Continued decline of USTA tournament play in my area

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
I have been playing since 2012 and have played in various tournaments within two hours of home, playing in the lone tournament hosted in my city as much as I can. I am using that local tournament as my example here. When I first started playing, there were over 130 people entered in the tournament and there were people to play at all levels, even 3.5 doubles and mixed 7.0 doubles. The second year, it was still over 100 and there were opportunities to play in all brackets. Third year there was a decline again and there were no longer any 3.5 doubles, maybe 6 3.5 singles but still 4-6 entries in mixed 7.0 doubles. Fourth year, it dropped to the 80's, there was no 3.0, a handful of 3.5 singles players and 3 entries mixed 7.

Fast forward to 2019, same tournament. There are 39 entries now. There is no 3.0, 3.5, or 4.5 men's singles. All you can do is 4.0 or open. There are no mixed entries at all, which doesn't matter to me since I stopped playing that when my partner moved away. There is no 4.0 men's doubles so if you want to play you have to play open which still has a lot of fantastic entries, i.e. you will get bageled. There are only 7 players in my 4.0 singles bracket when even three years ago it would have 16 or more.

It really seems to me, at least in my area, that interest in tournament play is very low except for high level players who can handle open. People who may want to play at a lower level look at the entrants, see there aren't any and don't make the first move to establish a bracket to attract others. I feel bad for people who are playing 3.0/3.5 because there is virtually no opportunity so people don't even bother to check back in yearly and probably don't even check in on other upcoming tournaments in the state because they all seem to dwindle every single year at the same rate as my local one. When I first started playing in tournaments it was exciting because I could feel like I could be competitive even as a beginner and it made me feel good about my game. I felt like a real tennis player and there were people to play. In 2019, I am just glad my game advanced so I still have some opportunities to play in tournaments. If I was a rookie right now, tournament play wouldn't be an option. :(

Honestly, I really only remembered to enter the tournament this weekend because a friend said he was playing. There is no marketing anywhere and no mention of it at all at the lone tennis club even though they are the host at the city courts. Sad.
 
Last edited:

schmke

Hall of Fame
It is sad. And I think you nailed part of it being the lack of promotion and in turn very little word of mouth about the events. There are a number of tournaments in my area, but unless a player seeks them out and searches for them, it is hard to know about them as clubs/facilities don't really promote them, even if they are hosting them, and I don't hear players talking about them much either. I see very little use of social media to get the word out and at most there is a small flier on the wall with other "announcements" that no one really looks at. Sometimes, by the time you hear about the event due to someone you know playing it in a few days, it is too late to enter.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
I am sure money is part of it. This may be my only tournament this year and it cost me $67 for a USTA renewal and entry fee. I am doing it because it feels neat to be in a tournament where it counts and it feels cool to tell friends that you are in the "[yourcitynamehere] Open". lol
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
It is sad. And I think you nailed part of it being the lack of promotion and in turn very little word of mouth about the events. There are a number of tournaments in my area, but unless a player seeks them out and searches for them, it is hard to know about them as clubs/facilities don't really promote them, even if they are hosting them, and I don't hear players talking about them much either. I see very little use of social media to get the word out and at most there is a small flier on the wall with other "announcements" that no one really looks at. Sometimes, by the time you hear about the event due to someone you know playing it in a few days, it is too late to enter.
https://m.tennislink.usta.com/tournamentsearch
 

Badmrfrosty

Rookie
I'm rooting for UTR to take over.

I have no interest in playing USTA leagues other than to get a rating. I personally don't like the drama or adding another weekly commitment to the calendar.

UTR I know some people hate but perfect for me because I can judge my progress, play tournaments when I want and get a rating.

Just needs more traction and increased network effects.
 

