Sunday, February 5, 2023

Dissecting the USTA"s 2022 tennis participation press release

Each year, the USTA has a press release or post discussing a variety of participation numbers.  This year was no different with the headline being that participation grew for a third straight year.  There are many ways to look at tennis participation, so this deserves a closer look to see what exactly grew.

Those that are regular readers of this blog know that I take a look at USTA League participation each year and there has been a general decline in the number of players playing in the main 18 & Over, 40 & Over, and 55 & Over leagues.  However, depending on how you look at 2020/2021 since league play was suspended and there were no Nationals in 2020, there has been some growth in league participation after a big drop due to COVID.  Regardless of how you look at it though, even if participation in 2022 was up from 2021, 2022 was down from 2019 (258K down to 242K) and on a similar or even quicker trajectory to prior years.

So how can the USTA claim participation grew for three straight years?  The answer is that they are using a different metric than league participation.  The number they are using is from the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) that is estimating the number of people that play tennis in the US irrespective of being part of any organized league or tournament.  The TIA is saying that 23.6 million people played tennis in 2022, up 5.9 million from the start of 2020.  I believe the TIA bases their estimate on reported sales of tennis balls or other similar sales metrics, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID and how tennis was a safe sport to play and the population has flocked to it.

You'd think that an additional 5.9 million players (33% growth) over three years would result in a larger group of players that would be interested in USTA League play, but my numbers show a decrease from 2019 of 6.2%.  Now, if the TIA's numbers are correct, the percentage of the playing population that plays USTA League is barely over 1%, so one wouldn't necessarily expect a strong correlation.  Clearly, the vast majority of tennis is not played as a part of USTA League.

That said, the USTA stated that 284K players played USTA League in 2022 and that is different from my number of 242K.  Why is that?  My number is looking at just the main Adult leagues as that is something I can do consistently from year to year.  I'm assuming the USTA's number is using all leagues and so it is larger.  By my count the number of unique players in all leagues is just over 284K as well, so I have no argument with that number and it appears accurate.

The USTA also touts 2022 having an 11% increase over 2021 and that too seems accurate by my numbers as my main Adult league count went up just over 10% and these are very close.  And 2021 was up over 2020 which is no surprise as 2020 was way down due to COVID.  It is likely that at least some of the growth in 2022 was due to 2021 still being down due to COVID and more players coming back.

The key thing is that 2022 is still short of 2019.  Whether that is because the general decline in USTA League participation has continued, or we are still suffering from the effects of COVID remains to be seen.  One would think that 2022 didn't have many players still staying away from league play due to COVID but perhaps there were some.  The league participation numbers for 2023 will go a long ways to answering the question of if the pre-2019 decline is continuing, or if the USTA can capitalize on the additional tennis playing population and convert some to league play.

While writing this blog, it occurred to me that there is another metric that could be tracked, and that is the number of players that receive a year-end rating each year.  This will include more players that my main Adult league metric as it will include Mixed and Tournament players as well as players that play in alternate leagues that count for ratings.  It won't count players that play Combo or other leagues that don't count for ratings, won't count tournament players that play non-sanctioned or non-NTRP tournaments, and won't include players that don't get the minimum three matches played.

The result of this is a metric the USTA doesn't want to publicize at is falls well short of some of the aforementioned metrics.  I show just 231K players that had a 2022 year-end rating and this was down 8.0% from the 2021 number of 251K.  This is well below the USTA's 284K and below my 242K as well.  This means that just over 50 thousand league players play leagues that don't count for ratings, or didn't play enough matches to get a year-end rating.

Note that 2021 was up 2.7% over 2019's 245K, but keep in mind that 2021 covered a 2 year period which would inherently inflate the number.

Here is the full chart for the past 10 years.

Here we see the slow but steady decline with a slight bump up in 2019 and another in the 2-year period 2021, but a drop to a level lower than any other year in 2022.  And the drop is a similar percentage for both women and men.

So, was there growth in general tennis participation?  Yes, if you believe the TIA.  But has that transferred to adult play in USTA League and those players getting year-end ratings?  It doesn't appear so, at least yet.

Will the significant growth the TIA reports in the tennis playing population find its way to USTA League play in 2023?

A summary of how USTA League 40 & Over 4-court format is encountering 2-2 ties

The 40 & Over 4-court format has been around for a few years and I've written about it numerous times, but a friend played a match last night ending in a 2-2 tie that went all the way to the court 1 winner to decide the team win, which was a healthy reminder of the format and how it works.

With that in mind, I thought I'd summarize what we've observed from league play using the format the past few years.

