Tennis clubs flourish as sport growsWritten by Kristine Hoffman | | email@example.com
Eight years ago, there were five indoor tennis clubs in the Toledo market, with a total of 31 indoor courts: Central Tennis and Fitness, Courts of Sylvania, Laurel Hill, Shadow Valley and Westowne. Ownership included three men who represented decades in the business: Pat Birney, Jim Davis and Mark Willingham.
Today, two of the five clubs remain: Laurel Hill Swim and Tennis Club, owned by Pat Birney, and Shadow Valley Tennis and Fitness Club, owned by multiple partners, including Jim Davis.
“We were lifers. It’s rare to have people in the same city stay at the same club for so long,” said Birney, who has been at Laurel Hill for 34 years.
Tennis. It is a business that works on supply and demand. Today, in light of the recent closing of Westowne Tennis Club, there are 22 indoor courts remaining: Laurel Hill owns six, Shadow Valley has eight and will soon add five courts at Synergy Sports and Fitness, the former Central Tennis and Fitness. The other three indoor courts belong to Belmont Country Club.
“With all the courts out there years ago, those were tough years. Now with more membership (at fewer clubs), clubs have more control. The environment here in Toledo is changing because of the closing of Westowne. Not only have tennis clubs benefited, but public parks such as Jermaine and Ottawa, as well as UT, had more play on their courts this summer,” Birney said. “Membership is up and court times and bookings are solid.”
Jim Davis, who played tennis for St. John’s Jesuit High School and UT, is a managing partner at Shadow Valley and has been there for 23 years. Davis has seen many changes in the tennis industry in the past decade.
“Clubs have become multipurpose, offering tennis leagues and programs like ‘tennis in no-time,’ which teaches people how to play tennis; fitness (yoga, spinning); personal training; golf affiliations; and swimming pools. Clubs have amenities including bars, which allow for more social interaction.”
In the 1990s, Sports Illustrated posed the question, “Is Tennis Dying?” Davis said the sport is alive and well in our district and across the country. He said high school “no-cut“ tennis programs have given kids a chance, particularly those who would normally not have had the opportunity to play. He said such programs offer many more children an introduction to the game.
“The USTA (United States Tennis Association) has really saved tennis as well. They have done a great job of funding programming in the parks,” Davis said. “Junior team tennis is up nearly 20 percent and USTA adult league participation is up 5 percent. Tournament play is also up 5 percent.
“You also have more female athletes today than you did 10 years ago. This has helped the business a lot.”
The Tennis Industry Association reported that tennis court usage in 2007 is up 62 percent in tennis facilities across the country, as compared to 2006. Indoor tennis, which is typically eight months a year in this climate, is a tennis club’s bread and butter, with clubs selling court time and offering leagues, clinics, camps and private lessons to bring in revenue.
“Tennis as a (participatory) sport is going up in our region because of league and junior participation. Camps were busy this summer. Programming has become more pro-driven, and equipment has changed the sport a lot. With tennis becoming more high tech, players have an advanced skill level which has generated much interest in the game,” Davis said.
Davis said it isn’t easy being a tennis club owner, citing facility management and debt service as examples.
“It’s earned money — sweat equity — as opposed to money that just happens,” he said.
Birney has a concern about people being pinched out of the sport. He said, “The state of tennis is fairly healthy and revenue is coming in. We have a continuity in membership. But with clubs closing, this market could lose people to other sports if we are unable to accommodate them. The market hasn’t necessarily shrunk, but we went from 34 indoor courts to 22.”
For Birney and Davis, it is about working in a sport they love.
“I enjoy helping people acquire a sport for a lifetime. You don’t see many people playing football over the age of 40,” Davis said.
Kristine Hoffman is host and producer of “Business 360,” which airs every Monday and Friday on WGTE-TV, during PBS’ “Nightly Business Report” at approximately 7:45 p.m. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.