Friday, 6 February 2015

Canadian Tennis Coast-to-Coast: Tennis Manitoba and their digital innovations


Article courtesy of Tennis Canada.

As part of the process leading up to a 2015 re-brand of Tennis Canada, we travelled to each province to meet with the presidents and executive directors of the Provincial Tennis Associations (PTAs) to learn what tennis means on a grassroots level in their region. Over the next three months, we will feature a different province weekly and learn more about the various themes that embody tennis across the country. To read articles from the rest of the series, click here.

Popularizing the Universal Tennis Rating System

Though tennis in Manitoba may be less prevalent when compared to Ontario and Quebec, due to a smaller population, the province has made several unique contributions to the fabric of tennis in Canada. This includes the popularization of the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system. UTR is a tennis ranking system that provides players across the world with a common language to determine their level of play. There are 16 levels of tennis, which are based on actual match results without regard for age or gender. Bruce Waschuk, president of Tennis Manitoba, has led the charge for the spread and promotion of UTR.

Manitoba initially implemented UTR to help improve tournament player selections and draw seeding. Because of Manitoba’s smaller population, there is not an abundance of tennis players at all the various age and gender event categories. To solve this problem, Manitoba now uses UTR for running level-based tournaments, where draws may have players from multiple age groups and both genders. Manitoba also uses UTR to realize new initiatives that help grow tennis participation, as well as help existing players find a better game. These player ratings allow juniors to find more appropriate local tournament competition. This is a stark difference from previous years where extensive travel was the norm for many competitive Manitoba juniors.

“UTR felt like a natural part of tennis culture in Manitoba,” said Tennis Canada CMO Mark Healy. “It was expected in conversations around the courts, and innately followed in all tennis play.”

Working to Bring Tennis to the Forefront

Manitoba hosts two professional events as part of the ITF Pro Circuit, a $15,000 men’s Futures and $25,000 women’s Challenger, which both take place in Winnipeg in August. Manitoba emphasizes the build-up around the tournaments, focusing on new programming and catering to a young demographic. Before these tournaments came to Manitoba, it was very hard to drum up interest around tennis. Tennis Manitoba executive director Mark Arndt, Waschuk, and their team worked hard to bring these ITF events to their province and it is now paying dividends through increased tennis participation.

“Our two ITF tournaments are the showpieces of tennis in the province,” said Arndt. “They are the key to unlocking other forms of tennis participation.”

The harsh weather in Manitoba makes outdoor winter tennis nearly impossible, which is in line with the rest of Canada. Fortunately, there are several indoor clubs that buoy tennis participation throughout the winter, such as the Winnipeg Winter Club and Taylor Tennis. Manitoba’s tennis clubs are unique because they have a rich, albeit small, culture around clay courts.

“The culture of tennis in North America usually manifests itself through hard courts,” Healy remarked. “But clay courts are popular and growing in Manitoba – it was very refreshing.”

Digital Innovation

Manitoba is very sophisticated when it comes to digital marketing, which has led to a large social following. The province has its own successful digital marketing campaigns, but has also agreed to help test any new digital strategies that Tennis Canada may have. This collaboration will lead to synergies for both sides and hopefully for all digital marketing in Canada.

Tennis Manitoba believes that two factors keep people from playing tennis: finding a partner and finding a place to play. To combat the latter, Manitoba took an inventory of all known tennis courts in the province and created a custom Google Map for Manitobans looking for a nearby court. It is extensively used throughout the province and is a highly visited page on Tennis Manitoba’s website.

Looking for a place to play tennis in Manitoba? Check out the
Tennis Manitoba Court Locator at www.tennismanitoba.com.

A trailblazer in the area of UTR, Manitoba is also trying to push it to new heights by combining it with technology. The Tennis Manitoba team inputs all tournament match results that take place in the province into the UTR system, which calculates a tennis player’s level of play rating. This leads to improved player development, as well as an increase in player satisfaction from more compatible match play.

Strong leadership, passionate tennis players, and innovation in UTR help make Manitoba a very significant tennis contributor in Canada, with lots of potential for the future.

Provincial Tennis Associations (PTAs) are the provincial arms of Tennis Canada and are essential parts of growing and developing interest and participation across the country through their local initiatives. Our mission to grow the game of tennis in Canada would not be possible without the committed and tireless efforts of the PTAs.