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  • Publisher's Notes May 2024: USTA CEO Confirmed Participation Numbers Are Bogus?

Publisher's Notes May 2024: USTA CEO Confirmed Participation Numbers Are Bogus?

Is there anything not bogus about the USTA leadership?


My Foray Into Padel and Pickleball

I am a tennis guy. Most of our readers and all of my local friends know this. For the last 27 years, I have organized Drop-In Tennis in Southern California. I have even written a book about it (Drop-In Tennis Secrets). Wasn’t exactly a big bestseller because I don’t have the certification salad behind my name (see below). But I know what I’m talking about. Have done over 3,000 drop-ins with tens of thousands of players and many times provided a good number of new members to our various host clubs.

I took a Pickleball lesson about 5 years ago from local tennis pro (now retired) Karl Ackerman and found it to be just okay. Not too exciting. In April, I took another lesson from a friend who organizes Pickleball matchplay at her home court. (Thank you, Patty!). Everyone there was so enthusiastic about the sport but I didn’t share all that enthusiasm. Again, I had an okay experience. Didn’t like the point counting, found that confusing. As a hobby chef, I had a hard time staying out of the kitchen, haha. Afterward, I concluded that I would probably not give up tennis for that.

Two weeks later I had my first Padel lesson. Now that is a sport I can get excited about. The guys at THE PADEL COURTS on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles were as nice as Patty’s Pickleball crowd and I appreciated the fact that this sport is so challenging. I had a hard time keeping up and coming up for air. But I still loved it. We’re planning a Padel Party for my drop-in tennis group at their courts this summer.

You will hear much more about my Padel activities (and a little Pickleall, too, I guess) in the following issues. The good news for me: All three sports can live together and provide great racket sports experiences for most people. You gotta love that!

Director’s Club of America Retreat Successful?

I came across some posts about the Boca Raton, Florida Retreat organized by the Director's Club of America. However, I'm now uncertain about its success and wonder if it was just a hyped-up tax write-off event at a posh resort. When I reached out to a tennis professional who attended, they declined to provide a summary of their impressions, which struck me as odd. Another professional agreed to share their thoughts but later revealed that Mr. Chirico asked them not to write the article. This raised suspicions and made me wonder what they were trying to hide. Something tells me it wasn’t topics like how to reduce the environmental footprint of tennis and keep hundreds of millions of tennis balls out of landfills each year.

I believe it would be beneficial to our readers if Mr. Chirico would come forward and share his perspective in the June issue of Racket Business. If anyone else has information about the retreat, please feel free to contribute. If you wish to do it anonymously, we’ll post it as "The Commish."

Certification Salad

What’s up with the certification acronyms some (obviously very important) tennis heavyweights feel compelled to put behind their names? Do you know some of them? “Mr. Bigshot USPTA, PTR, USTA, RPT, GPTCA, MBE, MBA, M.Ed, Ph.D, DCA” Hu? Reminds me a little of the scene in ‘Moscow on the Hudson’ where Robin Williams is pursued by this guy and, when cornered, asks him “FBI?” “No.” “KGB?” “No. Gay!” Too funny.

Old Tennis Balls Collection

Yes, it was Earth Day on April 22 and our team at Conga Sports in Los Angeles decided to collect old tennis balls and send them off to RecycleBalls for recycling. And so we did and collected almost 1,400 old tennis balls. Thank you, everyone. We shipped them off in 6 of the green RecycleBall boxes.

Whatever it takes to keep tennis balls out of landfills. Right?

Morning Brew’s subtle humor is hilarious

Here’s the lead-in to the April 27 issue:

Good morning. The (apparently very good, very sexy) movie Challengers is out in theaters, and it marks the continuation of one of Hollywood’s most bizarre casting traditions: the Spider-Man-to-tennis movie pipeline.

Kirsten Dunst went from Mary Jane Watson in the first live-action Spider-Man movie to Lizzy Bradbury in Wimbledon. Emma Stone portrayed Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes after a stint as Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man films. Challengers stars Zendaya, who played Michelle “MJ” Jones in two Spider-Man movies.

Of course, the next wave of Mary Janes will all be in pickleball movies.


Did the USTA CEO Confirm that Participation Numbers Are Bogus?

From zero Billie Jean King Cup promotion to USTA SoCal refusing to fund their biggest District, what is going on with the USTA? At least we now know that those participation numbers are not to be trusted.

When I read the press release from USTA CEO Lew Sherr announcing “35 million tennis players by 2035” a few things came to mind like,

  • Are they letting the same company do the counting/guessing numbers that did it for the last decade and a half? (Oh, boy!)

  • Will the TIA be required to “massage” those numbers to look really good for the buyer (the USTA)?

  • They usually count people who once hit a tennis ball to their garage door in a year as players. Will they now also count Pickleball players because, you know, “it’s all just tennis” for us?

