA.
The other target segment are the Seasonal Spinners, who are typically women (83%) under 40 who play tennis during the spring and summer as a mix of keeping fit, developing skills and socialising. Tennis Tuesdays is one of the products aimed at this market of 900,000 players.
In a bid to drive participation this summer, the LTA has piloted an advertising campaign, which ran from May 9 to June 12 and delivered across a variety of platforms, including television, local radio, digital media, social media and billboards. Radio ads encourage people to search for tennis in their local area while the outdoor ads will direct players to their nearest court. The focus areas for radio and Out of Home advertising are Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester.
“We want to appeal to our Wimbledon Warriors and Seasonal Spinners and get them out earlier in the year,” said Burditt. “This year it was a regional test campaign, and if we get board approval the plan is to roll out nationally in 2017. The indications are from our tracking of it that it is performing in line with expectations.
“In particular it’s great that the radio ad has achieved such traction. It has high cut-through and we always intended it to deliver frequency – to keep prompting people to play tennis, while signposting where people can play through the outdoor campaign.
“We are also pleased how our partners and key stakeholders have got behind the “Go Hit It” brand and strapline – including the BBC on their sport and tennis homepage. It is really becoming a call to action and rallying cry.”
With focus on parks tennis (33% of the 5.3 million players played in the parks last year), the LTA is determined to fight the misconceptions surrounding the sport and breaking down the barriers to playing tennis.
“We do have a real opportunity to rebuild the base and rebuild sustainable clubs and park,” said Burditt. “We are already making significant progress in slowing the rate of decline and building foundations for the future.”