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League Play Doesn’t Always Add To Lifetime Member Value

Ladies USTA Team

How Users Can Be Abusers and Team Players May Lower the Value of Your Membership and Club

From a management viewpoint, clubs are businesses. In these uncertain times, this is an even more crucial viewpoint. Clubs need to show positive cash flow, year-in, year-out. Each event should show a positive cash flow.

Pricing, supply and demand, and life-time value of customers/members all enter into the equation. Several market-based rules apply. One is: You can always lower a price; you can’t easily raise one. Associated with this is one adage usually held in even higher regard by some marketers: A customer garnered through a low-priced offer will always have a lower life-time value.

This adage alone recommends keeping initiations and dues at the higher limit that demand allows. You may lose a few member prospects due to higher joining costs along the way, but members that do join are almost always better “customers” of the club with a higher life-time value across a longer membership.

Customer life-time value is the profit margin a company expects to earn over the entirety of their business relationship with the average customer. Let’s change the wording: Members’ lifetime- value is the profit margin a club expects to earn over the entirety of membership with the club. Let’s break this down a little.

To calculate on a large scale, an average member’s value to the club can be estimated for each newly acquired member taking into account the acquisition costs (marketing and operating expenses) and the cost of the services provided (professional fees, balls, training aids, etc). This gives us an average value for each member. This average fluctuates on the variables of how often a member purchases, the value of those purchases and how long that member retains membership. Or simply as a mathematical equation, to look at each member individually:

Member Lifetime-Value = Average Value of Sale × Number of Transactions × Retention Time Period × Profit Margin

Does League Play Add to Your Facility’s Bottom Line?

We all know the delicate balancing act that Directors of Tennis face when it comes to teams and league play. Interclub teams, USTA team offerings and other organized play are rife with politics. If allowed, teams and leagues can dominate a director’s and his staff’s time.

Leagues do serve a purpose. They create competitive and regular play at little or no cost to players. And here lies the dilemma. With play organized at little or no cost, how can a club and director keep a perceived and real value to the club and the program? Here a delicate balance must be struck: free and low-cost play versus the perceived membership value (intangible) and real life-time value of membership (tangible).

A question always asked is whether to charge for team practices to raise the value and spending of team members. Should the charge be weekly by attendee, where some team members may show up, or should each member be charged in advance, leveling the playing field? Another option is this: those who show up for practice get first dibs on that week’s match.

All three variations have benefits but all three also have issues. In terms of revenues and life-time values, the upfront charge (maybe including a fee for a uniform and match balls as well) can really add to life-time value. If team practices are mandatory and paid for in full, the average life-time value of a member goes up. If not, more often than not, the average life-time value of a member goes down, significantly.

Over the years there have been two methods of dealing with such league play. The avenues taken vary between clubs, and are dependent on a number of factors. Some of these factors include the level of control (aka micro management) a director desires over his or her program. Another factor is how the club operates on a revenue basis in relation to the ideals and ethos of the club. These two factors usually dictate a hands-on or a hands-off approach to teams and leagues, and the politics they create. They also play a large role in the perceived and real value of membership.

Leagues or Bust? Well, No. Look at Life-Time Value

Number of transactions and average value of sale is what always sticks in my mind as I watch a 9.0 mixed doubles league team take up 3 courts at peak time under the lights on a Thursday night. Teams take courts. courts that could be creating revenue. Teams also gobble up the time and attention of staff, from front desk up through to the director. These are costs, and yet, more often than not, revenues from teams do not cover the operating costs of the offer. Your cost of goods is higher than your retained prices.

If one takes into account membership initiation fees and membership dues, perhaps a slightly prettier picture is painted. However, those fixed revenue streams should really be saved for capital expenditures and facility improvements.

Often, a ladies’ or men’s team, if unhappy at a facility, will threaten their memberships collectively. Club managers and directors get wrapped up in the “heat of the moment” and think of massive losses if a team walks away. In reality, more often than not, these teams are not adding to members’ lifetime-values. Statistical data show that team members rarely take private lessons or jump in a clinic. but rely on inexpensive team practices for their instruction. Aside from uniforms, usually purchased after negotiating a discount for the team members, there are few purchases in general from team members. Team members travel as a pack and save money as a pack.

