In its last study of tennis participation in 2014, the U.S. Tennis Association reported about 30 percent of players were underrepresented minorities. Among “frequent players,” the number rose to 32 percent, according to D.A. Abrams, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the USTA, one of The Consortium’s newest corporate partners.
One person among that 32 percent had the tennis world buzzing in September at the USTA’s signature event, the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.: Would Serena Williams clinch the calendar-year Grand Slam after taking the title at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon?
Alas, the answer was no. She lost in the semifinals to unseeded Italian player Roberta Vinci.
Still, USTA President Katrina Adams credits players like Serena Williams and her sister Venus with boosting player participation among African Americas. Both she and Abrams say the organization has more work to do “to make tennis look like America,” as Abrams describes his job.
Diversity a priority, particularly among Hispanic Americans
Since ascending to the nonprofit’s presidency a year ago as the first African American and first professional tennis player to hold the post, Adams has said diversity in general, and specifically among Hispanic Americans, is one of her top priorities.
“I think it’s a group of people that we really haven’t embraced fully with the sport,” Adams told the Tennis Channel in September, during the U.S. Open. “We’ve done an amazing job in diverse areas with the African American community, as you can obviously see looking at the quarter-finals today.”
In his role as chief diversity officer, Abrams can put his hands on detailed reports tracking minority representation in four categories: players; suppliers; national staff (which includes the staff at USTA’s 17 regions); and volunteers, which include board members such as Adams.
USTA President Katrina Adams speaking with the Tennis Channel during the 2015 U.S. Open.
The benchmark, Abrams said, is the 37 to 38 percent of the U.S. population comprised of underrepresented minorities. Progress is good among players, and moving in the right direction, he said. With about 12 percent of supplier expenses going to URM firms, he said the USTA is close to its internal goals.
How the USTA partnership with The Consortium helps
But growing the numbers among staff and volunteers at the USTA is an area of opportunity. “And that’s where The Consortium partnership comes into play,” Abrams said. The USTA is a contributor to The Consortium’s annual fund, effective in 2016. He said the organization particularly hopes to draw interest from CGSM alumni, who would be great volunteer participants on its many advisory panels and boards.
The USTA partnership particularly pleased one Consortium alumna.
“I’m thrilled by that,” said Nicole Kankam, managing director of marketing for the USTA, whose chief responsibility is promoting the U.S. Open. Kankam is a Consortium fellow who received her MBA from New York University in 2005.
She noted that her team’s marketing efforts increased the share of African American tournament visitors from 11 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in September. The push to increase diversity among the audience, players, suppliers and volunteers has been underway for at least 10 years, she said. It’s particularly important as the U.S. Open finishes the roof over its center court stadium and prepares to open a third stadium.
Those, along with several other changes at the U.S. Open, are expected to draw an additional 100,000 fans on top of the 700,000 the tournament typically draws.
“The senior leadership recognized that the U.S. Open can’t just focus on our core audience base, particularly if we want to grow the mission and the U.S. Open,” she said. Abrams, her USTA colleague, echoed the message.
“In order for us to grow as a sport and an organization, we really have to intentionally target and engage diverse talent across the board—players, suppliers,” he said. “We have to do it because white America remains our sweet spot, but that’s getting smaller.”