Badmrfrosty

Rookie
Try this for chicago

UTR is still in infancy but I hope it will keep improving. I think the system is better and more inclusive to people that don't want to pay USTA annual dues or play leagues.
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
There is no 3.0, 3.5, or 4.5 men's singles. All you can do is 4.0 or open.
That was my experience a while back when I was doing more tournaments. I started back when I was 3.5 and almost always got roped into playing 4.0 as well to make draws. Then when I was entering 4.0 I started noticing how many 3.5 rated players (and questionable 3.5's at that) where in the brackets too. Now, I certainly didn't mind as much as a 3.5 playing up as I did as a 4.0 playing so many lower matches, but 4.0 was always the sweet spot where everything was merged. So it was exactly as you say where it ends up as anything close to at or below 4.0 plays in the 4.0 bracket and everything else is thrown into Open.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
That was my experience a while back when I was doing more tournaments. I started back when I was 3.5 and almost always got roped into playing 4.0 as well to make draws. Then when I was entering 4.0 I started noticing how many 3.5 rated players (and questionable 3.5's at that) where in the brackets too. Now, I certainly didn't mind as much as a 3.5 playing up as I did as a 4.0 playing so many lower matches, but 4.0 was always the sweet spot where everything was merged. So it was exactly as you say where it ends up as anything close to at or below 4.0 plays in the 4.0 bracket and everything else is thrown into Open.
Good point. 4.0 is now a catch-all for tourneys in my area. Doesn't seem like it would be much fun for a low 3.5.
 
The "paperless" and peopleless society! The Senior Age Group tournaments I play in are all down in attendance and many have disappeared. No fliers at clubs or club supervisor/hosts to spread the word anymore--It's assumed by tournament directors that EVERYONE is out looking for their tournament over the internet--WRONG! The only ones who know about them anymore are the regulars who have played in them, and it's easy to miss deadlines by not paying close attention. It seems there's a new "age group" formed every year for USTA leagues--eventually they'll figure out those guys who divided Age Group tournaments into 5 year increments knew what they were doing.
 
Over 50$ entrance fee in my area for a tournament and if you lose first round? That is one expensive match.... can play on a USTA team for a season for 28$, much better value.
The thing is you may have lost to a ranked pro player and gotten a REAL lesson in how the game is played! How much would it cost to get a private lesson from him?, where, maybe he will attempt to "teach" you the "modern game" of tennis, wanting to rebuild your stroke technique from scratch. For $50, you may have gotten a t-shirt, a hat, a party or two--and, a REAL how to play tennis lesson from a pro. And if you hung around the tournament, gotten to watch some great play by others.
 
Last edited:

letplaytennis

Semi-Pro
Just looked at a few UTR events in my area and all of them seem to be in the OPEN style and mixed singles. I missed registration for an event this weekend, hopefully they can still add me.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
Over 50$ entrance fee in my area for a tournament and if you lose first round? That is one expensive match.... can play on a USTA team for a season for 28$, much better value.
Most of the ones I enter have consolations but at least half the time the other guy doesn't want to and would prefer to start the journey home. A friend of mine who plays 3.5 singles in other locations is often times in the final on his first match due to just two entries. Even if you lose, you only get one match since, well, who would your consolation match be against?

I really don't mind paying to enter. I could get hot and last a while and I might not ... it's the challenge that I like. I just fear that this tourney will fade away in the next couple of years and I don't like to travel. Iowa doesn't have a lot of opportunities for well attended tournaments.
 
Last edited:

Nacho

Professional
I have been playing since 2012 and have played in various tournaments within two hours of home, playing in the lone tournament hosted in my city as much as I can. I am using that local tournament as my example here. When I first started playing, there were over 130 people entered in the tournament and there were people to play at all levels, even 3.5 doubles and mixed 7.0 doubles. The second year, it was still over 100 and there were opportunities to play in all brackets. Third year there was a decline again and there were no longer any 3.5 doubles, maybe 6 3.5 singles but still 4-6 entries in mixed 7.0 doubles. Fourth year, it dropped to the 80's, there was no 3.0, a handful of 3.5 singles players and 3 entries mixed 7.

Fast forward to 2019, same tournament. There are 39 entries now. There is no 3.0, 3.5, or 4.5 men's singles. All you can do is 4.0 or open. There are no mixed entries at all, which doesn't matter to me since I stopped playing that when my partner moved away. There is no 4.0 men's doubles so if you want to play you have to play open which still has a lot of fantastic entries, i.e. you will get bageled. There are only 7 players in my 4.0 singles bracket when even three years ago it would have 16 or more.