Another cost factor is an intangible. Every time a club team takes to the courts, half the players are non-members. Clubs are so particular about guest fees and how often guests may play per month or annually, but here, every weeknight or 10am on weekdays in Palm Beach County, most club courts are filled with 50 per cent non-members who are playing for free. Do the leagues pay guest fees? No. Maybe that is a bridge too far. Leagues do serve to provide competitive play. But the intangible, and often heard, perception is always there: who are all these non-members at peak times. creating another balancing act for director and manager? Even more importantly, league play preempts member use at peak times, creating another balancing act for director and manager. There is a cost to the club or facility that cannot be measured, but can be very high in member morale, non-usage and lost revenues and perception.

Teams and Covid-19 Are Opportunities

League play is an opportunity for profitability and adding life-time value, but one that has to be created correctly really from the outset with new ownership or a new director. And when that opportunity is taken, management and staff have to be on the same wavelength. As we resume play and leagues come back from the Pandemic, that opportunity appears once again.

Once a team is allowed to operate on a low-cost basis, it will be difficult to raise that revenue stream. However, a change in director, management, ownership or an elongated pause from play created by a pandemic allows for a resumption of league play under new guidelines. As league play commences, create a perception of value by charging adequate prices for all team practices, offer a warm up, and charge for uniforms and balls in full. If the team bucks and objects, well that is unfortunate. That team might leave and find a new club to call home, which often happens. But on the bright side, your membership life-time value just went up.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He is a graduate of Duke University and The London School of Economics.

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Liquidity, Availability, and Flexibility – Clubs’ Needs For Reopening and Restructuring

board room accountant meeting

By Ed Shanaphy
B.A. Duke University, M.A. The London School of Economics
President BeyondTheBaselines.com – SBW Associates, Inc

These are unprecedented times, but they will come to an end. Whether this summer, or in early 2021, Covid-19 will finally subside and we as an industry across the nation must be ready. Club managers, owners, and boards of governors should have a short-term and long-range plan for reopening. Reopening requires liquidity, availability and flexibility.

Prior to opening, as a club manager or owner, you have a single opportunity to restructure the tennis and fitness departments. All bets are off as you return and bring staff back to work. Most clubs and businesses are predicting a revenue drop of approximately 30 percent over the next 18 to 24 months and preparations for the change that Covid-19 will bring to bear on the country club and the tennis and fitness industries must be weighed in appropriately before any plans are finalized.

Liquidity

Liquidity is essential. The access to cash and funding is a necessity, whether you are a facility employing a director or “farm out” your tennis or fitness department to a director running a business within your club structure. Many clubs are unable to apply for Small Business Association funding, whether excluded as a 501(c)7 social club or simply red tape. But if by chance your club or facility was successful in its application for SBA loans or grants, that is a great help to retain staff and cover payroll costs during these weeks and months that clubs are not operational.

If you were not able to get through the paperwork for government funding, there are other avenues to liquidity. There are emergency disaster loans from most states. If your club or facility has a long association with a bank, you can often receive bank funding at a low percentage rate using club assets as collateral. Finally, if your facility or club has an excellent credit rating or Dun & Bradstreet report, it should not prove too difficult to gain some more liquidity if required to restart from industry financiers. What we must take away from this as club managers, governing bodies and advisors is that the term “savings for a rainy day” must be now essential business management as we move forward and budget accordingly.

Most clubs run at a fixed cost, whether they are open or closed. Staying closed longer puts more money in the club’s coffers, but members might become impatient and ask for partial or pro-rated refunds of membership dues. It’s a delicate balancing act for any club manager and board of governors.

Depending on refunds to members or clients, clubs remaining closed longer may and should have access to savings and funding bigger than any contractor working within the framework of the club. We have encountered many clubs guaranteeing the independent contractors running their tennis and fitness departments funding for costs incurred, such as overheads, retail purchases for golf, tennis and fitness shops, and payroll. These loans from the clubs in most cases will be paid back over the next season of full service.

As we move forward through this crisis, there is a possibility of assessing a membership for a planned project which could help instill cash into a club as the revenue streams come recover. This could be a somewhat riskier method in that it relies on timing of the recovery and a strong economy coming back to fore in 2021 and beyond.

However you find cash, it’s imperative that the club or facility has enough to remain a viable concern and to be flexible when reopening, something we will look at below.

