IT’S HARD TO FIND MANY INDUSTRIES that weren’t affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennis, pickleball, and other racquet sports were not immune to the challenges faced by lockdown and quarantine. The professional tour was halted for over six months, and teaching professionals across the country were left without an opportunity to do their job.
While it’s hard to imagine such a moment resulting in success, the outlook for the racquet sports industry may be stronger than ever. Participation has skyrocketed, and innovation has led to growth across the board.
CASH FREE AND EASY
First and foremost, the pandemic forced businesses of all kinds to make online, paperless, and cash-free registration a reality.
“Moving to a simple and efficient online payment software had been a priority for us for a long time,” said Scott Colebourne, chief operating officer of Cliff Drysdale Tennis. “The pandemic really expedited our process and it’s been a game-changer. Customers love the ease of booking, and the clubs can schedule and manage capacities much easier.”
Making it easier to sign up for clinics, lessons, and court reservations led naturally into a strong marketing campaign to get players back out on court, and more importantly, drive new players into tennis. The USTA’s “Get Out and Play” campaign was a driving force during the U.S. Open, and an overall message of outdoor activity in a sport that lends itself naturally to social distancing has made an impression on many.
Cabin fever combined with the risk of virus transmission indoors gave tennis an opportunity to excel. Still, the safety measures clubs and locales put in place were crucial in winning client trust. Low ratios on court, enhanced sanitation, and mask mandates when social distancing wasn’t possible were just a few of the ways to gain that trust.
“Our priority during this entire pandemic has been the safety of our members, guests, and staff,” said Kimberly Arena, vice president of sales and marketing for Cliff Drysdale Tennis. “It’s not enough to just say we’re going to keep you safe; our marketing message was the actual execution and content behind the operations at our clubs. Transparency in our business has never been more important.”
Of course, it wasn’t just tennis that saw players itching to get back on court. Racquet sports such as pickleball, already one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and padel are both flourishing as a fun and healthy social activity.
“Our padel courts have never been busier, and people appreciate the chance to be around their friends and family more than ever,” said Ximena Trujillo, membership and padel manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, Miami. “I encourage all our tennis players to try padel, and our padel players to try tennis, because all of these sports compliment each other very well.”
SIGNS OF A REBOUND
The last element of the industry to come back has been travel. With no tournaments in the U.S. allowing fans and a general anxiety towards exposing yourself to new places, most players have stayed close to home. But as the fall rolls around and everyone tries to adjust to a new school and work schedule, racquet sport travel experiences have begun to pick back up in popularity.
“We have been really pushing for locals and drive-in traffic to enjoy ‘staycations’ at our resort locations,” said Katie Steck, director of experiences for Cliff Drysdale Tennis. “After many tough months we’ve been encouraged by the excitement and registration numbers for some of our modified camp offerings.
“The hardship and devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home for so many, including us here at Cliff Drysdale Tennis,” Steck said. “So many individuals have experienced health challenges, loss of employment, and financial stress. But as we strive to come out the other side of this pandemic stronger, it’s been encouraging to see leaders in the industry using this opportunity to promote safe play and innovation. If early indicators are a sign for the future, the racquet sports industry may have more potential than ever.”