I also remembered the infamous tag team Kurt Kamperman, former CEO Community Tennis, and Gordon Smith, former Chief Executive, proclaiming in 2009 that the USTA would have 1 million members by 2015. Today, 9 years later, they have fewer members than in 2009. Let that sink in, folks. It shows you the forecasting capabilities of USTA leadership.

Then I thought there must be more to this crazy ambitious 35/35 projection. And I think I found some answers. Bear with me while I unwrap this issue and dive deep into the motivation of people who think that paying them high six-figure salaries is growing tennis. It definitely seems to have something to do with our reporting and also with famed crusader Javier Palenque’s relentless posts.


Did you notice it? The USTA article “35 by '35: The USTA's growth strategy for 35 million tennis players by 2035” announced not only totally ridiculous numbers but also gave us a glimpse into the USTA leadership and Board thinking. Why? Well, they can’t really say anymore that they are growing tennis. That train has left the station, folks. Instead, they are setting themselves up as the big wellness organization. The new mission: “GROWING TENNIS TO INSPIRE HEALTHIER PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES EVERYWHERE.” Okay. Takes the pressure off the ever-present need to grow the sport and count players, doesn’t it?

Original Photo by Valleriia Miller on Unsplash


That’s a new one, my friends. I get to that a little later in this article because it relates directly to my headline of bogus data. The USTA posted, “But while record numbers of new players continue to pick up the sport each year, too many opt to leave their racquets collecting dust—or even hang up their sneakers for good. Too often, players simply don’t have easy access to programs that meet their needs, coaches who can guide their growth, or facilities that make it possible for them to get on the court and emulate their favorite pros.” And they kept going with this line of arguments: The growth strategy offers a powerful vehicle for realizing the USTA’s new mission, making a generational investment in strengthening tennis by:

  • Creating and scaling programming that keeps new and returning players on the court—for life. (Read: Expand USTA Leagues)

  • Expanding the availability of quality coaching at all levels. (Read: We are better at finding and training coaches than PTR and USPTA)

  • Maximizing court availability to keep pace with participation. (Read: Make the clubs repurpose Pickleball courts to red ball for adults courts)

  • Supporting and elevating the next generation of stars. (Read: Do not touch our sacred cow Player Development!!!)

Do you see where this is going? Do you see the Board members nodding in agreement? “Growing tennis is not important. So, who cares? It’s the retention we have to take care of. Gets us off the hook for not growing tennis in 20+ years and having no real plan for future growth because people know it was the pandemic that added all those new players since 2020!”


I wondered what happened to this Billie Jean King Cup match against Belgium in front of just a few people at Lake Nona. When I read that Brazil played Germany in an 11,000-seat stadium in Sao Paulo, and France played the UK in a 3,500-seat stadium I thought does the USTA not want to promote the Cup and women’s tennis? Then I heard that tons of Floridians wanted to come and support their team in Orlando but couldn’t get tickets. First, the USTA said they were doing a ticket lottery. Still, no one could get on that lottery or buy a ticket because all the tickets were given to the USTA section and national staff present at the concurrent Annual Meeting. Ha, and they still had mostly empty seats on the second day of Cup matches. I assume Annual Meeting participants preferred going to Disney World or Epcot rather than to a free women’s tennis event. This was the most embarrassing USTA decision since the 2022 Davis Cup disaster when some USTA bonehead thought playing Colombia in a Reno, Nevada indoor location was a great idea.

Now we know, of course, why the USTA didn’t put those matches in a larger stadium and decided not to promote them. They did not want to create interest! GROWING TENNIS IS NOT THEIR PRIORITY ANYMORE. IT’S KEEPING TENNIS PLAYERS FROM DEFECTING!

Original Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

Could it be that this new mission has ramifications for the sections, too?


Last month I reported that the USTA Southern California decided not to pay their San Diego District the annual grant (USTA Southern California in financial trouble?) but now we found out that they also decided to not pay San Diego their share of membership revenue. So, they defunded the District to the tune of $82,000. They need the money for their new $15M Dominguez Hill project, lots of tennis courts and new offices. Seems they have totally abandoned the formerly acclaimed “Lulu’s Place” project near LAX airport.

An SDDTA (San Diego District Tennis Association) Board member told me, “The SDDTA represents 25% of the USTA SoCal membership, yet this money is now going toward the new 15M Cal State Dominguez Hills Campus Facility including new SCTA offices. So, thanks to the SCTA, we have lost $82K in income for 2024 which is 2/3 of our entire budget!” It leaves them with a 2024 deficit of -$80,500 on revenues of only $49,300 after already eliminating most of their own local grant giving.