Availability

One of the top three desires and wants of any membership is availability of staff and management to members. The CoronaVirus era hasn’t changed that. In this era, in-person communication is not truly possible, so communication is left to substitute for availability. Communication should be planned, positive and productive. Communications with staff should be daily, especially with department heads who are planning the minutiae of reopening their departments.

Communication with stakeholders, whether clients or members, should be relevant and frequent. Both the club manager and the department heads should be reaching out often to members or stakeholders. Outlining the plan to reopen, the new regulations that will be in effect at the club, and the overall, continuing finances of the club should be part of weekly updates.

Zoom or Skype meetings with stakeholders should be held at least twice a month, if not more often as the facility moves through the CoronaVirus era and looks to reopen in the coming weeks and months. Newsletters via email, communications via text and letters and cards through the old-fashioned “snail mail” can play a part as people are stuck at home. These communications should focus on how you are looking to safe-guard the facility, the members, players and staff members, along with protecting the stakeholders value.

Both club managers and department heads should be at their home desks with the phone nearby. It’s reassuring for members and staff to know that you are on the other end of the line or email message. And, even though you might not hear from them, they’ll realize and understand that you are there providing a service. It creates value for you, for the club, for the program and club staff.

Positive communication with staff is essential in these times to keep morale high and to lead staff thoughtfully and effectively through a crisis such as Covid-19. Questions to be prepared for are numerous and your plans for restructuring your club’s staff must be solid with a mind to possible future changes given the fluid situation. But we believe in numbers – studying the numbers and reports over the past 12 to 18 months should help you decide how to move forward looking at a possible reduction in revenues up to a possible 30 percentage points in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Flexibility

As a club manager or governor, this is the opportunity you have been waiting for. This is the chance to make that professional who is not at the top of your list a part-time or seasonal employee, saving you 401k matching payments, healthcare and other benefit costs. This is your chance to move up that instructor who has been grinding for you with the 10 and under tennis players on the back courts to a more senior position and to create more club revenues by renegotiating that individual’s contract while at the same time lifting that instructor’s pay scale. Everything can be done and restructured under the “guise” of Covid-19

With all that is said about keeping jobs, we all know what is coming after this unexpected cessation of trade: Restructuring. And for those governing boards, general managers and club managers, this is, however you look at it, your chance to weed the wheat from the chaff.

As we all look forward to a new trading opportunity after being shutdown through lockdowns, the realization that a club could possibly save more money closed than as a going concern came as a surprise to many. With or without member refunds, driving down the costs of personnel, letting those instructors go who are on higher salaries or stipends, and perhaps looking at cross-training some positions, is all something each and every club and facility should not just be planning, but doing.

Payroll Folder
Liquidity will retain instructors

In the short term, any club or facility must maintain its staff. Do remember, in addition, that there is basically a stoppage of all legal immigration through at least June 23rd, which means that any H-1B visas and foreign temporary workers are not going to be here through the summer season. Summer will be affected for those seasonal clubs, but this too is a chance to restructure looking toward Summer 2021. Being flexible with staff is key.

With those foreign, temporary workers requiring replacement, the PPP loan or EIDL and Small Business Administration grants, can be used as a short-term method to keep the department or facility in line and ready. The upward revenue curve following the height of the crisis will be slow and proportional, and in line with CDC guidelines. This extended, slow rebuild is a club’s opportunity to effectively restructure. This period should give us some clues as to the long term cash flow and revenues over the next 12 to 18 months. We outline below some ideas that should be discussed as reopening starts to occur.

  • Restructuring Staff
    • Flow Charts – this is your chance to reset reporting structures. Ensure, for example, that the holdover pro who has remained outside of management and supervision for the last 10 years shall now report to the new Director of Junior Development. And enforce that new structure upon opening.
    • Reporting structures should be updated and formulated to new needs. Weekly reports should be required from all instructors and directors to club management detailing new membership drives, communication with non-active members, new and possible revenue streams and conflicts between staff and members. These reports should follow the organizational flow chart: i.e. junior instructors report to Junior Director who in turn reports to Director of Tennis who then reports to the General Manager.
    • Seasonal Positioning and pushing year-round staff members to a seasonal contract could be highly useful. Not sure where and when CoronaVirus will leave us, and where there are seasonal differences in revenue streams, it’s essential we look at those revenue curves weekly in terms of staffing. Shortening the season for the summer might save clubs over-paying for staff when members might not be present due to local rentals being curtailed. It’s also an opportunity to make year-round staff seasonal aimed at the peaks of member usage, saving on 401k and healthcare costs.

