Monday, February 5, 2018

USTA League Tennis is Growing! But all is not positive ...

You may be surprised by the subject given that I've written about the declining participation in USTA League in the past, and that is true Nationally.  Since 2013, the number of players playing in the Adult leagues in all divisions from 18+ to 65+ has dropped from about 276K to 263K.  That isn't a huge drop, but it has been pretty steady.

But that decline is not happening in every section or area.  I've noted before that sections like the Pacific Northwest and Southern California have actually been growing, and the 40+ and 55+ divisions have shown growth as well.  But that means some areas and divisions are shrinking quicker to offset that growth.

This all comes up because in my area (Seattle) our growth actually appears to be causing problems.  I wrote last week that our local playoff format is changing to have fewer wildcards for second place teams in sub-flights, in fact there will be 31% fewer teams advancing to local playoffs under the new rule this 40+ season than there would have been under the old format.

The reason I've heard for this change is that as we've had growth, that means there are more teams and more sub-flights and thus more courts required for local playoffs if first and second place teams from each sub-flight all advance.  This all makes sense, but apparently, it is very hard to secure enough courts for all the teams.  Why wouldn't the USTA's money for courts be as good as any other user?

Some clubs are private and are reluctant to give up their entire facility for a weekend as I'm sure members will complain and other (perhaps lucrative) programs they offer, e.g. juniors, would suffer as well.  But apparently even public facilities aren't wanting to give up the whole facility and keep some courts for instruction or other programs.  The result is fewer courts could be secured and fewer teams will be advancing, putting a much higher priority on the regular season.

Not that I doubted what I heard, but I had do do some checking to confirm this growth and to see if the problem is real.

Taking a look at the 40+ league in Seattle since its inception, I looked at the number of teams and the number of rostered players and indeed there has been growth.

In 2013, there were 162 teams and it grew all the way to 264 in 2017 or 63% growth.  For rostered players, it went from 2,404 to 3,858, a 60% growth.  That would be noticeable and would certainly increase the number of courts required for playoffs.

The 18+ season has not yet started, but it too has grown in Seattle unlike most areas.  Teams grew from 274 in 2013 to 362 in 2017, 32% growth, and players grew from 3,610 to 4,907, 36% growth.

What is interesting is that for 2018, the 40+ team count actually dropped from 264 to 247, but the player count increased from 3,661 to 3,858.  I'm not sure the reason but one could speculate that facilities are even reducing the number of teams they'll sponsor/allow so teams are down, but there is still player growth and so rosters are now larger.

So there indeed is evidence to indicate there has been dramatic growth in teams and players, and perhaps facilities are tightening up the courts available for USTA both for regular league play with team counts down and also for playoffs.

How do we solve this?

Perhaps we were just lucky to have courts available and securable in the past so that first and second place teams could all advance.  It could be that it is more normal to have just first place teams advance and we are just losing a perk few other areas had.

But perhaps this indicates there is demand for more courts and there is an opportunity for facilities to expand or for new facilities to be built.

Last, players should talk with their facilities and encourage them to choose to support local playoffs and make their facilities available.  We already typically use more than one facility for playoffs, why not add a third?  Clearly club members want to play, shouldn't facilities support those members?

What do you think?  Is there a problem?  If so, what is a solution?  Or do we just need to suck it up and accept that second place teams won't be going to playoffs?