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The Key Principles to Operating a Profitable Tennis Program

By Paul MacDonald, USPTA Master Professional

<i>Group lessons make learning fun, create bonds of friendship, are a better value for the student, and generate more revenue
Group lessons make learning fun, create bonds of friendship, are a better value for the student, and generate more revenue
February 2017 -- The key principles to operating a profitable tennis program will vary based on what type of program and the type of club or facility that your tennis program is affiliated with. Most tennis teaching in our country is done at a member-owned club, commercial club with high monthly dues, commercial club with lower monthly or annual dues, or not-for-profit club, school, university or park facility. One may also be a freelance tennis professional teaching on park courts or school courts. The emphasis of your tennis program will vary based on the importance of membership. At a member-owned or commercial club, programs that involve more members will be a top priority. There is value in generating revenue balanced by the need to get and keep members. At a not-for-profit club or park facility, membership might be a non-issue and you might only look at generating the most revenue that you can per hour.

Only run programs that have a potential to be profitable. When you are running tennis programs, remember what Steven Covey wrote in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” “Begin with the end in mind.” Start programs that you think will end up growing and being profitable. 

Membership revenues are equally as important as program revenues. Increasing your club’s membership helps the club, the tennis programs and the other members. As a tennis professional, if you create programs that attract more members, you will become more valuable to your club. An increasing membership will help fill up your programs and give your current members more players to play with.

All clubs are interested in having new beginner tennis players, especially adults. New beginners are the lifeblood of a tennis club’s membership referral program, as they will refer more new members the first year than an advanced player will in five years.

Offer a program for every member, age and level, and have a program where players can go from lower levels to higher levels. Why should a member join your club if you do not have the programs to serve their tennis needs? We know that the majority of tennis players are intermediate players. However if we give all players the opportunity to improve, they will appreciate the chance to upgrade their games. If you have a program that can take a player from the tots beginner level to the adult advanced level, you give yourself the potential to grow at all levels. Ambitious players will love the fact that they can stay and improve with you in your program.

Prioritize court usage by the programs that generate the most revenue, involve the most members and that go for the longest amount of time. For example, the priorities at an indoor club may be: 
  1. Season court time
  2. Group lesson series of 10 weeks
  3. A series of private lessons
  4. A random private lesson
  5. A member utilizing an open court
Special events and tournaments use a large number of courts, but they usually are not the most profitable programs per hour. These need to be weighed case by case to evaluate if they are good for the membership and the bottom line.

Attrition is directly related to the ability of play. If you are a 5.0 player and move into a new city, you probably already have your next club picked out before you close on your home or condo. If you are a 3.0 player, you might delay getting involved back in tennis. People who label themselves as tennis players usually will never give up playing unless they have a medical condition. People who are not as hooked on tennis will find other activities to participate in.

Set aside your most popular time slots for your lower level students. The same phenomena of level of play and player commitment also carry over into your programming decisions. Eliminate all the excuses for lower level players to not sign up for your programs. For example, adult beginner lessons should be offered at your best morning and evening times so that players can begin playing tennis without any obstacles. Your men’s 5.0 team practice can be from 8 to 10 p.m. and attendance will still be good.

Group lessons are a better use of club resources than private lessons.

  1. Group tennis lessons generate more revenue per court hour. For example, a full group lesson with six players per court might generate $150 per hour (six players X $25 per player = $150). A private lesson generates between $66 and $95 per hour. 
  2. Groups create bonds of friendship and improve usage and retention. If a member only plays with a tennis professional, he just has a relationship with the pro. In a group, players will form bonds of friendship that will keep them in the club. 
  3. Groups make learning fun. Sure, you can make a private lesson fun. But a group lesson can be a blast with all of the different games you can play and honest competition with your peers.
  4. Group lessons are a better value for the student. At many clubs, group lessons cost 25 percent of what a private lesson costs.
  5. Group lessons can operate without a specific tennis professional being present. Group lessons can meet with a different tennis professional as a substitute.
  6. Groups meet even if one of the players cannot make the group lesson. And since they have paid, the program, club and tennis professional are guaranteed the money and the student has the opportunity to make up the class in a group that is not full.
  7. Private lessons are canceled if the student cannot make the lesson. The country’s largest club corporation analyzed their private lessons for a one-year period and had a 20 percent cancellation rate for private lesson bookings.
  8. Private lessons are normally canceled if the tennis professional cannot teach the lessons. At our clubs we always offer the students the option to take a private lesson with a substitute tennis professional. Very few of our students take advantage of this service.
  9. Private lessons do not integrate people in the club as well as group lessons. The private lesson taker will normally have a terrific relationship with their tennis professional but not necessarily have found the connections to play with other club members.
Despite the benefits of group lessons, private lessons are a big part of most tennis programs for the following ­reasons.

  1. Private lessons are the fastest way to learn. In a private lesson you can better deal with the tactical, technical and strategic portions of the game. Also, the tennis professional can teach the student in the manner that the student learns best.
  2. Private lessons can fill shoulder court times easier than any program. All it takes is one tennis professional and one student. 
  3. Private lessons can fill some of your prime times during your slower seasons. In the indoor club business, the peak months are November through the end of March. During the fall and spring, many of the juniors will be playing high school tennis and the junior groups will not be full. These are the perfect times to utilize private lessons to keep your tennis professionals and your facility busy.
  4. Private lessons can be the perfect fit for the student who can not make a regular weekly commitment.
  5. Private lessons are essential to creating the coach-student bond that good players crave.
Fill shoulder time with programmed activities. 
  1. Private lessons are a way to fit in that member who cannot attend group lessons at normal times.
  2. Leagues are a great way to have your students play an additional time every week without having to do any game arranging.
  3. Parties are a way to make a club a club. The social component is a huge factor in why people play tennis.
  4. Tournaments are a great way to fill your facility when you do not have member play or lessons.

Hire tennis professionals who enthusiastically can and will teach all levels. At many clubs, a tennis professional will teach ladies team drills, women’s beginner and intermediate lessons,  juniors, and one or more times per week they teach men’s team practice. In these clubs you need a tennis professional who does different types of teaching. 
Agreements should be in writing. Tennis professionals should be provided with a written compensation agreement, employee standards and expectations. Remember, “If it isn’t written, it isn’t so.”

Tennis professionals should know student’s purpose for coming (i.e., lose weight, socialize, learn to play, etc.). One key skill of great tennis professionals is their ability to find out the reason why their students are taking a tennis lesson, and plan the lesson accordingly. 

Tennis professionals need to be business people as well as teachers, athletes, coaches, salespeople, etc. The best tennis professionals understand that their job security is dependent on getting and keeping customers. Having students come back and/or having their students make referrals are the lifeblood of a tennis professional’s career longevity.

Purposes of the club and the tennis professional have to be aligned. Every club and program is different. At the East Bank Club in Chicago, the world’s largest multi-sport club, the tennis program relies on private lessons for the largest portion of their tennis revenue. This is because their tennis professionals are great at teaching private lessons. At Midtown Athletic Club Chicago, the world’s largest tennis club, group programs are their key revenue producer. Their tennis professionals teach group lessons from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. 

Paul MacDonald is the director of tennis at Schaumburg Tennis Plus in Schaumburg, Ill. He is the National Tennis Director of WTS International, a graduate of the USPTA High Performance Coaching Program and is a member of the USPTA Midwest Hall of Fame. He is the Council Chair of the USTA Midwest Junior Pathway and is a member of the USTA National Junior Competition Committee.

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