Draper positive on state of the tennis nation

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Roger Draper: "We are a big sport, with half a million adults playing weekly"

Despite recent blows to UK tennis - the Davis Cup defeat to Lithuania, Andy Murray's early French Open exit, and some poor British results at Queen's Club - the sport's national chief, Roger Draper, remains upbeat.

Mr Draper moved from Sport England in 2006 to take the helm at the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), where he had previously been director of development.

And he insists the sport is in healthy shape, with the steady progress of its tennis programmes on court being accompanied by the growth of the LTA's business model.

"I am concerned with what is going on for 52 weeks of the year, not just for a few weeks during the summer," he says.

"We are a big sport, with half a million adults playing weekly, and we are one of the few sports that are growing.

"We have got to get the message across - it is not just about who wins Wimbledon."

'Big investment'

Mr Draper points out that in addition to the weekly playing figure, one million adults play every month, with four million playing once a year.

"Our big job is to convert those who play on a monthly or yearly basis to play more often," he says.

In addition, he also wants the number of adults playing weekly to rise to 625,000, and to increase the numbers of children taking part in tennis competitions.

"At the moment, we have a big investment programme in park tennis, and on making the sport much more accessible," he says.

"And over the next five years we are investing £40m - putting money into clubhouses, better facilities, training programmes."

In his view, it is a myth that playing tennis is expensive or a white middle-class pastime.

"A lot of kids coming through are from very diverse backgrounds," he says.

Wimbledon deals

Speaking at a Sports Industry Group event, Mr Draper also points out that tennis is the fourth-biggest commercial sport in the country, valued at £1.3bn.

So where is the money coming from?

The LTA's annual budget is £55m, with about half of that being derived from the annual Wimbledon championship.

Image caption,
The LTA is selling its 50% stake in the Wimbledon tennis venue

Also, under a deal signed two years ago with event hosts the All England club, from 2013 the LTA will keep 90% of the financial surplus from the event each year.

At present, the LTA keeps nearly all the cash surplus, but Mr Draper hopes that by allowing them to retain 10%, the All England will be incentivised to bring in greater Wimbledon revenues.

In another deal, the 50% of the Wimbledon venue owned by the LTA since 1934 will be sold to the All England club for £55m, to be made in instalments from 2013.

"We are not property developers, so that is why that was sold back to the All England club," he says.


Three years ago, the LTA "stripped back" its number of sponsors. At the time, it had 47 backers paying between £50,000 and £100,000 each, with many of those firms enticed by access to Wimbledon tickets.

In January 2009, Mr Draper then signed up the first-ever "lead partner of British tennis" - global life and pensions giant Aegon - in a five-year deal.

"We quickly built up a relationship with Aegon - they are one of the best commercial partners in British sport," says Mr Draper.

"It has been, in only a short period of time, a phenomenal success and we are only in year two. You only have to look at the success of their schools and parks programme."

And he says it was also encouraging that the LTA continued to attract sponsors of the calibre of BNP Paribas and Highland Spring.

"It shows as a sport we are in good shape, people want to be associated with our sport, and they are in it for the long term too."

Another way of raising revenues has been staging more events, including the high-profile staging of the ATP World Tour final at the O2 last year, which will be repeated this year.

"What we had in November at the O2 was a real event crowd, in a very different environment from what we what usually associate with tennis," he says.

Spending cuts?

However, despite this rosy picture, there is one cloud on the horizon.

Image caption,
Mr Draper does not think government spending cuts will harm tennis

The coalition government has pledged to cut costs and there is a danger that money for sport, in the form of grants from Sport England, could be reduced.

"I think sport is important to the government, and that it is committed to investing in sport in the long term," says Mr Draper.

He said that just 10% of the LTA's income was derived from Sport England.

"Some sports rely on government hand-outs, and that is very dangerous route to follow."

'Public upsurge'

Meanwhile, he is looking ahead to the Olympic 2012 tennis being staged at Wimbledon - and at how the LTA can potentially leverage that.

"There will be a huge public upsurge," he says.

"We are working with all the boroughs and [Olympic organisaing committee] Locog to make sure there is a lasting legacy left behind.

"Not just for London, but also Scotland and Wales and cities like Newcastle."

And Mr Draper hopes to still be at the helm then, seeing through to fruition the long-term playing and commercial plans he has for tennis.

"The traditional idea of business continuity does not fit easily with sport," he observes.

"People want instant success, but then there is change of personnel and a new strategy is put in place.

"But if you look at successful businesses, it is about gradual improvement, sticking with the strategy, and being in it for the long term."

And he asks that British tennis is judged on the period 2016 to 2020, when the players being groomed by the current strategy will start emerging as competitors.

'Huge boost'

Despite his insistence that UK tennis is a 52-week concern, Wimbledon is looming on the horizon with play starting on 21 June.

Image caption,
A successful Andy Murray can help spark further interest in the game

And the LTA boss says Andy Murray has the skills to go all the way to the final this year.

Mr Draper believes that Murray will make the breakthrough to win a Grand Slam tournament, calling him a "winner" since his youth days.

"There are very few talents like Andy Murray, breaking through into the top 100 when they are 18," he adds.

"He is in a difficult era with Nadal and Federer.

"But if he wins Wimbledon, it will be a huge boost, and we have to be ready to take advantage of that if it happens."

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