SBJ/May 11 - 17, 1998/No Topic Name

Tennis fights for life

The United States Tennis Association, in a bid to increase tennis play in the United States, launched its five-year, $50 million program this month with a barrage of newspaper and radio ads in 170 markets across the country.

This year, the association plans to spend $2.7 million advertising tennis, and $1.1 million will be paid to tennis instructors as incentives to sign up potential players for lessons. Tennis stars Pete Sampras, Venus Williams and Jim Couier are acting as official spokespersons for the effort.

Tennis play has been in decline in the United States as basketball; soccer and alternative sports such as roller blading have increased in popularity. In 1992, 22.5 million people played tennis, but that figure dropped to 19.5 million four years later, according to the Tennis Industry Association.

"Competition for America’s leisure time is fierce," said Kurt Kamperman, head of the TIA, which is a sponsor of the USTA plan.

The USTA, the official governing body of US professional and amateur tennis, gets most of its money from staging the US Open in September. The organization has been criticized for not marketing tennis to inner cities. With the arrival of African-American players such as Venus and Serena Williams, the organization is trying to change that image.

The bulk of the advertising will be spent in 16 largely urban markets (New York, Boston, Houston and Detroit, for example), though a USTA spokesperson said no one demographic market was targeted. Several ads have already run, including a full page in USA Today the first Friday in May. That day, a USTA official was interviewed outside NBC’s Today studio by Al Roker, sparking a heavy volume of telephone calls to the USTA’s 1-800- number, a USTA spokesman said.

The USTA planned to offer free tennis lessons last Saturday and follow up lessons at subsidized rates. Most of the $50 million will be spent in the latter part of the five-year program, as the USTA test markets its strategies in the early years.

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