Amid Pandemic, USTA Announces Comprehensive Reorganization

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

On Monday, the United States Tennis Association made sweeping changes to its organization. In an effort to reorganize and prioritize its structure while growing the game and service to the broader tennis industry, the USTA announced a “transformational plan that aligns the organization to both execute against the USTA mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis as well as combat the negative long-reaching financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday, the USTA plan includes national and sectional expense reductions, downsizing of its workforce – the elimination of 110 jobs, which reduces its national staff by about 20 percent – and an alignment of investment, staff and volunteers against the strategic priorities of the USTA.

“The plan is designed to streamline costs and focus investments and people on supporting the grassroots of tennis, and bring the tennis community through the relief, recover, and rebuild phases of the pandemic,” the statement said. “The plan also ensures that the USTA’s commitment to the US 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 entire U.S. tennis ecosystem to help the sport thrive for the millions of existing, and the attraction of new, tennis players.”

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.

• Exploration of a shared services platform to minimize and eliminate redundancy of backroom expenses of Sections and Districts thus allowing the strength of our Sectional and District volunteers and local staffs to service and support local facilities, providers, and players to grow the game.

Michael Dowse, USTA chief executive officer and executive director, said in the statement, “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.”

All the while, the USTA, which governs the US Open, is working to ensure that its crown jewel (currently scheduled to take place from August 24 to September 13) will be played at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center – albeit under strict guidelines as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – with no spectators.

According to Peter Bodo, ESPN.com staff writer, the USTA reorganization had been in the works since 2018, “when the USTA board of directors launched a process that ultimately produced a ‘strategic plan’ that, according to Patrick Galbraith, USTA chair of the board and president, was ‘designed to bolster the organization’s mission and provide continuity of planning through 2026.’ However, the implementation of that plan was sped up in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Reaction to the USTA news was swift. Christopher Clarey, tennis correspondent for The New York Times, wrote on Twitter: “Tough day at US Tennis Association, which makes significant job cuts. Player development program hit particularly hard with numerous coaches dismissed, although Martin Blackman (USTA general manager of player development) remains in charge. Some of this pandemic related, some a philosophical shift under new CEO Mike Dowse.” Further, he wrote: “Priority one seems the right priority one for a sport that badly needs more youth participation in this country: Attract, Engage and Retain a New Generation of Diverse Tennis Participants.” 

Meanwhile, Jon Wertheim, Tennis Channel insider who also covers tennis for Sports Illustrated, wrote on Twitter: “Sadly, those in media (and other embattled sectors) will recognize this language: ‘The USTA today announced a transformational plan that aligns the organization to both execute against the USTA mission… as well as combat the negative long-reaching financial effects of COVID-19.’”

Finally, Bill Simons, publisher and editor of Inside Tennis wrote: “Everyone knew a change was coming. USTA watchers have long realized that, despite all its wealth, the massive federation was in need of streamlining. While some pointed to its dazzling successes, critics claimed it was a 21st-century organization with 19th-century protocols.”