The USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) announced plans to lay off 110 employees and close its White  Plains, NY office as part of a restructuring in the wake of COVID-19.

With the cancellation of Wimbledon and the change of dates of the French Open to later September, the decision on whether the U.S. Open will be played is due in mid-June. The tennis season is currently suspended until July 31 due to the coronavirus.

The restructuring plan is designed to streamline costs and focus investments and people on supporting the grassroots of tennis and bringing the tennis community through the relief, recovery and rebuild phases of the pandemic.The plan also ensures that the USTA’s commitment to the U.S. Open and all other USTA-produced events will remain at a world-class level. The USTA is pivoting from a program-based organization to a service-based organization with new technologies, structures and services designed to boost the U.S. tennis ecosystem to help the sport thrive for the millions of existing, and the attraction of, new tennis players.

In April, the USTA announced a comprehensive industry relief and recovery package focused on supplying information and funds for tennis facilities and providers to alleviate the hardships caused by the financial effects of the pandemic. These actions included identifying more than $20 million in savings by instituting salary reductions of USTA management, furloughing approximately 100 employees, cancelations of the USTA annual and semi-annual meetings, eliminating programs in marketing, player development and operations, and deferring all non-essential capital projects. The industry relief continues with regular updates here.

The next phase of the USTA’s plan will result in an additional $30 million in annual savings and align national staff and its volunteer committee members toward the strategic priorities of the USTA. Patrick Galbraith, USTA chairman of the board and president, noted, “In 2018/19, the USTA Board of Directors began a process to align with the USTA Sections and broader tennis ecosystem with a long term strategic plan designed to bolster the organization’s mission and provide continuity of planning through 2026.”

The plan development was an 18-month process that included an extensive listening tour involving hundreds of interviews and workshops. Ultimately, the USTA aligned against five strategic choices:

  1. Attract, engage and retain a new generation of diverse tennis players;
  2. Lead industry-wide improvements to the tennis delivery system, provider education and consumer experience;
  3. Build and optimize best-in-class digital infrastructure and platforms;
  4. Ensure continued financial growth and performance; and
  5. Collaborate within the USTA and tennis ecosystem for the common good of tennis.

Galbraith continued, “With the finalization of the strategic plan and the retirement of former CEO & ED Gordon Smith, we knew it was of paramount importance to bring in a leader with both grassroots tennis experience and a proven track record in restructuring an organization of our size and breadth to assure the USTA was properly positioned to execute the mission and our new strategic choices. With Michael Dowse starting on January 1, 2020, we have worked collaboratively to model the best structure to support the USTA of the future.”

Michael Dowse, USTA CEO and executive director commented, “We have an opportunity to reimagine the structure of the organization to better serve the tennis community in the United States. This new structure allows the USTA to be more agile and more cost-effective while getting closer to tennis players at the local level. Tennis begins at the local level and our new structure better empowers our unmatched network of volunteers and private and public tennis providers to deliver against our strategy of attracting, engaging and retaining a new generation of diverse tennis players. Unfortunately, today represents a challenging day for many of the USTA family who have been negatively affected by the downsizing of the organization, and I would like to sincerely thank each USTA staff member for their dedication to the organization.”

The plan includes the following reduction in expenses and key changes:

  • 110 national positions will be eliminated via a reduction in force and or taking advantage of the recently announced voluntary departure program;
  • The announced phased closing of the White Plains office with remaining staff relocating to a yet to be determined new location in New York;
  • Significant cuts in business units and other investments that are not aligned with the USTA’s strategic priorities. This includes merging player development, facilities, and USTA-U into Community Tennis along with other downsizing initiatives;
  • Significant reductions in meeting and travel expenses including for the years 2021-2023 whereby the USTA will only host one live attended meeting per calendar year for its volunteers and staff across the country to meet and discuss key business initiatives; and
  • Exploration of a shared services platform to minimize and eliminate redundancy of backroom expenses of Sections and Districts thus allowing the strength of its sectional and district volunteers and local staff to service and support local facilities, providers and players to grow the game.

The Tennis Service Platform will deliver a broad set of digital tools to support all providers and facilities to attract, engage and retain a new generation of tennis players. This tennis platform will provide a wide variety of marketing, safety, and educational tools as well as the Serve Tennis portal. The Serve Tennis portal not only will replace TennisLink for tournaments (January 2021) and leagues and junior tennis tournaments, it also will provide a digital module to manage programming, registration, communication, court booking, and membership management. Through Serve Tennis and the Tennis Service Platform, the industry will be able to dedicate more time to interacting with players on the court rather than through administrative tasks. For more information go here.

The USTA said it is committed to promoting and developing the growth of tennis with the combination of volunteers, the U.S. Open and USTA staff. This restructuring, using the strategic priorities as the guiding principles, will allow the USTA to move forward to drive the growth of tennis at every level.

Photo courtesy USTA