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USTA’s Amy Choyne Isn’t Concerned with Pickleball, Rogue League Rivals

  • Choyne, USTA's chief brand officer, has seen tennis' resurgence in the U.S. in her time at the organization.
  • Much of tennis' growth has come among Black and Hispanic populations and has skewed younger.

United States Tennis Association executive Amy Choyne isn’t concerned about pickleball overtaking her sport — or a rich, upstart league like LIV Golf making trouble for the current tennis establishment.

Choyne covered those topics and more in the debut episode of “The C-Suite,” hosted by Front Office Sports’ Chief Content Officer Lisa Granatstein. 

After Choyne spent more than 20 years in retail, she served six years as the chief marketing officer of the USTA — the national governing body for tennis that also runs next month’s U.S. Open — before she was tapped about a month ago as chief brand officer. 

“As with all businesses and organizations, things transition and evolve,” Choyne said. “When I started [with the USTA], I wanted to change their conversation with their audience and the tennis ecosystem. 

“We are a membership organization, and we had 600,000 members at the time. We wanted to broaden that conversation and have it more personalized with everyone playing tennis in America.”

The USTA currently has more than 700,000 members.

“I think the conversation in marketing and the kind of creative [efforts] have shifted,” Choyne said. “We now have to go to where people are instead of asking them to come to us. We have been incredibly successful in our social media platforms — we’ve seen tremendous growth this year. We’re up already 42% in engagement across TikTok and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter [over 2021].”

As for any potential rivals, there’s pickleball, which has 4.8 million U.S. players, according to a recent Sports & Fitness Industry Association report. That’s nearly a 40% increase since 2019. 

Tennis actually grew more than pickleball during the same span (4.9 million), as more than 22.6 million people took to tennis courts around the U.S. in 2021, according to the most recent Physical Activity Council’s (PAC) participation report by Sports Marketing Surveys.

“Pickleball gets a lot of press, and there is a tremendous amount of growth, but with all honesty … tennis has seen a tremendous amount of success,” Choyne said. “Our raw numbers probably [show] more success than pickleball.”

And while the pandemic forced the 2020 U.S. Open to play to empty stands in Flushing Meadows, COVID was actually a boon to the sport. 

“COVID definitely helped our sport,” she said. “It’s a safe sport, it was outside. But we’re seeing, across the board, a tremendous increase. Retailers alone said ‘21 was probably the best year that they’ve seen in a very, very long time.”

Choyne said participation gains came in large part from Hispanic and Black demographics — and tended to skew younger.

Meanwhile, the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which has reportedly sought out British Open Champ Cameron Smith and TNT “Inside the NBA” co-host Charles Barkley, has generated anxiety for other sports who could be challenged by similar rogue leagues. 

Choyne thinks pro tennis is different — at least for now. 

“It’s an interesting question, and it’s riveting to watch what’s going on,” she said. “There’s always a comparison between [tennis and golf]. But when you look at the structure of the organizations, they’re very, very different. 

“First and foremost, we are the national governing body, and we own and operate the U.S. Open. We are not a tour — the WTA and ATP [are the pro tours]. So it’s not something — right now — that the USTA is concerned about.”

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