Transforming our business
It seems certain that when we come out the other side of this pandemic, our industry will have undergone a transformation. Business will not be usual. Local leagues and tournaments, lessons and clinics, facility maintenance, equipment care and traditional playing norms will all be altered to account for the coronavirus.
Along with the USTA, the entire tennis community has already begun contemplating the best practices for when things open up—ideas such as keeping gates to courts open to avoid handling them; using disinfectant after each lesson; prohibiting pros from sharing balls, carts or equipment; feeding done by ball machine and then picked up with a ball mower and tubes; and using two cans of balls during competition, each reserved for individual serving. These are just jumping-off points; undoubtedly this list will grow.
Clubs that relied on clinics, tournaments and league play for dependable revenue will need to revamp their business models. With people less inclined to congregate in groups, they will have to look at ways of attracting more individual clients. It could be in the form of enhanced on-court technology for technical analysis, or using digital means—online coaching, virtual classes—to connect with and help students without having to do it in person.
The pro shops that have treaded water during this period have done so by utilizing their online presence and offering curbside services. Those features will only be further emphasized going forward. Playing up the value of regular equipment care serves a two-fold purpose: frequent re-gripping and restringing not only helps improve performance, but is more hygienic, as well.
In my capacity as gear editor for Tennis Magazine and tennis.com, I’ve been in touch with several major equipment manufacturers over the past few weeks. They currently have their latest releases stocked and are eager to unveil them. They also realize that circumstances warrant flexibility. Zoom calls may have to replace in-store visits, and shelves may not be quite as stocked as in years past. But they recognize their success is tied to that of the sellers and hope to fashion creative solutions. No doubt, the discussion and reviews of these products could use a fresh perspective, as well.
Tennis has often been accused of not being forward-thinking. But now, resulting out of necessity, change has come. Let’s take what we’ve learned and make the sport better for it.
Jon Levey is a writer for Tennis Magazine and tennis.com.