Are you in the business of tennis or racquet sports?
By: Scott McCulloch
Over the past 3-5 years, there has been a substantial shift in the sports industry with the emergence and growth of more racquets sports. I, like many, initially underestimated this growth and doubted they would build sustainable momentum beyond the initial hype. As we can now agree that presumption couldn’t be farther from today’s reality. So, the question ultimately becomes: where do growing racquet sports like padel and pickleball fit in the racquet sport ecosystem? And, are you in the tennis business…or the racquet sports business?
Up until about two years ago, I was very clearly in the tennis business. Tennis was my background and the core of our business, and the thought of a new racquet sport on the scene was viewed as a threat that could only dilute, even cannibalize, the pool of tennis players we relied on. Once again, that perception was proven incorrect. With the support of our partners, Cliff Drysdale Tennis has embraced the racquet sports movement and invested in it by building padel and pickleball courts at many of our locations and have seen simultaneous growth across all three sports. With that diversification, the company has made a concerted pivot to being in the racquet sports business, and no longer just the tennis business.
There are certainly misconceptions in the industry that appear to pit the sports against each other, forcing us to “choose” which sport we are all in on. Once we eliminated those misconceptions in our business, we have actually found that embracing these sports alongside our traditional tennis clubs has only helped us to grow and offer more value to our current customers, while also attracting a larger audience to our clubs with even more sports and social activities for members and guests to choose from. An added bonus is the substantial crossover within the sports. As players battle injuries, face a mobility change or are simply looking for a new game to enjoy, they can easily transition between the sports or seamlessly add in a new one to their routine.
Incorporating new sports is not without challenges, of course. A primary challenge many clubs face in the early stages of pickleball and/or padel additions is understanding how they fit into their current racquet sports ecosystem. How much or little should these sports be offered? Should more programming or more play be offered? Will pros or players need an education period before these sports can be activated and monetized? The great news is, there is no one right way to accomplish this transition. The most valuable tool for club leaders to rely on is a deep understanding of their current and future customer base and how they will best adapt to these developments.
What I will share, however, is that these three sports can be boiled down into the following traits. Understanding each sport’s customer formula can go a long way in adding it into your current sports mix:
Padel- predominately doubles and provides good court rental revenue and game arranging, leagues and competition is very popular. Also, group lessons and private lessons for new players (kids and adults) are popular. Padel players will travel to play due to lack court options and are very loyal.
Pickleball- incredibly rapid learning curve and you can be playing within your first 15 mins up picking up a paddle. A few introductory classes followed by play options has been a successful approach. Offer member and pro-led mixers as playing will be the prominent piece of the pie coupled with tournaments options. Pickleball players will travel to play and tournaments of 100 player can be hosted over a weekend on 6 courts and become profitable for clubs and attract more players.
Tennis – has been the more dominant of the sports historically and we continue to serve for most (not all) as the primary source of revenue for membership, programming and play and be more of the backbone of the club. This will largely rely of the fact that the club offers play options and programming for all play levels and ages and not just the current playing market.
There is very little to no cost to add pickleball and moderate but justified investment to bring padel into your club. However, in both cases we have seen firsthand the dividends these investments can pay to your bottom line. Transitioning from the tennis business to the racquet business has become the smartest move we could all embrace. As an industry, we need to leverage the growth of racquet sports as a whole so we can collectively attract more customers,
engage them with a variety of options and, just as important, retain them through the stages of their life as each racquet sport can cater to different needs.