It really seems to me, at least in my area, that interest in tournament play is very low except for high level players who can handle open. People who may want to play at a lower level look at the entrants, see there aren't any and don't make the first move to establish a bracket to attract others. I feel bad for people who are playing 3.0/3.5 because there is virtually no opportunity so people don't even bother to check back in yearly and probably don't even check in on other upcoming tournaments in the state because they all seem to dwindle every single year at the same rate as my local one. When I first started playing in tournaments it was exciting because I could feel like I could be competitive even as a beginner and it made me feel good about my game. I felt like a real tennis player and there were people to play. In 2019, I am just glad my game advanced so I still have some opportunities to play in tournaments. If I was a rookie right now, tournament play wouldn't be an option. :(

Honestly, I really only remembered to enter the tournament this weekend because a friend said he was playing. There is no marketing anywhere and no mention of it at all at the lone tennis club even though they are the host at the city courts. Sad.
We've brought this up several times on here, bunch of threads about it. Its been happening over the last 20 years essentially. Been a year or two since I have commented, but here are my takes on it with some new perspective:

-Tennis boom has been on the decline since the mid 1990's. This is driven by a large decrease in American players in the top levels of the pro game, so less interest from the American public
-USTA leagues have taken over much of peoples competitive tennis time. In some cases it has made it easier for people to work and compete without committing to a tournament, but in other cases it is so poorly operated it has also turned off people completely from playing at all
-The local leagues, such as ALTA in Atlanta, used to drive much of the competition, tournament play and other events. Outside of a handful here or there, they have all been folded and the USTA is the dominant association. And the ones that exist basically are allowed to keep operating as long as they drive some adult tennis and stay away from Jr tennis...The problem with this is the local level volunteers who cared about driving tennis are gone, chased off, and mostly filled with a volunteer group that is not as impassioned about the game. For instance in my local area there were a group of ex D-1 players from the 60's and 70's that drove much of the tennis activity through the local tennis association. They managed JR programs, helped get a pro tournament to the area, worked on sponsorships, held several tournaments throughout the years, and had a passion for tennis in the area. Now, the Jr programs are all USTA driven through the competing clubs, and the adult tennis has been filled with some USTA 3.0 rec players who just don't have the experience or resources to know how to get people involved, and essentially don't mind dealing with the rec. player gripes at the meetings. You could look at any city in the US and see this same sort of tennis history fold....
-The public tennis center operation is almost non-existent today. This has been manuevered out by clubs charging memberships and asking for reserved courts. The "pick up a game" at the local park days is over, it is much more expensive and time consuming today to arrange a match or play. I would also note that for Jr. players this concept doesn't even exist, which IMO is a reason for the decline in great American players....but thats for another thread
-Traditional tournaments in the past were pressured to abide by USTA rules, certifications, and other silly things, so the tournament directors handed them over to people who had less ownership in them; thus many of these tournaments folded. The USTA National Sr. tournaments are a perfect example of this. Most of them are just held at whatever club can get them, anyone can enter, and the traditions of a tournament are lost. There used to be a local Clay Court tournament that everyone aspired to play in and win, but the tournament director who had been in charge for 20 years was forced to change the scoring, age groups, and types of event she had. It was too much effort to abide by all those rules and the tournament folded after like 40 years of being around....Nothing took its place...And there are still people who say "remember that tournament?"....No one cares about rankings, they care about winning a gold ball, money, or the notoriety of winning the local tournament
-There is absolutely nothing for young adults to play. Everything is Sr. and super Sr. driven. If you are under 45 good luck playing anything except mens open. If you look at 50+ draws at tournaments they are full....below that hardly anyone, even at the National tournaments. College players and Jr players have nothing set up to transition them from Jr tennis to staying with the game. I know so many players that just drop tennis after Jr's or college, its a whole generation of players not playing, not volunteering, not going to pro tournaments....
-on that note: Millenials, basically a quarter of the tennis playing population, are a population that 1) rent more then they own, and pay more renting (because 88% live in metropolitan areas) and their home owner ship is 8% less then Gen X 2) have 160% more student debt then generation X 3) have had less income increase then previous generations mostly driven by the recession in 2008. So, less money to spend. What this means is that they are less likely to buy tennis good, club memberships, or spend money and time on tournament play
-No longer is tennis played anywhere outside of metro areas...enhancing the money and participation problem. Consider that there are states bigger then the countries the top pro's come from, and the states have no champions?
-Some cultural things have happened over time such as more adults working, and less availability to dedicate to a tennis tournament. However, I think a tournament locally could be run around these things if people cared enough about it, but they just don't right now
-Gambling industry is taking over pro-tennis...how is this affecting adult rec. tennis? Changing the scoring, changing where the USTA effort goes, on and on....Its fundamentally changing everything about the game which trickles down to all levels

