LTA seeks ace partnership to drive grassroots tennis participation through Murray era

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is seeking a new type of lead sponsor that will drive grassroots participation in the sport, as the season finished on a Murray-inspired high.

Number one: Andy Murray celebrates winning the ATP World Tour Finals at The O2 on Sunday (©Adam Davy/PA Wire)
Number one: Andy Murray celebrates winning the ATP World Tour Finals at The O2 on Sunday (©Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Andy Murray won the Barclays-sponsored World Tour Finals on Sunday for the first time, ensuring he would end the year at the top of the world rankings. His brother, Jamie, has also become half of the world-leading men’s doubles pair.

Earlier this month the LTA – the governing body for British tennis – revealed that it was parting ways with its lead sponsor for the past nine years, pension specialist Aegon. This contract expires at the end of 2017. At that time Andy Murray made critical comments on the LTA’s inability so far to turn Britain’s professional success into grassroots participation.

The LTA’s commercial director James Mercer told PRWeek that British tennis would now look for a new type of commercial partnership that could address this challenge head on. "This isn’t about conventional sponsorship, this is about a partnership to get more people to play tennis more often," said Mercer. "We’re looking for a lead partner who shares in our ambition to inspire people nationwide to be more active and will embrace the opportunity to grow the game across all places to play, from schools to parks to clubs."

From 2018 the LTA would now prefer a lead partner with a shared interest in 'getting racquets into people’s hands'. For example, the Football Association has a long-running partnership with McDonald’s with a focus on grassroots and community programmes.

At the same time, the LTA will be looking for another sponsor for the title rights to the flagship Queen’s Club tournament in June.

2016 has been a great year for British tennis at the professional level. Murray won Wimbledon and Olympic Gold, along with many other ATP tournaments. His brother Jamie won two grand slams – the Australian and US open tournaments – with partner Bruno Soares. The British team also did well in the Davis Cup once again, reaching the semi-finals. Meanwhile, British woman Johanna Konta achieved top-ten ranking for the first time, and Kyle Edmund broke into the men’s world top 50.

In recent years Andy Murray has been critical of the LTA’s ability to create the next generation of British players. Earlier this month he said: "When I’m done playing and my brother is finished playing, I hope that British tennis is in a better place than when we started, and I don’t know if that’s the case just now."

Despite commercial successes such as record-breaking sales and viewership performance by the Aegon Championships at the Queen's Club, the indicators for grassroots participation in Britain are not good. According to Sport England almost 750,000 people played tennis reasonably regularly in the year 2015/16, which was an increase on the two previous years. However, this compares to nearly one million in 2008/9. Tennis, like many other sports in the UK, is on an overall downward trend.

In a statement, the LTA’s chief executive Michael Downey said: "In the new plan, an opportunity will exist for a new lead partner of British Tennis to help take British Tennis into a period of sustainable participation growth and for another equally important partner, the opportunity to be the lead sponsor of the iconic Championships at Queen’s Club, one of the most prestigious ATP Tournaments in the World."

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