Fronting the tennis industry's new website is a photo of Andy Roddick, the most popular male player in the U.S., roaring like a pinched lion, his right fist pumping. Look closer, and you'll see he might not be celebrating a cross-court winner. The caption reads, "If you are single and looking to meet active people, I definitely would recommend playing tennis." Perhaps Roddick, who recently split with pop singer Mandy Moore, just scored a date. The industry's message to the rest of us: Tennis can turn singles into doubles. Who can blame tennis for serving at love? After all, nothing else has worked to boost the game over the past decade. Since 1992, the number of people who play has dropped 42%, from 17.3 million to 10 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). Apparel sales totaled $254 million in 2002, a 31% decline from 10 years earlier; sales of tennis shoes were down 33% from their 1992 levels. "It's safe to say the tennis business is lethargic right now," says Brian Dillman, vice president of marketing for Wilson Sporting Goods' racquet-sports division, whose profits have fallen 23% since 2000. "There's not much to get excited about."
The sport's country-club partner, golf, is also on the downswing. Participation is flat: annual rounds played have fallen 4.5%, to 494 million, since 2000. In the five-year period from 1997 to 2002, according to the NSGA, spending on golf clubs, balls and apparel shrank from $5.33 billion to $4.6 billion, a 14% drop. Equipment sales fell again last year. Golf has even taken down a Wall Street firm. Gotham Partners, a hedge fund with $300 million in assets, shut down last year because of losses on golf-course investments: too many new courses have been built.
Faced with these depressing figures, the two sports are launching a marketing blitz to attract new players. Each is spending about $10 million on a campaign to generate more interest in the game. It's all taking shape on two new websites: tenniswelcomecenter.com and playgolfamerica.com Both enable players, novice or experienced, to type in a zip code and search for local facilities that offer lessons, leagues and other programs. For the first time, the alphabet fiefdoms of golf and tennis (the PGA, USGA, ATP Tour, USTA and others) and major manufacturers such as Nike, Wilson, Prince and Callaway seem united under a single cause: to persuade more people to put down the remote and spend money on sports. "You've got to appreciate the spirit of this campaign--give these industries credit for coming together," says David Carter, founder of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, a consulting firm. "It's a solid first step for these sports."