Byline: Staci Bonner

ATLANTA — Sales of tennis apparel appear to be floundering. At the same time, business in golf apparel is booming.
Following several years of what the Tennis Industry Association concedes is a waning consumer interest in the sport, manufacturers of tennis apparel plan to beef up business two ways: dual-purpose looks that can be worn for other sports activities and a $15 million marketing program.
The Play Tennis America program was created this year as a grass roots campaign to recruit half a million new tennis players over the next three years. The program, which is sponsored by the TIA and funded by its 130 members, is expected to generate a volume of $125 million in tennis apparel and related products by the end of 1997.
Jim Bough, TIA president and vice president of Racquet Sports for Wilson, noted, “Our major push is getting young people who have abandoned tennis out on the tennis court again.”
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, tennis is losing ground to hiking, running, biking, swimming and in-line skating. Tennis currently ranks 22nd on the SGMA’s list of top sports activities.
The TIA noted that total tennis industry sales, which include apparel and related products and equipment, is expected to be flat or to decline slightly in 1995. Wholesale volume for 1995 is projected at $842 million, a 40 percent decrease since 1990. Estimated retail sales of tennis apparel in 1994 were $280 million, compared with $400 million in 1990.
According to a survey by the National Golf Foundation, consumers spent $780 million on men’s and women’s golf apparel in 1993. The NGF’s 1994 consumer survey has not been completed. The NGF reported that women now account for 37 percent of beginner golfers in the U.S. Women are most likely to buy clothing for their sport at a department store, the survey said.
The SGMA reported that total 1994 sales of golf products and apparel posted a 6 percent increase over 1993, totaling $1.4 billion.
To increase survival in the difficult tennis market, manufacturers are focusing on crossover appeal rather than sport-specific clothing.
Here’s what several makers of tennis apparel who exhibited at this month’s Super Show said:
“There is a trend toward crossover merchandise,” said Lisa Berger, designer of women’s tenniswear at Ellesse. “Tennis clothing is a tough sell right now, and we’re trying to keep tennis clothes from being too sport-specific.”
At Ellesse, this translates into separates such as vests, jackets and sweaters that can be layered over warmups and tank tops.
Cycle Venture is providing its tennis-skirt customers with lots of dual-purpose items.
Eleanor Hendren, owner of Cycle Venture, said she’s quadrupled sales over the past couple of years by introducing a basic kilt as a streetwear item. With the exception of the neon satins, all Cycle’s skirts are multi-use.
“Our gold lamés, which we thought would only appeal to a boutique customer, wound up on the cover of Tennis Industry Magazine,” said Alyson Lee, director of marketing for Cycle Venture. “The lines have become blurred. There’s no distinction anymore. We thought an item was just for the courts, and they wear it on the street.”
But while the demand for dual-purpose items is growing, makers generally note the tennis “purist” still exists, a player who wears a classic tennis dress. That traditional consumer is helping the tennis dress make a comeback, they say.
“The tennis dress has been getting a lot of attention,” said a Nike spokeswoman.
Caryn Valone, president of Love/40, a tenniswear firm, said she is having a lot of success with tennis dress looks.
“When we came out with a tennis dress a year ago, everyone thought we were crazy, but it’s doing fabulously,” said Valone.
Manufacturers of tennis apparel are also aiming at the golf market.
“We saw that the tennis market was flat, not growing,” said Linda Jost, vice president of design for IXSPA 2000. “So we tested a small golf line for spring, and the response has been overwhelming.”
Howard Goldwasser, president of IXSPA 2000, said women’s golf apparel is a “tremendously important” market and he expects IXSPA’s first line of women’s golf apparel to account for 60 percent of 1995 sales.
Tail, a maker of women’s golf apparel since 1977, showed a fashion group of golfwear inspired by Chanel for fall.
Amy Bentley, marketing consultant for the company, said, “It used to be all plaid golf shorts, and very coordinated.”