So what do we do about it?

I think it starts with the USTA and how they manage tennis. Amazingly it is an association, and considered a non-profit. So I think it needs to run as non-profit, supporting and helping the sport succeed, and stay away from how a Jr player develops, how many certifications a pro must have, how a tournament has to run, or how a club has to run. USTA also has a mission to support American tennis, so they should be empowering the local communities, pushing for American players in college tennis, and keeping tournaments together. Apparently the Connecticut open is heading to China after 25 years in the US, one less WTA tournament event here...

Local organizations should be allowed to thrive again, and the volunteerism of local pros affiliated with the community should be applauded

Former college and Jr players need to have an easier pathway to keep them in the game, and then get them involved in their local tennis communities

Needs to be a concentrated improvement in American pro success

High School tennis needs to be better organized, states with even a small emphasis on HS tennis produce some of the best players out there
 

MathGeek

Hall of Fame
Within a 45 minute drive of my home, UTR events open to me outnumber USTA events 10 to 1. Events unaffiliated with UTR or USTA outnumber USTA events by 5 to 1.

There are plenty of USTA league opportunities with about an even split between USTA leagues and other leagues.

But my scheduling constraints and other preferences lead me to strongly prefer tournament play. So I have not updated my USTA membership in many years. I'm pretty sure my wife and son have also let their USTA memberships lapse, so in 2019 we are playing exclusively UTR and unaffiliated events. I'd be surprised if the next few years brought a return to USTA unless we move or USTA radically increases their tournament offerings.

There are plenty of junior USTA tournaments, but with our son starting college, we're just not into that scene. Now if USTA would take the hint from UTR and create tournaments unrestricted by age and sex and grouped by some metric of ability, there would then be about an even split between USTA and UTR tournaments open to adult players near me.
 

ShaunS

Semi-Pro
I thought it was a known fact that tennis in USA has been in decline since 90's. Participation rates and interest has been trending down for a while.
Not exactly.

Total participation, by most measures, has essentially remained the same since 2013 (we're talking a range of less than 3% from lowest to peak).

The first link about infrastructure even accurately called out rising participation in 2007 (it would peak in 2009 at 18.91 million), but a lack of public funds available for courts. For what it's worth the number for 2017 was 17.68, and that was down to matching the previous lowest since 2013. I believe the 2018 numbers should be published this month, but maybe they're already out and I missed?

I haven't seen recent, reliable numbers on youth participation. Admittedly I haven't been seeking them out though. What I do know is that tennis faces the same challenge of most youth sports, and that's a decline in overall participation numbers for "high calorie burning activity". In just the past decade American youth participation in said activities has dropped by 5% from roughly 29% to 24%.
That's very bad, but the more positive news is that tennis has essentially held serve. 4.0% in 2000 to 4.1% in 2017. Peaked at 4.4%, lowest was 3.7%.