  • Restructuring 1099 Contractors
    • We have long been advocating a revision in straight hourly rates for 1099 instructors. As we work with clubs, we look to create incentives for your instructors.
      • Rentals versus Hourly Rates: With fixed income from club departments becoming essential in recovery, why not charge fixed rentals (as do corporate gyms with their personal trainers who are 1099 contractors) and split that rental revenue between the club (75% and the Director 25%). Once the rental is reached, 100% of revenues could go to the 1099 instructor. This model creates massive incentive for instructors to teach both private sessions and groups as well as club-based programs. But more importantly, it guarantees a fixed revenue from all instructors to the club.
    • Create incentives for directors and instructors favoring group and clinic teaching over private lessons on the courts or sessions on the gym floor. This will help rebuild the group teaching ethos as we are forced to social distance. But more importantly, it will grow revenue for the club immediately upon reopening. Remember, private lessons and sessions conducted by junior staff don’t really add to club or director revenues in a major way.

  • Cuts to compensation and reduction of staff
    • We all know that staff will not look exactly the same as we come out of the pandemic work stoppage. This is not a time to worry about personal relationships with staff. Staff are looking to safeguard their career and might make a move before your plan is initiated. A staff member, who may have been at the club for a very long period, might be forced to have a salary reduction in order to retain his or her position. Given that we will see an estimated 30% drop to most, if not all club and facility revenue streams, cutting salaries and related costs are essential. Perhaps set goals for these long-serving staff members in order to regain their salary over a two to three-year period to show that the club values their work. At the same time, communicate that many staff are being forced to accept a pay cut or have fewer scheduled hours as we rebuild slowly.

Moving Forward

This is a time to make wise business and economic decisions. Study past revenue streams and pro-rate those streams accordingly as we rebuild. Budget conservatively and study the economic comeback locally and nationally as the virus is not uniformly affecting the nation. Use this opportunity to shed non productive staff while creating incentives for valued staff. No one is expecting staff to look exactly the same after the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Use that belief to bring back your club with better staff, leaner departments, and a higher value to member services.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He served for 17 years as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Haysbridge (UK) Ltd, a marketing and advertising international conglomerate, operating in 16 countries with offices in Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia with head offices in London, England. BeyondTheBaselines.com is a US-based consultancy which aims to bring additional resources to governing bodies and general managers and has some of the most elite country clubs in the nation as clients.

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Creating Hindsight By Slowing Down Those Vocal Club Members

Consulting for clubs can be educational on both sides of the board table and during a recent search for a Director of Tennis, we heard one of the best answers to a routine question.

It was late in the day and the search committee was interviewing its fourth candidate of the day. There was a pause in the interview room and the search committee members looked at me as we all struggled with just too much information for one day.  I usually supply a list of standard questions to the search committee prior to the day of interviews and I glanced at that document and thought about questions I regularly ask. One came to mind, but this time I modified it.

Usually, I ask a candidate something along the lines of: “If a more vocal member came up to you as the Director of Tennis and asked for the umpteenth time about the seeding of next month’s singles club championships, how would you respond? If they pushed for a certain seeding situation, how would you deal with that member?” This situation is one of the most common at a tennis club. It’s right up there with a brand new member of a club asking: “But why can’t I have the most popular fitness trainer from 9am to 11am each day of the week for a private session?”

But this final candidate in the interview room was good and I wanted to let him shine in front of the committee.

So, this time, I made it harder: “A helicopter parent comes up to you and demands that his daughter, who can barely hit a volley and has never used a continental grip, be upgraded from the appropriate court where she now plays. He is demanding you to move her to the 15-year old high school court of juniors, where the boys are serving at, say, 70 miles per hour. If you don’t move her up, he will report you to the Board and say that you are unqualified to be Director since you can’t separate the wheat from the chaff.”

At an elite club, like the one for which we were conducting the search, in most cases the club is an “equity club”. An equity club is one in which each member is a part owner, or shareholder, of the club. The club is owned entirely by the membership. So, this vocal father would be, in this case, the Director’s employer in a sense.

