Don't convert your sports courts yet; these tips will help you turn tennis, racquetball and similar activities into surefire revenue.

In an age of time constraints and intense competition, and in a business where space is increasingly viewed as real estate, clubs with sport courts face the challenge of justifying the use of 6,000 square feet (the approximate square footage necessary for a tennis court) for play - that is, unless the clubs can make money with the space. How do you maximize the profits of sports courts? Here are several proven ideas and tips to help you increase your club's court sports participation and profits.

Unlike the lines drawn on a court, court sports provide boundless opportunities for marketing. A comprehensive marketing plan starts with a detailed calendar of events that identifies the start and end dates for all court-related programs, including lessons, leagues, team competitions, clinics, socials/mixers and tournaments.

The calendar will help you see if programs compete for the same players. You want your programs to complement each other; you wouldn't want a league competing against lessons, nor would you want a senior swimming class to take place during a senior tennis class. Having the calendar up front also allows you to plan and promote in advance.

Once your calendar is complete, you must consider the most effective advertising and promotions strategy. If designed for members, the program would be advertised within the club. However, when marketing a nonmember program, the advertising, in most cases, would be external (e.g., newspaper, radio, television, etc.).

Cost would certainly be a factor when advertising a program externally. Other considerations would be: Are there any usage limitations? Is the program offered for nonmembers? Is the program designed to be a membership campaign? Is a membership offer (incentive to join) part of the program? What fees will be charged for nonmember participation?

Based on our experience at Tennis Corp. of America (TCA), we've realized the greatest success advertising court sports programs in the newspaper. For example, TCA's Mid-Town Tennis Club, Chicago, allocates most of the advertising budget to newsprint media for its patented Tennis In No Time (a tennis program for beginners).

The newspaper section where the advertisement is placed is retained by the reader more than one day (the section also contains other Chicago events). It also may be "zoned" (targeted to a specific region) to reach prospects living near the club.

Newspaper advertising may not be for every club. That's why a club must evaluate the advertising options available in its community and the costs associated with the different media. For example, is there an event such as a tennis tournament, basketball game, etc., that is being televised locally? Advertising the same-sport program at your club during the telecast may be a good idea.

Partner to Cut Costs
Since we all face budget constraints, consider ways to reduce or limit your advertising costs. Dennis Margoni, TCA's regional manager at the Indian Creek Racquet Club, Overland Park, Kan., partners with the community's parks and recreation department by advertising the club's tennis programs in the department's local bulletin.

If a student enrolls for a lesson through the parks bulletin vs. the club lesson brochure, the parks and recreation department keeps 25 percent of the tennis lesson revenue. The club gets the rest of the revenue, plus the recognition of being in the bulletin.

"Indian Creek does extensive advertising through the Johnson County parks and recreation bulletin for our junior group beginner lessons and all levels of our adult group lessons," Margoni says. "The classes offered mirror the club's class schedule. The additional registrants help to increase class participation and introduce potential members to the club. We also provide the certified instructors for their outdoor summer programs, giving our teaching staff more hours as well as providing additional revenue for the club."

With a little planning, you also can save a lot of time and money by promoting court-related programs to people who are finishing their lessons. Arm your teaching professionals with promotional fliers and information about upcoming events. Your members will appreciate the personal attention and early notice for future activities.

Lenny Schloss, director of the Baltimore Tennis & Fitness Center, increases participation with free 30-minute tennis lesson/workout cards. His professionals are empowered to give prospective students a 30-minute free lesson. If the student commits to additional lessons (at normal rates), the professional earns an additional commission for successful recruiting.

Program for People
Naturally, even the greatest marketing efforts won't work unless you have excellent programs to back them up. Programs for court sports must be well thought through from concept to implementation. Start by determining whom the program is designed for: children, adults, seniors, recreational or competitive, beginner or open level, member or nonmember.

A common mistake that I routinely see is scheduling courts for the varying levels of players whom the clubs serve. The rule is simple: Beginner/introductory levels receive the most convenient time slots, advanced and open level players generally receive the less preferred time slots. People considering a new sport, particularly one requiring instruction, will not participate if the class schedule is inconvenient.

On the other hand, people dedicated to a particular sport aren't as concerned with the convenience; they'll make the time to play. Reasonably speaking, a player who has devoted the time to reach an advanced playing level will participate when the schedule allows.

This leaves plenty of room for creativity. Roger Mitten, Mid-Town Tennis Club's head tennis professional, is responsible for nearly $3 million in tennis court and programming revenues. He and his team schedule a variety of niche marketed programs at "shoulder hours" (non-prime time), which increases participation as well as increases the value of prime-time courts.

"Mid-Town has increased member involvement in tennis (and the tennis department's revenue) by programming shoulder hours [7 to 8:30 a.m. and 10 to 11:30 p.m., Monday through Friday]," Mitten says. "As a result of programming adult group lessons at these times, we have been able to increase dramatically the number of members served.