The other problem is "sport specialization". In the last decade, the average number of sports played per kid has dropped from around 2.5 to 1.5. That's huge when you consider the implication to individual sport participation numbers, and as discussed elsewhere it's not ideal for their health (more variety = less injury).
 

atatu

Hall of Fame
Agree with @Nacho that leagues play a big part in this. A few years ago there were only a few leagues, now we have 18+. 40+. 55+. 65+ and 18-39. You have mens, womens, and mixed in almost every age division and in each NTRP rating. USTA is doing it's best to stomp out non USTA leagues as well.
 

ChaelAZ

Legend

Welcome to the proliferation of pickleball. You can more than double the number of people playing on the same land cutting the cost per acre down, and it is squarely targeting older adults who have more liesure time and certainly more money to spend on it.
 

atatu

Hall of Fame
Welcome to the proliferation of pickleball. You can more than double the number of people playing on the same land cutting the cost per acre down, and it is squarely targeting older adults who have more liesure time and certainly more money to spend on it.
And adults who either don't want to run or who are unable to run any more.
 

Bukowski

Professional
I was sortve glad to see my area doesnt have any big mens opens this summer. No way i could afford to pay $100 or whatever to play a couple matches.
 

Robert F

Semi-Pro
I live in the Chicagoland area and it feels like there are less tournaments for adults. I wonder if this is partially club driven. Easy to schedule a USTA league match for 2 hours. But a tournament can take up large portions of a club with little return. Tick off your members that no courts are available on the weekend too.

I also wonder if less adults want to play a tournament that might require them to take friday afternoon off?
 

JW10S

Hall of Fame
The "paperless" and peopleless society! The Senior Age Group tournaments I play in are all down in attendance and many have disappeared. No fliers at clubs or club supervisor/hosts to spread the word anymore--It's assumed by tournament directors that EVERYONE is out looking for their tournament over the internet--WRONG!
I think there is something to this. Back when I played junior tournaments before the internet days if you were a USTA member tournaments sent entries to you in the mail. It was the same for adult events. So you always knew what tournaments were coming up, you couldn't help it. You filled out the entry form, sent it back, then you'd get a postcard in the mail telling you when and where your first match was. So the tournaments flourished. Later when the internet came around some tournaments would make the effort to shoot out an email to contact past participants that their event was coming up again and invite you to enter. I've been a tournament director and have done that. That doesn't happen much anymore as some figure that as long as it's somewhere on the internet people will see it.
 
Last edited:
Later when the internet came around some tournaments would make the effort to shoot out an email to contact past participants that their event was coming up again and invite you to enter.
YUP! I've skipped at least three tournaments so far this year that I've played in the past, I would probably played in them with a slight reminder nudge from an eblast or postcard reminder I used to receive.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
Agree with the above. I have missed a few I could have played in had I known about them. There are six tournaments in my state that I used to play in regularly and I know roughly when they are held. I just don't remember because there is no marketing whatsoever. You'd think USTA would send out a reminder the next year for a tournament you played in the previous year. Part of that is on me but it shouldn't be that hard. You'd think they'd want to invite people to participate again rather than just assume that you will know because you check the site as often as a sureshs tribute thread on a random tennis forum.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
Welcome to the proliferation of pickleball. You can more than double the number of people playing on the same land cutting the cost per acre down, and it is squarely targeting older adults who have more liesure time and certainly more money to spend on it.
There is no repeated income from stringing and balls though (paddle has no strings and balls are hard plastic and pressureless).
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
There is no repeated income from stringing and balls though (paddle has no strings and balls are hard plastic and pressureless).
Travel, clothing, social event fees, and such MORE than make up for a bit of stringing and some balls. They converted 4 park courts right next to the Surprise Tennis Center to pickleball and they are constantly holding events there, including national events. There is money moving around like crazy with thos cotton top players attending.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
Travel, clothing, social event fees, and such MORE than make up for a bit of stringing and some balls. They converted 4 park courts right next to the Surprise Tennis Center to pickleball and they are constantly holding events there, including national events. There is money moving around like crazy with thos cotton top players attending.
There is also not much money to be made on paddles.
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
Some of those paddles go for hundreds of $$$'$--TW has a big pickle ball equipment section--check it out.
My buddy that owns a local tennis shop continues to increase his pickelball section and find new clients to support for it. Most are that 50+ crowd and they spend a lot for the sport. Margins are the same on racquets and paddles, but most pickleball players only need a single paddle where tennis players usually buy a few to have backup when strings break. Still a lot of money there and he is doing well with it.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
My buddy that owns a local tennis shop continues to increase his pickelball section and find new clients to support for it. Most are that 50+ crowd and they spend a lot for the sport. Margins are the same on racquets and paddles, but most pickleball players only need a single paddle where tennis players usually buy a few to have backup when strings break. Still a lot of money there and he is doing well with it.
How can margins be the same? A tennis racket's true cost including materials, manufacturing, labor, and shipping from China is estimated to be $50 max. Newly introduced frames sell for $199. PBall margins must be lot lesser.

