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Published 10 August 2012 07:45, Updated 13 August 2012 06:36
The “customer for life” concept is well understood by the head of development at Tennis Australia, Craig Morris, and he has the data to demonstrate its relevance.
“If kids haven’t played tennis by 16, there is an 80 per cent chance they will never play,” Morris explains.
Much effort has been made in recent years to get more children to play tennis. There are sound business reasons for doing so.
Two out of three people who attend the Australian Open are participants in the sport, so getting more people playing has a big impact on the tournament’s ability to generate revenue.
Tennis Australia is a big business. It turned over $152 million in 2011, most of which comes from its hosting of the Australian Open.
Sporting bodies have an obvious advantage over most companies in their ability to attract children but the lessons demonstrated by their programs offer food for thought for non-sporting businesses.
Over the past decade, many sports have devised modified versions of themselves to help attract participants and future customers. The Australian Football League’s Auskick – sponsored by National Australia Bank – is a leader in the field. Last year, 167,080 children paid about $50 to $70 each to participate, implying revenue of about $10 million.
Although Auskick is heavily dependent on volunteers, the program is unlikely to generate big profits. Its biggest benefit comes when the children, 15 per cent of whom are girls, develop a preference for football over other entertainment providers.
Tennis Australia’s version, Hot Shots, sponsored by NAB’s wealth management arm, MLC, began in 2008. Children play with small racquets and soft tennis balls on small courts with low nets. Last year, 50,000 primary school children were registered participants, up from 30,000 in 2010. The goal for this year is 90,000 and 180,000 by 2016.
“All sports are trying to get children hooked,” says Morris, a former coach of Australia’s highest-ranked tennis player Samantha Stosur.
Like the banks, Tennis Australia also has developed relationships with schools, which get free equipment and services when they make tennis part of their curriculum for at least four weeks a year.
Children register for Hot Shots through a central web site, which records their age, location, favourite players and preferred racquet, among other details.
Tennis Australia is mindful of commercial opportunities its growing database presents. Sponsors can reach up to 90,000 children in a newsletter and Morris says Tennis Australia will consider selling its mailing lists, where appropriate.
“This data is very valuable,” says Morris.
Tennis coaches at local clubs run the program. Tennis Australia is in the process of launching a plan where coaches and MLC advisers share information and boost clientele. This strategy is aimed at parents, although they are able to opt out of having their details passed on to financial advisers.
“Hot Shots is trying to grow the game and in doing that we are feeding just under 2000 small businesses,” Morris says.