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Development Plan: Tennis-Point looks to grow the game through its expanding business and online initiatives
The retailer believes it can translate its successes in Europe into a flourishing tennis ecosystem in the United States.
Published Sep 17, 2022
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The 2022 US Open set several firsts. Never before had as many spectators come through the turnstiles to see the tournament. The cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium was sold out for every session, an unprecedented occurrence in its 25 years.
All those fans did their share of consuming as well—sales of the tournament's signature Honey Deuce cocktail also reached a record high—and for the first time in the event’s history, they could do so at an on-site pro shop, courtesy of Tennis-Point.
For the uninitiated, Tennis-Point is the tennis arm of SIGNA Sports United (SSU), one of the world’s leading sports e-commerce companies. Based in Berlin, Germany, it serves more than 7 million customers worldwide, focusing on four main categories: cycling, tennis, outdoors and team sports, which is primarily European football.
After establishing a tennis stronghold in Europe, the company made the leap to the U.S. market in 2021 by acquiring majority stakes in online retailers Midwest-Sports (now Tennis-Point) and Tennis Express. They went on to establish partnerships with several governing bodies, including the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), as well as numerous professional events.
“What we do is we are operating in super attractive smaller, niche markets like bike and tennis and so on, and consolidate those,” says Stephan Zoll, Group CEO of SSU. “Tennis-Point is not just a retailer or e-tailer. Tennis-Point is really connecting with the industry—with the associations, with the clubs, with the tennis coaches, with the industry suppliers. So we’re basically trying to form and drive this ecosystem to more digital usage and applications. It’s a retailer-plus model.”
The United States represents the biggest tennis market in the world with an estimated annual retail volume of $2.2 billion. SSU sees a real opportunity to replicate its European tennis success in this country, which has seen a surge in participation yet still conducts a majority of business (73 percent) offline. And not just because of retail, but also an increasing presence of digital tools, currently more prevalent in Europe. Websites for court booking, league management and infotainment will help drive more American players online.
“It’s always perceived that purchasing offline would provide all the guidance, all the services, which you can’t have online,” says Sascha Bayer, CEO Racquet Sports, SSU North America. “We have proven that this is not true. We are more than just a shop. We are not after transaction after transaction. [We are] about service and guidance, and you’ll find that on our websites.”
In addition to its online presence, brick-and-mortar concept stores are still part of the business model. SSU partners with more than 500 stores in Europe, 80 of which are devoted to tennis. Flagship stores in major cities such as Barcelona, Paris and Madrid glamorize the tennis lifestyle.
There are also what Bayer refers to as “hyper” stores that have larger footprints, more products and courts to demo equipment and experience the sport. The Tennis Express headquarters in Houston is such a location. Pop-up stores appear at professional tour stops—like the one at the US Open. The hope is to introduce these types of stores to the U.S. market over the next couple of years.
Similarly, SSU wants to implement playing initiatives that have borne fruit in Europe. For example, one such program delivered through a link on their websites called Tennis People offers access to entry-level lessons with all equipment provided. The company has also worked with recreational governing bodies to come up with different types of leagues and tournament formats that are more digestible and adaptable to busy schedules.
“We call it trying to make tennis cool again,” says Bayer. “It’s not that tennis is not cool. But we say we want to bring back to the '80s. We really want to make sure that tennis is perceived equally cool to all the other lifetime sports—so people don’t perceive tennis as the 'shushing' sport where you have to be quiet in the country clubs because you must not disturb the elderly.”
Indeed, recent participation numbers show that tennis is on the upswing. According to the USTA, there are 22 million active players in the United States, an increase of 5 million pre-pandemic. While those around the industry admit it’s unlikely that the sport will be able to retain all these new players now that some semblance of normalcy has returned, tennis has always struggled with what’s often referred to as the “leaky bucket” dilemma—it seems to consistently lose as many players as it adds. Regardless of whether a majority of those new players stick with it, Tennis-Point is still optimistic that the sport and its business have substantial growth potential.
“The ultimate goal that we have with all our partnerships, with all the approaches, is to make tennis be played more,” says Bayer. “For those already in tennis, we want to encourage them to play more hours. Those who are not in tennis, we try to bring them into the sport. Again, we think we can achieve this by hooking them into this ecosystem.
"Tennis-Point is all about growing the sport. I know it’s a bit of a worn-out term, but it couldn’t be any more true that we are doing this.”