And as you point out, the lack of strings also implies lesser number of paddles.
 

MathGeek

Hall of Fame
The website certainly has its flaws but how would fixing them lead to greater tournament participation? Is the website so bad that it prevents people from entering?
People can only enter tournaments they find. Our experience the last few years with the USTA web site is that using the search functions to find the small subset of tourneys one is actually interested in has a steep learning curve. In 2019, folks tend to give up before jumping through all the hoops in hopes of finding the desired info.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
People can only enter tournaments they find. Our experience the last few years with the USTA web site is that using the search functions to find the small subset of tourneys one is actually interested in has a steep learning curve. In 2019, folks tend to give up before jumping through all the hoops in hopes of finding the desired info.
Good point. In this day and age we all expect information to be delivered to us. It's an expectation. People in every demographic have smart phones so it should be a lot easier and it isn't. Imagine having an app that could do everything including telling you when/where your next tourney match is through a push notification.
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
The average price will be much lower
How can margins be the same? A tennis racket's true cost including materials, manufacturing, labor, and shipping from China is estimated to be $50 max. Newly introduced frames sell for $199. PBall margins must be lot lesser.

And as you point out, the lack of strings also implies lesser number of paddles.
Clothing may also not be a selling point:

https://gleneden.com/pickleball/

I can only go by what someone actually selling the stuff is happy about, and what I see happening for pickle ball in one of the most prolfic retirement states, especially in the Sun City Az area. But thanks for your astute opinions.
 
Last edited:
People can only enter tournaments they find. Our experience the last few years with the USTA web site is that using the search functions to find the small subset of tourneys one is actually interested in has a steep learning curve. In 2019, folks tend to give up before jumping through all the hoops in hopes of finding the desired info.
I've never had a problem: I search based on my zip code and can find what I want. Too bad I can't then arrange by date but it's only one page of results I care about; beyond that, I don't want to drive that far.
 

Cashman

Professional
I can't speak for the US, but in Australia tournament play is just generally in decline.

Me, I play my local club's Men's Premier competition on Tuesdays and then might reserve one or two other nights a week for mixed doubles. It's nice - I go to the same place every week, I have flexibility on how much I play, and I keep my weekends free. We have 30 courts, so the number of divisions and level of competition is pretty decent.

If I was 15 years younger and playing seriously 3 times a week, I might feel like I needed the variety of tournament play. But I just don't have that kind of time. I reckon that is basically the case for everyone else I play against - we all have jobs and families.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
I can only go by what someone actually selling the stuff is happy about, and what I see happening for pickle ball in one of the most prolfic retirement states, especially in the Sun City Az area. But thanks for your astute opinions.
i was just kidding. PBall is taking over.
 
Good point. In this day and age we all expect information to be delivered to us. It's an expectation. People in every demographic have smart phones so it should be a lot easier and it isn't. Imagine having an app that could do everything including telling you when/where your next tourney match is through a push notification.
Seriously, how easy do want the website to be? its just a simple search function. Its not the USTA's responsibility to promote a tournament. That the tournament directors job. I live the Virginia, I have found the best tournaments to be in the south.
 

IA-SteveB

Hall of Fame
I didn't say it was hard for me. I'm just saying there are untapped ways to engage everyone. We seem to live in a society where things are delivered, including information.
 
Top