First, in league play, in the 2021 championship year, of the 27,795 team matches played, 7,215 (26%) were tied 2-2 with 2,934 (41%) of those being tied on sets and of those, 249 (8.4%) were tied on games and went to the winner of court 1 doubles.

In league play, in the 2022 championship year, of the 33,694 team matches played, 8.766 (26%) were tied 2-2 with 3,443 (39%) of those being tied on sets and of those, 315 (9.1%) were tied on games and went to the winner of court 1 doubles.

Nationals is where it can really come into play where the tie-breakers decide important matches.  While the format was put in place for 2020, there were no Nationals that year so we start this summary with 2021.

At 2021 40 & Over Nationals, there were 292 team matches played with 84 (29%) of them ending in a 2-2 tie.  Of those, 31 (37%) were tied on sets, and of those, 3 (9.7%) were tied on games and went to the winner of court 1 doubles.

At 2022 40 & Over Nationals, there were 298 team matches played with 72 (24%) of them ending in a 2-2 tie.  Of those, 25 (35%) were tied on sets, and of those, 4 (16%) were tied on games and went to the winner of court 1 doubles.

If we summarize it all then, we get:

SeasonTied 2-2Sets TiedGames Tied
2021 Regular Season26%41% (11%)8.4% (0.90%)
2021 Nationals29%37% (11%)9.7% (1.0%)
2022 Regular Season26%39% (10%)9.1% (0.93%)
2022 Nationals24%35% (8.4%)16% (1.3%)

In the above I'm showing the same percentages from the paragraph, plus in parenthesis I'm showing the percentage of all team matches played as well.

This shows a pretty consistent trend of a quarter or a bit more of team matches ending in 2-2 ties, around 10% of all of them being tied on sets, and around 1% of all matches being tied on games and being decided by the court 1 winner.  But 2022 Nationals showed a bit of an uptick in those decided by the court 1 winner, but that is a pretty small sample size so may be due to that.

And for what it is worth, while 2023 is still young, so same percentages seem to be holding.

What do you think?  Are these percentages of matches that come down to tie-breakers significant enough that you think it warrants going back to a 5-court format?


Saturday, January 14, 2023

It is 2023 and never too early to get an Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Report and track your rating!

It is 2023, and in some areas leagues have started or are starting in the next few weeks.  Some areas even had matches in November and December after the ratings cut-off date.  So there are a growing number of matches being played that will go towards 2023 year-end ratings.

That means player's ratings are changing as they play and those that like to track their rating may want to get an Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Report from me.  Yes, I continue to calculate my ratings and do reports using them!

Now, I do offer a variety of reports from individual reports with a host of detailed stats and a chart showing how my rating for a player has changed match to match, to team reports showing ratings for a whole roster and summary stats on each player and how they've done with different partners, to flight reports show averages for each team in a flight which is a great way to scout opponents.  I can also do custom reports or lists for captains wanting to find or recruit players.

If you are interested in a report, contact me!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Analyzing 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings - How often do appeals stick? How many are inappropriate?

I just wrote about 2022 year-end ratings and how many players have already appealed their rating, but a natural follow up question is how many of these appeals are really appropriate?

Allowing appeals is seemingly done for a few reasons:

  • Players get bumped up but want to continue to play their their old team and friends
  • Players get bumped up and there is no flight at the higher level and appealing down allows them to play
  • Players are improving but just missed a bump up and want the validation of the higher rating by their name
  • A team at the higher level needs players but roster limits require a minimum number of at-level players so if someone appeals up, they help meet that minimum number

One can debate which of the above, or other reasons there might be, are legitimate reasons to appeal, but one could also make the case that if someone appeals and then goes back to their old rating after a year, perhaps that appeal wasn't appropriate or justified.

Whether you agree with the characterization of this scenario indicating an inappropriate or unjustified appeal, it is a statistic we can look at so I went above doing so.  What I'll be doing is looking at players that appealed in year X but in year X+1 went back to their old level.

I will note that my data is not necessarily 100% perfect, but I think it is good enough for us to get a good idea of what happens with players that appeal.

First, looking at players that appealed their year-end level up:

  • 2021 - 1,948 appeals up with 645, or 33%, bumped back down at 2022 year-end
  • 2019 - 2,443 / 729 / 30%
  • 2018 - 2,018 / 630 / 31%
  • 2017 - 1,765 / 552 / 31%
  • 2016 - 1,866 / 574 / 31%

This shows a pretty clear trend of around a third of appeal ups being "inappropriate".

