Canada’s list of rising young stars on the WTA and ATP Tours is growing, and so, too, are the country’s tennis participation numbers. Unfortunately, Tennis Canada says, that growth is limited to summertime.
In order to nurture the country’s swelling interest in the sport, the national governing body says it must tackle one of its biggest problems: Canada’s shortage of courts for winter tennis.
“We’re fighting this perception that tennis is a summer sport,” said Michael Downey, president and CEO of Tennis Canada. “Many municipalities aren’t thinking about tennis in the winters – they just think ‘yeah we’ve got some courts, people use them in the summers.’ So we have to change that mindset.”
In the fall, representatives from Tennis Canada will travel across the country talking to some 50 municipalities about a more cost-conscious way to provide year-round tennis than investing multimillions in new bricks-and-mortar venues.
Armed with an information package that has taken a year to assemble, they’ll visit cities with popular outdoor courts and educate them on how to cover those courts with air-supported structures during the cold weather to provide indoor tennis.
Tennis Canada says last year 6.6 million Canadians hit the courts at least once and there was a 36-per-cent increase in frequent play over the past two years – that is, people playing four or more times within 12 months. Its data comes from a survey conducted in August, 2018 by Charlton Insights.
The organizing body says 61 per cent of Canada’s participants play on outdoor public courts, 18 per cent belong to indoor clubs, 18 per cent belong to outdoor clubs and 14 per cent are members of bubbled facilities.
Canada has 7,500 tennis courts open for use in warm-weather months, but Tennis Canada says only 10 per cent of those get covered during the winter and the rest sit unused for some 50 to 70 per cent of the year.
“There are only 750 accessible covered courts in Canada. By ‘accessible,’ we remove the big private clubs from that category, because while we’re glad they’re there, they’re not that accessible because they’re private,” Downey said. “So 750 is one covered court for every 50,000 Canadians. If you compare that to other leading tennis nations, we’re way behind. Some leading European nations are like one to 4,000 or 8,000, 15,000.”
Downey says 85 per cent of those covered courts exist in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The survey showed that 51 per cent of Canadians said they would play more tennis if they had access to convenient and affordable covered courts nearby.
Tennis Canada does not have the money to build bubbles over all those outdoor courts around the country. Instead it will advise the interested cities on exactly how to take on such a project. It will visit those 50 cities armed with a 100-page information guide, which includes items such as capital costs, different types of bubbles, other sports that could be played there such as badminton and pickleball, and private operators who can do the work.
Downey says a bubbled facility can be achieved for less than $2.5-million and can generate $20,000 to $40,000 profit for each court.
“The way we look at it at Tennis Canada, if we don’t lead this charge, no one will. As the country’s federation for tennis, we should be leading the advocacy here,” Downey said. “We need to get more cities interested.”