And, you guessed it, USTA SoCal has also changed its mission statement from “growing tennis” to … GETS AND KEEPS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIANS ENGAGED IN TENNIS. Do you see it? Why should they pay their biggest hotbed of tennis, San Diego, for growing tennis when that is not their priority anymore? As long as they are able to pay their CEO $212K (2022) and their Controller 181K, all’s good in SoCal. Oh, btw, according to the filed 990s from 2022, the Controller works 40 hours a week for the section but she is paid an additional $127K working another 60 hours a week as Executive Director of the Foundation. The poor woman has to work 100 hours a week or 20 hours a day. When does she ever sleep? I guess the nice income of $308K a year makes up for a lot of lost snooze time? (That’s as much as the late Southern CEO John Callen received for a section that’s almost 3 times as big in revenue!)

I wondered how many more USTA sections have changed their mission statement. A quick check showed: None.


Let me set the stage here, my friends. The TIA’s 2024 Tennis Participation Report is based on 2023 survey data. The report states that “Since 2007, the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) have collaborated to survey tennis participation in the U.S. through the Physical Activity Council (PAC) Study on Sports and Physical Activity, a partnership that currently includes eight of the major governing bodies and trade associations in the U.S. Sports and Leisure industry.”

However, it is my personal belief that a better way to describe this “collaboration” is “Since 2007, the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) have worked with Sports Marketing Survey (SMS) to survey tennis participation in the U.S. and keep the reported numbers artificially high to please USTA sponsors and the IRS.”

We finally were able to get my assumption confirmed by no one else but the USTA’s CEO Lew Sherr. In an article on the USTA website titled Tennis, everyone: USTA CEO Lew Sherr on the new strategy for the growth of tennis Lew is quoted: “But last year, organically, we got 4.8 million new players into the sport, but then 98% of them leave. The difficulty is not getting people into the sport, it’s keeping them. Casting a wider net is not the answer. If we brought more people in for the first time, it would just exacerbate the court issues we’ve seen across the last ten years. So we're not going to put resources against bringing people in.”

The statement in the last sentence is important, folks. It shows us, that they will not use any of their revenues to grow tennis by attracting new people into the sport. Let that sink in for a moment. Have you ever seen anything more ludicrous, even from our National Governing Body? They want to reach 35 million players by 2035 without bringing new people into our sport? LOL

But my real issue is his mentioning of the 98% who leave the sport. I remember that this issue was quietly mentioned (whispered) behind closed doors during my time on the USTA Tennislink Team. If I remember right, it went like this: “Something like 80% or more of all people picking up tennis as adults leave the sport for good within a year.” For reasons we have always known (and I have extensively written about) that tennis is an unwelcoming sport, with high entry barriers, very cliquish and expensive. What I’m saying is that USTA leadership has known that fact for decades and didn’t find it important enough to act on it. Why try to curb rampant cheating and sandbagging in the USTA Adult League system when this is the section’s cash cow? Why disqualify and ban “professional” league captains who are lying and cheating when they bring many teams and revenue to the organization?

Now that they realize that they are out of ideas to grow the number of tennis players, they pivot to the new mantra of keeping players from leaving for other sports like Pickleball or Dodgeball. Hallelujah!

Now the main point of this article, BOGUS SURVEY NUMBERS.

The aforementioned TIA report counts 23.8 million tennis players for 2023. That number obviously includes the 4.8 million players added last year “organically” as mentioned by Lew Sherr. However, the USTA CEO also mentioned matter of factly that 98% of those 4.8 million have already left tennis since then. That’s an astounding 4.7 million players who have left, my friends.


I have been saying for years now that, according to the industry’s ball sales numbers, the real participation should be around 15 or 16 million.

Can you see the red faces of TIA and SMS executives when they read the USTA CEO admitting that their numbers should be reduced by 4.7 million?

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash


  1. I am pleased to see that my concerns have been validated. Over the past six years, I have consistently informed our readers about the inaccuracies present in the TIA's participation data. It appears that my assertions have been confirmed. When individuals who say they only played with a tennis ball once a year are included in the survey's count of tennis players, it raises questions about either a significant level of naivety or the potential manipulation of data and perceptions.

  2. If 98% of adult tennis beginners leave the sport within a year, that’s not only a reason for concern, it’s also a major nuclear bomb that should have been disarmed many years ago. I trust the USTA will now establish a bunch of committees manned by the same people who knew about the bomb decades ago and may take 2-3 years to make a decision.

  3. Capitalizing on an untapped market. The decision by the USTA to not allocate any resources towards attracting new players to the game of tennis presents a promising opportunity for private businesses and organizations. By developing effective strategies and providing exceptional services, these entities can fill the void and attract individuals to their own tennis programs. By creating an environment where people feel valued and embraced, they will be less inclined to join USTA programs. Furthermore, the USTA's new policy, which restricts the promotion of adult leagues to beginners and novices, is likely to result in the decline of this program over time, as the existing player base either ages out or transitions to other sports such as Pickleball.