"The increased participation has a multiplier effect in the sense that the players involved in these shoulder hour classes eventually go on to take private lessons, play on Mid-Town teams, etc. By programming the shoulder times, we have been able to accommodate new members and involve them in organized programs when traditional prime-time hours are filled."

I do not suggest offering introductory lessons at the least convenient times. A niche marketed program may be a late-night tournament designed to attract people who are "night owls" and, more than likely, do not have early morning schedules.

I recall a few years ago a member questioning me why we charged prime- time fees during shoulder hours when, from 9 to 10 p.m., the courts were half-occupied, and wide open at 10 p.m. The answer is that shoulder hour programs create court exchange (demand); this demand justifies the price. Court exchange increases the value of a court because players are bumped at the end of their schedule time. If no exchange occurs, the club is not perceived to be busy. There is no perceived demand.

Bring Peers Together
In addition to considering skill levels to organize programs, create programs to attract peer groups. Peer groups share common experiences, can relate to each other and, most importantly, typically have similar schedules.

"Indian Creek Racquet Club offers a membership program for people 50 years old and up," Margoni explains. "Seniors may play [tennis] weekdays between 12 noon and 4 p.m. Fees for membership are approximately 50 percent of a regular membership. Twice per week, players are paired by gender and twice per week, play is mixed. About 106 of the nearly 1,000 memberships at Indian Creek are program participants. The average age of the participants is 69. The club reserves as many as seven of the nine courts per weekday for the program."

Margoni and the other professionals at Indian Creek realize many benefits attributed to organizing a midday senior's tennis program. The club gains membership revenues, sells available court time, and increases pro shop and restaurant sales - not to mention the fact that the club generates additional lesson revenues from 10 percent of the club's membership.

Staffing for Success
Even with great programs that appeal to a wide variety of people, the success of your club's court sports activities depends on the people charged with the responsibility of leading and teaching the programs. We are all looking for talented employees to represent our businesses. And, indeed, by hiring "experts," your activities may gain immediate credibility. However, you also have the option to hire experts or people who are less experienced, as long as they show potential.

Hiring less experienced personnel requires a training plan. In fact, any person you hire should show willingness to learn and be trained by your organization. Encourage your staff to increase their knowledge by attending related seminars and conferences.

Whether expert or future talent, recruits should be friendly and service- oriented. Besides being able to teach proper technique, today's successful teaching professional should be on time, promptly return telephone calls and anticipate students' needs.

A teaching professional should also be enthusiastic - within reason. Be careful of the instructor who tells you he has a clientele who will follow him to your club. Rarely have I seen students follow their teaching professional; students are generally involved in other activities at their club, have friends, and are used to a routine that is tough to give up.

Finally, look for teaching professionals who want to share the responsibility of increasing court participation. Encourage "buy-in." Reward (compensate) your instructors for increasing participation in programs and lesson groups, and teaching lessons during off-peak times. Reward your staff for recruiting new players who make a commitment to your club.

Excellent professionals who take charge of great programs which are sold through smart marketing - that's the way to get more people on your courts. The goal is to create excitement among membership.

Memorable Experiences
Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, co-founders of Strategic Horizons LLP and co-authors of Every Business a Stage: Why Customers Now Want Experiences, wrote that consumers desire services that provide "memorable experiences." To maximize court sports profits, you must go beyond the facility, to pay attention to the details of your business that will distinguish your club from your competitors, and make the service memorable for the participants.

I will conclude with these thoughts. Does your club place fresh flowers in your court sports lounges and have decorative artwork hanging on the walls? Do you offer towels near the courts, and is water available on each court for the players? For social events, are food, background music, players' name tags, and awards routine elements of the service? Do you mail trophies to the champions instead of having them prepared in advance for the tournament finals?

Remember, the right activities will contribute to your club's court sports programs, making them well attended, memorable and profitable.


Four Ways to Wow

Ajay Pant and Jeff Long, head pro and assistant head pro at the Forest Grove Athletic Club, Palatine, Ill., offer these tips for impressing members in tennis clinics.

- Show videotapes of top players going through exactly what members go through. Emphasize that pressure is purely perceptional.

Show the students they are "normal" when they get nervous. We actually have students write down how they feel physically and mentally before a second serve down match point. No right or wrong answers and no consulting with your buddy. When we read out responses, attendees suddenly realize they are not alone.

- Give out small prizes (T-shirt, key chain) for "mentally tough" answers. Members love these.

- Make the clinic personal. We share all sorts of outrageous examples from our own playing days. We make it a point to get the attendees to laugh at our own embarrassing lapses. Average club players leave the workshop feeling that if their pro could collapse under pressure, it is OK for them too. Just do not make a habit of it!