5 Ideas To Help You Grow Your Membership
By Bruce Knittle
With almost every sports organization seeking to expand and strengthen its membership, there are a few models upon which to draw certain lessons. One such entity with a sound membership expansion strategy is the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
The USTA was originally formed in 1881 as the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, and subsequently shortened to its current name. From its inception to present, the USTA has abided by certain principles that have driven their membership strategies throughout the years.
The following are examples from the USTA, which can prove relevant to sports organizations, associations, and event owners.
1. Value The Mission Statement
The mission statement of the USTA is the same as in its beginning constitution—to promote and develop the growth of tennis. This is a simple message that still guides the 17 geographical sections comprising the organization.
One of these divisions, the USTA Texas section, in putting forth its 2013 strategic plan, places this same vision as a top priority. Anyone connected to this and other sections, will be working toward similar objectives.
The Amateur Athletic Union is an example of a sports organization, with its 56 separate districts, all adhering to the same message of the AAU. This communication is “to be dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.” All membership expansion is based with this principle at the forefront.
2. Embrace Community Partners
The USTA has long been a leader in expanding member participation by utilizing community tennis partners. They recognize those organizations that provide tennis programming for their respective locales. The USTA shows its support by offering a full spectrum of play opportunities through these community tennis events.
These programs provide tennis at the grass roots level, which is crucial to growing the sport’s membership.
Event planners and rights holders alike would do well in trying to embrace their surrounding communities. This will help with increasing membership, and developing goodwill from the local communities.
3. Promote Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion is a strategic priority for the USTA, and one of its core values. USTA recognizes it has an obligation to lead in removing barriers so that tennis reflects all of America.
This inclusion pertains to membership initiatives, as well as all programs, volunteers and staff.
It is always a good idea for an organization or an event to have diversity programs for as many groups as possible. This will serve an ancillary purpose of expanding membership to demographic segments not previously considered.
4. Add Tournament & League Play Options
By continually increasing its tournament and league participation, the USTA creates new opportunities for membership growth. One recent illustration of this is the development of competitive opportunities for 10 and under-aged tennis. In creating new initiatives that involve youngsters in the sport, the hope is that these children will be tennis players for life.
There are numerous other organizations working to expand their membership base by reaching out to the youth demographic segment. The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) is an example of an organization that hosts many types of sports offerings for youngsters of varying ages. USSSA also recognizes the need to escalate its brand through these many categories of events and tournaments.
5. Think Creatively
The USTA continually turns to creativity to increase tennis participation and membership. One example of this resourceful thinking is a commitment to wheelchair tennis. The USTA is the national governing body of both Olympic and Paralympic tennis. Included in its sphere are the Pan American games and World Team Cup tennis events.
Many sports organizations and event planners would do well to emulate the programming opportunities the USTA provides for wheelchair bound individuals. A whole new market has been created by this outreach and commitment from the USTA.
On a personal note, while attending the U.S. Open this year, one of the more enjoyable aspects of the event for myself and others, was watching wheelchair tennis competition.
Overall, the USTA, through the above and other illustrations, is an example to all-sized sports organizations of how to increase their membership and brand. And what can be more relevant to a sports entity’s long-termed growth as its membership.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bruce Knittle is the President of Knittle Sports Solutions, Inc., a full service sports consulting firm based in Long Island, New York. Knittle Sports Solutions offers advisory services to sports organizations in many geographic regions. Previously, Bruce was a successful camp owner, and director of sports programs for many years.