Building tennis grass roots 3.0

By Pierre-Emmanuel Czaja, 20 April 2016

If I was a 13 y.o. boy today and you ask me what activity I would like to practise, I am not sure I would answer tennis… However, 30 years ago, nothing would make me happier than a racket and a ball, not even my first Atari console.

So what happened to tennis during these 30 years? It is still the same amazing game. There are still clubs and facilities everywhere. There are still healthy rivalries and champions bringing media exposure and excitement, although the Big Four is turning into a Big Nole. The Grand Slams and the top events are still very popular. Maria, Sania (if you don’t know her don’t feel embarrassed I didn’t know her either until last year ;), Rafa and Roger have each over 10M followers on Facebook. Tennis is heavily broadcasted on TV bringing even more money to the industry than before…

It looks like nothing bad happened really… So what if the problem was the very absence of change? Think about it, 30 years ago, there was no internet, mobile phone was science fiction, Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born, and when you wanted to talk to your girlfriend you had to call her house and talk to her dad first… The way we interact one with each other, the way we meet, the way we learn, the way we manage time and agendas, the way we consume, the way we have fun and even the way we fall in love and the way we practise sports has dramatically changed over the last 30 years. In short, the whole world has changed, but tennis didn’t.

Of course technologies and digitization have heavily impacted the professional tennis industry, but this is smoke and mirrors. According to a recent study from the MIT, amateur tennis is the second worse digitized sport in the world. In other words, what really makes tennis: the clubs, the coaches and the amateur players, have not beneficiated from the millions generated by the TV rights of the great tennis events. The grass roots of tennis have been abandoned for years. It is time for technology and digitization to come to the rescue of tennis. It is time to finally bring the change that 650M racket sports players, 500k clubs, 450k coaches, 600k tournaments organizers are looking for.

Setteo, the racket sports social network, ( is a very new and good example of how technology can support the grass roots tennis business. Here is an overview of 5 Setteo features that can lead the transformation to Tennis 3.0, answering the key challenges our industry faces: Interactivity – Fun – Mobility – Club Management enhancement – Integration of new emerging racket sports.

1- A platform connecting all players, coaches, clubs and associations globally

One of the main consequences of the lack of digitization in tennis is the fragmentation of the community. There are groups of players organized randomly but they are very small and not connected one with each other. It is very difficult to access these groups, especially for newcomers, turning clubs into very hermetic entities… Now imagine a world, where all the racket sports players, coaches and clubs are connected in one single platform. That is what Setteo is doing. Players can find new hitting buddies but also coaches or clubs anytime, anywhere. Coaches can do their promotion exactly like on Linkedin with skills endorsement and recommendation but with the big difference the network is made of players and they can also be “booked” online. Clubs become more visible and members finally play together again, putting an end to their dependence on organized classes and tournaments.

2- New competition formats

Playing in competition very often ends up being expensive and time consuming. Losing in a first round sounds like a lot of money and time spent for just one match… Not to mention very inflexible schedules that don’t really match with today’s life styles.

Spain being my main base for the last 15 years, I had the chance to see how Padel took over tennis proposing new competition formats: new types of ladders; local private circuits etc. Even in traditional tournaments, participants are guaranteed at least 2 matches and are welcomed with music and free gifts… Most of Padel players don’t have national ranking, they have fun instead… Today, it is estimated that there are 4.5M Padel players in Spain for just 2.5M Tennis players, no wander why…

Of course everything from Padel cannot be adapted to tennis and tennis must keep its essence, but Setteo integrates free software solutions that facilitates the creation of circuits and competitions of all kind of formats.  Anecdotally, the most popular club competition format in Spain is a type of ladder with mini groups of 4. The player ranked #1 in the group gets in the higher group while the player ranked #4 gets in the lower group. Then a new phase starts again.

3- Powerful interactive and free tournament software

Besides the competition format that are used, there was also some kind of resistance in using new tools to better manage and broadcast tournaments. It is now possible to abandon paper, pencil, maybe even phone calls and enhance participants’ experience at the same time.

From the smallest clubs, to the National Tennis Cup, the biggest amateur tennis competition with over 30,000 participants, organizers start using the Setteo software. The reasons are numerous: it saves a lot of time, it boosts the player overall satisfaction, it is fun to use, and it is free ;). Last and not least, players and organizers can enjoy live score and beautiful interactive draws enhancing the player’s social experience and generating far more engagement from the community on social networks and on Setteo. Monetization of the tournament through sponsoring and its visibility are increased accordingly.

4- Cost effective management software for clubs and associations

Although they are not very well spread in the tennis world, there is no doubt on the fact that software can facilitate a lot the work of club managers and employees offering online management tools for memberships, court bookings, lessons, competitions, payments and finances. But this is just one side of it. A concept like Setteo that merges software solutions with a social network brings it to a completely different level.

First because it is user friendly and as easy to set up as creating a Facebook account for a club. Benefits are immediate for managers and members.

Secondly, it brings fun and satisfaction to the members. Players can easily find partners from the club, meet, keep track of their results, use live scoring even for their training matches and share them live with their friends on other social networks. They can organize their own competitions and rankings and book courts in a very interactive way.

Thirdly, in a time where there is a huge offer in terms of leisure, Marketing and Communication must be a focus for the club managers. Setteo turns any member into an ambassador of the club. Playing matches, booking courts, participating in tournaments generates post that clearly indicates the location of the game. Communication with members is simple and interactive. Clubs and Coaches SEO is easy and free, exactly like searching your name on Google will return your Linkedin or Facebook page as a first choice… Websites generate very little traffic and interactions vs. Setteo pages. If you want to be convinced ask yourself why do you use Facebook in spite of a personal blog. By the way, users spend 86% of their time on Apps vs. 14% on mobile browsers.

Last and not least, Setteo makes clubs save money. The basic version for clubs is free and the Premium membership is cost effective vs. usual solutions. The possibility of managing advertising banners will for sure cancel the cost or even better generate benefits. Not to mention that Setteo profile can replace a web site as previously discussed. Why would a club have one if it costs money and if all the information is already displayed on the Setteo club profile? Why to integrate software in the web if there are already built-in solutions in Setteo.

5- A global universal and unisex rating system

This is Setteo’s biggest dream after connecting all the players. This is not a reality yet but the team is working hard towards that goal with an expected official launch next year. The idea is that players can not only find hitting buddies anytime, anywhere, but also play a match that counts for an accurate universal ranking that has no frontier and where men and women compete together. As per the tag line of Setteo, “Make the world play together”.

Game on!