There was a slight pause in the interview room and then the candidate looked up and gave what was perhaps the best answer I’ve heard in a long time. “Slow him down. Not with gestures, but with well thought-out questions,” he said. I glanced sideways and waited. The candidate continued. “Ask him why he believes his daughter should move up. And what are the techniques that she has recently mastered to warrant such a move up the clinic levels.”

I’ve always striven to be organized and have the junior programming outlined with pre-requisites for each level of junior clinics. Pre-requisite is a word I learned during my  college years when I had to change my major after failing calculus, a pre-requisite for being an economics major. In fact, what this candidate asked the parent, was to list the pre-requisites of the higher level clinic in order to slow the parent down from his rant. It was a good strategy, because, as the candidate later said explaining his answer: “Most parents can’t define those pre-requisites on the fly.”

But the most interesting thing that this candidate said was: “I try to slow the member down by listening and calmly asking questions.” It’s what we all should do, but too often we get heated and involved ourselves, whether it’s a conversation about a doubles pairing or the cost of healthcare. The candidate continued: “And, usually, when I slow the member down, they realize that what they are asking for might be a bit too much – not always – but usually.”

The candidate was right, of course. Most evenly-tempered people realize the error in their ways when they revisit a situation with a bit of hindsight. Think of all the decisions U.S. Presidents would have made with a little more time and hindsight. What about decisions you have made? Be your own Monday morning quarterback.

Create hindsight during the conversation by slowing down the conversation. Take a time out. Why not calmly create the bubble and distance that hindsight creates immediately by listening and slowing down the vocal member. Why not ask that member the very questions a mom of another child in the more advanced group would ask, not wanting the more vocal member’s less advanced daughter in a clinic with her junior.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com even though he failed Calculus 1 his freshman year at college. 

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A Community Cup – Enriching The Community and Marketing To New Members

Tennis has changed. From the lawns of Wimbledon in the early 1900s and prior to the “Open” Era, through to the advent of the “Open” to the present day, tennis, as with many other sports, has been brought into the 21st Century with professionals representing the sport at the highest levels. It wasn’t always like this. The “grass roots” – no pun intended – still remain in many areas, both nationally and internationally. By grass roots, we mean the country club tennis programs where member participation is strong and those members follow the US Open and other ATP events.  They love Federer… Nadal… they talk about the semi-finals and how Halep came through. But largely, these club programs have not much to do with tennis as a professional sport, or even tennis for the masses.

The professionals-to-be come more from the middle class and attend academies such as IMG, Saddlebrook, Rick Macci and others. The process of gaining and improving a UTR ranking is a full-time job and is not a part of the country club experience. So, we need to realize there is a divide between competitive and professional tennis and the country club.

At the country club level, pressures are being put on staff and programming for member use.  A constant re-evaluation of member services and club usage is required. Behind all this is the need for clubs to consistently find new and active members. It’s all well and good to have a large and diverse membership, but members who are not actively supporting the club are not profitable to the club, nor do they really add to the sustainability of the club. Dues alone are just not enough to sustain a club facility. The members have to be active or the club will struggle.

The Legacy Error – Costing Country Clubs Financially

A few decades ago, clubs, which had always thrived on tradition and legacy, in general made legacies extremely inviting. Due to a national trend, country club membership began to wane. The accepting of children of long-time family members at a reduced “legacy” initiation rate or at lower annual dues in reality has come back to haunt club coffers in the 21st Century. A large percentage of dues-paying members came in at a lower rate, and much like Social Security, the funds are now running low, making it hard to maintain the club finances.

Because of these issues, the drive for new memberships to maintain member-service levels and the facility is crucial and constant.

One of the best ways of attracting new members is by “showing off “the club or facility, but how can we do this? How can we bring potential, active members in large numbers to the club and let them see the club without looking like we are “selling” the club, to both the perspective members and the current members who might not be all that supportive of new memberships and change?

A Community or Charity Cup

Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida might be the best example of such an idea creating an environment for new membership applications, while creating an atmosphere of giving to the less privileged in the community. The Charity Cup, as Kevin Given and Steve Mulvey called it back almost 19 years ago, has grown into a club-wide tournament which garners close to $800,000 per year in charitable giving. We hear members across the country bemoan that they can’t get a member-guest tournament to last more than an extended morning. Imagine a three-day tennis tournament just like those old Member-Guest days, a two-day golf tournament, charity fast walk and run, a “cook-a-thon” from the best local chefs, a duplicate bridge competition, a Saturday night gala at the main clubhouse…. the list goes on, expanded greatly from the first year in which it was just a small golf tournament.