What about appeal downs?  Here that is:

  • 2021 - 3,307 appeals down with 1,060, or 32%, bumped back up at 2022 year-end
  • 2019 - 4,706 / 1,544 / 33%
  • 2018 - 3,123 / 1,400 / 45%
  • 2017 - 2,151 / 834 / 39%
  • 2016 - 2,122 / 834 / 39%
Here we see a higher percentage, but not quite as consistent year to year, of appeal downs being "inappropriate".

What do you think?  Do these stats tell us anything about whether the appeal system is working as intended?  Is it a concern that 30-40% of appeal players go back to their pre-appeal level?

Monday, December 5, 2022

Analyzing 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings - Who appeals and in what direction?

Next up in our analysis of 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings, we take a look at appeals.

We aren't even a week post ratings release, and not everyone that is going to try to appeal has done so so these stats could change, but many that want to appeal will do it right away so I think it is still worthwhile to take a look now.

First, my analysis shows that 2,633 player have successfully appealed, 1,476 of them down and 1,157 up.  For comparison, for 2021, 4,107 appealed down and 2,335 appealed up.

Where it gets more interesting is when splitting it out by gender.  Of the 1,476 appeals down, 632 of them were women and 844 were men.  That is a similar ratio to 2021, perhaps a bit more heavy towards men.  But for appeals up, it switches and women do it more with 953 women and just 204 men.  Again, this is a similar ratio to 2021.

So more women appeal up than down, and a lot more men appeal down than up.

But part of this may have to do with the levels players are at.  It is generally the case that lower rated players are more likely to appeal up and higher rated ones are more likely to appeal down.

Here are the appeals down and up for women using the appealed from level.

  • 2.5 - 0 / 670
  • 3.0 - 191 / 753
  • 3.5 - 449 / 390
  • 4.0 - 622 / 52
  • 4.5 - 411 / 2
  • 5.0 - 165 / 0
  • 5.5 - 18 / 0
And the men.
  • 2.5 - 0 / 71
  • 3.0 - 46 / 188
  • 3.5 - 473 / 148
  • 4.0 - 835 / 54
  • 4.5 - 626 / 7
  • 5.0 - 254 / 0
  • 5.5 - 17 / 0

We see that a lot of 2.5 and 3.0 women appeal up, and interestingly more 3.5s appeal down to 3.0 than up to 4.0.  At 4.0 and above there are very few appeals up and the majority are down.

The men also have more appeals up at 2.5 and 3.0 and that swaps at 3.5 and by a much larger ratio than the women with 3x appealing down vs the women vs just 15% more for the women.

What do you think?

Analyzing 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings - Bump rates by level and gender

Continuing on with my analysis of 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings, I take a look at bumps rates by level, both overall and by gender.

Here are the overall bump rates by level.


We can see 2.5s are only bumped up and not down, nearly 13% of 3.0s are bumped up vs under 4% being bumped down, 3.5s are close to even, and then at 4.0 and above there are more bump downs than up.

Let's see how it is by gender as well.  The women:


Not a whole lot different from the overall, just fewer bump ups once you get to 3.5 and above.

And here are the men:


As you'd expect, just a slight difference with more bump ups at most every level.

Stay tuned for more.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Analyzing 2022 USTA NTRP year-end ratings - Section bump rates by gender

The USTA published 2022 year-end NTRP ratings last week so that means it is time to start doing some analysis to see what we can learn.

To start, we'll look at bump rates overall and by section including by gender.  In all the charts below, it is showing the percentage of players bumped down (purple) or up (green).

First, the overall rates were:

  • Stayed - 86.1%
  • Bumped up - 8.3%
  • Bumped down - 5.6%

This is very consistent with most years.  For the women:

  • Stayed - 85.7%
  • Bumped up - 8.7%
  • Bumped down - 5.6%
And then men:
  • Stayed - 86.9%
  • Bumped up - 7.6%
  • Bumped down - 5.5%
Not a lot of variation, the men are bumped up slightly less than the women, the bump down percentages are about the same.

Here are the overall bump rates by section.


Unlike many years in the past where some sections have significantly higher bump up rates, we see that the bump rates are remarkably similar across the sections.  Just Hawaii, with slightly more bump downs than bump ups, and Northern, with just slightly more bump ups than down, don't fit the profile of most of the other sections where bump ups were about 50% higher than bump downs.

Taking a look at the same stats but by gender, here are the women.


Nothing is remarkably different here.  Just Hawaii and Northern are about equal bump up/down rates, and with a little variation the rest have about 50% more bumps up than down.

And the men.


Here we see a few sections with more than 50% greater bumps up than down like Eastern and perhaps Florida.  Southwest is also close to near equal and Hawaii has a lot more bumps down than up and Missouri Valley is near equal.

Stay tuned for more.