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Annual Tennis Forum Presents Insights, Challenges and Opportunities

18 Sep, 2017


The 10th Annual Tennis Industry Association (TIA) Tennis Forum was held in New York City on Aug. 28, the first day of play at the US Open, and the audience of nearly 300 tennis industry leaders heard the latest news about the state of the tennis industry, updates on grow-the-game initiatives, and business insights, along with a spotlight on tennis innovation.

TIA President Jeff Williams kicked off the event, which took place at the Intercontinental New York Barclay, the official hotel of the men’s ATP Tour. He introduced Katrina Adams, the president, CEO and chairman of the board of the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), who discussed the “strategic transformation” and renovations at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the new youth tennis initiative called “Net Generation” that is “providing a safer environment” for youngsters, and the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.

Adams also mentioned the success of the USTA’s Player Development program. “The U.S. now has more men and women in the top 100 than any other country,” she said.

Kevin Kempin, the president and CEO of Head USA, introduced the 2017 inductee into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame—his longtime friend and colleague David Haggerty. Haggerty currently is the president of the International Tennis Federation, has worked for leading tennis manufacturers and is a past president of the USTA and TIA.

After accepting a plaque from Williams and Kempin, Haggerty spoke about the need for tennis to work together. “Too often, tennis acts unilaterally, doing what each body thinks is best for them, without thinking about what is best for the sport, the fans and the industries that support tennis,” Haggerty said. “From an ITF perspective, you have our commitment to work together. While there are challenges, there are opportunities. We need to do everything we can to grow this sport. You all are here to give something back to this sport we love.”

USTA Initiatives

Kurt Kamperman, USTA chief executive–Community Tennis and National Campus, spoke about how, while the “obesity epidemic gets all the attention,” the bigger issue is that “we live in a sedentary society,” in which adults and children simply aren’t moving.

“How are we going to win with kids?” asked Kamperman. “We need to go where the kids are—schools and after-school programs. We also need to engage with kids and parents digitally.” He spoke about Net Generation, the new youth platform for tennis that is rolling out to consumers during the US Open.

Kamperman also talked about the challenges of bringing more millennials to tennis. “Youth aren’t our only challenge today,” he said. “Millennials are less active, addicted to digital devices and are ‘samplers,’” meaning they don’t stick with one sport or activity. For millennials, “tennis needs to be social, fun and fitness-oriented—programs like ‘Sets in the City’ and Cardio Tennis,” for example.

“The only way we all win is to create new players,” Kamperman said. “The USTA can’t grow tennis on its own. If you’re waiting for the USTA to make things better, you’ll be waiting a long time. We need everyone all in.”

Industry Research: Following Kamperman, TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer and Sports Marketing Surveys Vice President Keith Storey presented the latest industry research. The most recent data by the Physical Activity Council (PAC) shows that total U.S. tennis participation grew 0.6 percent from 2015 to 2016, to a total of 18.08 million players. Among the bright spots is a 7.2 percent increase in youth tennis players and a 16.7 percent increase in Cardio Tennis players over the past year.

However, total “play occasions” fell in the past year, down 4.8 percent to 425 million. And equipment sales continue to decline for racquets, balls and strings.

While overall participation increased slightly, “core” participation—those who play at least 10 times a year—is down 13 percent over the last eight years. “Core players account for 81 percent of the money spent in the ‘tennis economy’ and 93 percent of all tennis play occasions,” de Boer said.

The increase in “casual” participation, Storey said, is partly due to millennials who “don’t like to commit to the old business models we subscribe to.” In the past year, Storey added, “we gained 3.8 million players, but lost 3.5 million—still a ‘leaky bucket.’”

But, “latent demand” for tennis remains strong. The PAC study shows that nearly 15 million non-players are interested in tennis, and another 12.7 million Americans “consider themselves players” but may not have been on court in the last two years.

Next to address the audience was world-renowned retail expert Dan O’Connor, the founder of RetailNet Group and the 2017 Fellow with Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. O’Connor spoke about “Re-Inventing Commerce—Building Brands on Digital Platforms,” and discussed trends in retailing and the changing consumer, and how it applied to the tennis industry.

Tennis Innovation Challenge: Following O’Connor, the “Tennis Innovation Challenge” took center stage, with five-minute presentations by the three finalists in the competition: AccuTennis, an interactive line-calling system; In/Out, a portable line-calling device that uses radar technologies; and Playmate iGenie, a ball machine with innovative calibration and programming. More than 30 new products and services applied for the Innovation Challenge.

The panel of judges voted Silicon Valley start-up In/Out the winner of the unique competition. In/Out (www.inout.tennis) is a $199 device that attaches to the net post and calls lines, analyzes shot placement and statistics, and records HD video. It even connects to an Android or iOS device.

In/Out founder Gregoire Gentil’s informative and entertaining presentation won over the judges and the audience of industry leaders and stakeholders. As the winner, In/Out receives $1,000, a national press release to thousands of news outlets with a potential reach to millions of consumers, coverage in Tennis Industry magazine, a one-year TIA membership, and additional exposure through industry marketing and social media channels.

The Innovation Challenge was moderated by Carlos Salum, president of Salum International Resources and a member of the SportsCouncil Silicon Valley (SCSV), which co-sponsored the Challenge with the TIA. Judges were Julien Blin, CEO and co-founder of SportsCouncil Silicon Valley; Walid Fattah, entrepreneur and co-founder of Kourts, specializing in mobile apps and tennis management systems; Dr. Mark Kovacs, a performance physiologist, researcher, professor, author, speaker and coach; Dr. Stuart Miller, senior executive director of the International Tennis Federation; and Royce Wolfe, principal of Thru Traffic Marketing LLC marketing development, innovation and strategy consultancy.

Future of Tennis & Tech Sessions: Following the Tennis Forum and Innovation Challenge, SCSV presented Future of Tennis & Tech sessions, with topics including wearable tech, virtual reality, data analytics, e-sports, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, drones and more. Tech companies also displayed their products and services at a “Tech Fair” event.

Thirteen start-up companies participated in a session that focused on how technology can help the tennis business. In addition, former pro player, legendary coach and Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone participated in a panel on “Tennis and Performance Monitoring.”

A second Future of Tennis & Tech session included a keynote by Rishi Bhatnaghar, the CEO of Syntelli Solutions, on how data analytics can help tennis grow. The session also included a panel discussion on tennis and tech with former pro players Christo Van Rensburg and Bobby Blair, Dr. Stuart Miller of the International Tennis Federation, and Dr. Mark Kovacs, a performance physiologist, researcher, author and coach.

“We are excited that our collaboration with the SportsCouncil Silicon Valley generated such interest in tennis and technology,” said the TIA’s de Boer. “We had excellent and informative speakers and panelists, and extremely engaged companies whose products will clearly help this sport and industry grow.”

The TIA will continue reaching out to tennis providers, owners and managers to promote the benefits of sports technology to the tennis industry at its next major event, the TOM Conference (Tennis Owners & Managers), which will be April 8-11 in Charleston, S.C. For more information, visit TennisIndustry.org.

About the TIA: The Tennis Industry Association, the not-for-profit trade association for tennis, is THE unifying force in the tennis industry whose mission is to promote the growth and economic vitality of the business of tennis by working closely with its industry partners and in support of the USTA in their development of initiatives to increase tennis participation. Core TIA activities include producing more than 70 U.S. and global research reports annually on participation and consumer/trade research, managing the largest relational database, along with hosting annual TIA Tennis Forum, Leadership meetings and the T.O.M. Conference at major tournaments and events. Visit TennisIndustry.org or call 866-686-3036.

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