Charity_Cup_Logo_1_(2C) (2)

What really gives The Charity Cup its austere feeling is that the diverse charities selected by the Quail Valley Charities Committee are all represented in so many ways on tournament days. From throngs of volunteers from each of the numerous children’s and local charities earmarked for funding, to the notice boards laced with supporters and charitable organizations alike, The Charity Cup is an inclusive event. The week-long celebration of giving literally puts Quail Valley on the cover of every “culture” insert and at the top of many web-page blogs, if not the front page of Vero Beach Magazine and all the local papers.

Quail Valley also realizes the importance of non-member play over the weekend. A majority of the golf and tennis pairings have at least one non-member playing and the tournament is viewed as the Member-Guest to play in the area. Pairings of non-members are also allowed so it is truly an Open tournament, simply using the club facility – opening the club to the public is attractive to non members.

What better way is there to “show off” a club to perspective members? The club, and its members, not only giving back financially to the community, but also producing the services at a greatly reduced cost. It proves that the club possesses the breadth and knowledge to host such an imposing, community-wide event. Reaching out to the community adds a wonderful perspective to both members and non-members alike.

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Staff Communication Leads To Member Retention

Members we are told are a family. We grow up with the membership and as we stay at a club longer and longer, we become part of that family as we watch the juniors grow into legacy memberships. That’s partly true, but it’s important to keep a fine line between service to the membership and becoming too ingratiated and familiar with the members.

This being said, we often get waylaid by the minutae of a department – the day-to-day banality of billing or inventory.  The day to day business of running a tennis or fitness department can become mind-boggling at times, but it is important that we continue to see through the weeds to our final destination or goal:  a happy membership which participates and funds the club or facility at growing levevls.

Maintaining transparency with the members goes a long way in keeping and retaining key staff. Staff stays motivated for a Director who is in touch with his or her membership and sees the relationship between members and staff as rewarding for both sides.

Communication is often the key. Solid and timely communication, ranging in everything from a text database for quick memos about court conditions, upcoming lessons or sudden changes, to email newsletters well-crafted and organized. Add to the above possible “thank you” cards to a member for doing something special. And what do most directors misunderstand? That these communications should not only come from themselves, but from all their staff. Make staff part of your communcations team, and relationships between members and colleagues will flourish.

  1. Email – Emails are more formal and leave room for marketing and promotional content to be detailed and clear. Email can also be used to aid in the set up to an event or item on the schedule.
  2. Text – Texts are fantastic for short bursts directly to the person or people involved. Examples like a change in lesson time or a booking in the spa is best by text to the member’s cell number.
  3. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – Social media is the newest form of communication that clubs are using. Twitter can be quite personal – tweet a member directly. But we believe that social media is a more general method to sell and promote the club as a whole rather than a department or an event.

What we should understand best is to make such communication using the appropriate technology and aim at making it as personal as we can given the type of media.

Tennis and fitness departments lead to member/member communication as well as member/staff communications at clubs. This all adds to the relationships which are the mainstay of any club. Through personal communications and events, tennis and fitness departments can really add reason for members to retain their membership status.

beyondthebaselines@gmail.com – 508.538.1288

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Is Roger Federer Hurting Tennis At My Club?

by Ed Shanaphy, Director of Tennis

Roger has just won his 20th Grand Slam singles title. Unreal. He’s perhaps the greatest singles player to ever walk on our planet. The accolades are sincere and worthy and it is a pleasure to watch his grace, athletism, and sportsmanship. He is a wonderful role model for younger players. But is he hurting the sport of tennis?

Roger’s entire career was focused and devised with the goal of winning and doing it wisely. He played fewer tournaments than most and, therefore, had fewer ranking points to defend to keep his number one or two spot in the world. Playing fewer tournaments often allowed him to be  healthier than his opponents over the two week fortnight of a slam. He arrived at most of his finals “fresh as a daisy” and having played fewer tournaments in the lead up to the slam, his legs were strong, sturdy and ready. His playing less over the years has allowed his longevity – he was always in it for the long haul and now his strategy is reaping its well-deserved reward.

