COVID-19 may have claimed one of 2020’s Grand Slams, but tennis’ strong grassroots performance has been reinforced by new data showing that it enjoyed a significant boost in participation in the United States.
The figures come from Sports Marketing Surveys’ annual Physical Activity Council (PAC) participation research on behalf of the TIA and other industry partners, which tracks the number of participants, as well as providing key metrics like play frequency and participation demographics in 116 sports across the USA.
There are currently four million more American tennis players than at the end of 2019, taking the total number of players across the country to 21.6m. To underline the scale of the growth, the rise is enough to make it, in percentage terms, the fifth fastest growing of the 116 sports SMS tracks.
The surge is made up of 6.8m new and returning participants. Only 2.8m people played in 2019 but did not do so in 2020. This produced the net increase of 4 million. Recent years have typically seen relatively similar levels of participants coming into and out of the sport – around 4m to 5m new/returning participants and a roughly equal number leaving tennis.
These encouraging figures corroborate a range of recent SMS reporting. The TIA Tennis Shipment monitor, produced by SMS, showed an increase in racquet and ball sales into the market throughout the pandemic.
Coronavirus, it seems, was more disruptive to many of the sport’s competitors for leisure time and dollars than it was to tennis, which can be played safely while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Clubs and facilities were also quick to react to help keep tennis safe and open, adopting a range of measures including regular sanitation and reduced lesson and session sizes.
That was not the case for many other sports and activities. Several of the sports which experienced drops in participation in 2020 were those requiring either gym access or expensive personal equipment. Cross training and stationary cycling both showed annual participation declines above 30% in 2020. It might be telling, therefore, that on the retail side, tennis’ highest bounce in 2020 was in value racquets, those costing under $50 at trade price. Ensuring cost-effective access to courts and equipment is paramount to sports in the current climate.
Commenting on the findings, Keith Storey, President of Sports Marketing Surveys, said: “In the past, we’ve often used the analogy of a leaky bucket to describe tennis participation in the USA. There has never been a problem getting new people into the sport, but every year, as many people were leaving the sport. This year, both parts of the equation have changed, and brands, retailers and federations must all share the credit. Not only have we seen more people encouraged to take up tennis, but we those who were already playing were much less likely to stop. Our participation data, alongside insights from the tennis shipment programme and our monthly retail audit of sales to consumers, all point in the same direction, to tennis’ bucket being much less leaky in 2021.”
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