His marketing and his brand awareness in the industry and media are second to none in all of sport. He’s a world icon leading tennis to new viewership and rating heights. He is an ambassador for our sport, and sport in general, to the world. I really like Roger. But is he hurting the sport of tennis?

Tennis faces many challenges, both new and old. Tennis has moved past the quiet halls of pretigious clubs and into the forefront of national television and “big money” sport. But there are new challenges. These past few years have seen Pickleball take off across the nation. In my hometown of Vero Beach, FL, we’ve seen the changeover of several park and recreation tennis courts to Pickleball. We’ve seen Padel rising up from a grass-roots level in Europe, with last month seeing the International Padel Days Conference in Madrid, Spain. The USPTA now offers a Padel certification. Pop Tennis is a craze in Europe and gaining strength here in the USA. Where will tennis fit in with all these new and vibrant variants?

As a Director of Tennis and having taught the gamut of students in the industry and looking at the tennis industry as a whole, I have one question that keeps recurring: Where else do all those that play a game revere an idol like Roger Federer who plays a different game? By this I mean, I have rarely taught a singles clinic. I rarely teach the heartiest fans of Roger – the men, but mostly, women who set their alarms for 3.30am this past week so as not to miss a point of one of his matches down under – singles. They all play doubles. They rarely, if ever, play singles. Yet, they are Federer’s biggest fans. I am left trying to find a similar situation in other sports.

I once read an essay by William S. Baring Gould about Sherlock Holmes and why a fictional character could have such a fantastic and worldly following as Sherlock. The essay attributed the fame of the greatest consulting detective to the reader actually putting himself or herself in the story. It was the reader who was actually sitting at the fireplace across from Watson. It was the reader who fell in love with Irene Adler. It was the reader who strolled across Whitehall to help solve the government’s issues of the days with treasonous spies.

Roger Federer career statistics
Career finals
Discipline Type Won
Singles Total 96
Doubles Grand Slam tournaments
Year-End Championships

I believe with the NFL, we do think of ourselves in a way of “making that play” with hands outstretched and two feet still inside the green. My daughter and I recreate it all the time in the backyard. Perhaps the juniors of today, who do play singles, do put themselves in Roger’s shoes and hold up the trophy in their minds as I did when I watched Laver and Connors. But ladies who play USTA doubles seem to be even bigger fans than the young guns I teach. It’s difficult to reconcile this fact.

Most of us can’t put ourselves in Roger’s storyline – most of us don’t play singles. With this said, Roger has possibly hurt doubles, and doubles is the game most of us USTA registered players play. Gone are the days when we waited to see John McEnroe come back out for an encore presentation playing doubles with Peter Fleming. Gone are the matches in which Martina Navratilova, having just won the singles championship the previous day, had to come back and play mixed doubles. We loved watching Stan Smith and Bob Lutz come back for more after playing their singles. Not too long ago, we had second chances to see Serena playing with her sister Venus long after they had both lost in the singles. Proof is in the pudding: The most watched match of the Laver Cup was when Roger and Rafa Nadal played doubles – was it the first time most of us had seen Roger play doubles? It was for me.

I am left wondering if Roger is really hurting tennis. We can’t see him do what we do when we hit a cross court lob over two players or open the middle with a dipping topspin winner between the two, clashing racquets of our opponents. He doesn’t play the same game – doubles. We spend hours on court talking doubles strategy with perhaps 95% of our lessons and clinics, and yet we turn on the television with reckless abandon at 3.30am to watch Roger play singles, a game we rarely teach to our students. We teach that one doesn’t really need a big serve in doubles, and yet we tune it to see Cilic and Federer ace it out.

Our challenge is to make Roger relevant to what we do at our clubs and parks and at the recreational level across all demographics. If we don’t accept this challenge as teachers and industry leaders, we will possibly soon see Pickleball courts replacing even more tennis courts in our public and private parks and clubs. Padel will be the new immigrant across our borders – no green card needed for a sport. No chain migration legislation can end a sport’s immigration to our shores.

Roger is a fantastic role model and that helps, but I worry that he’s making the game of doubles almost irrelevant to most of us and, in fact, might be hurting tennis down the road. I hope that those teachers and instructors, far wiser than I, find a way to make Roger relevant to all of us, and find ways to increase participation in the games of singles and doubles and, hence, grow participation in the sport of tennis.