2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas

Tennis

Back in the 1930s, in Russia, there was a brief time when face-slapping was considered a sport: Two men would slap each other in the face until one of them, usually bloodied, gave up. Funny that it never caught on.

And yet other (perhaps less violent and silly) sports thrive. Like tennis. Since 1995, the tennis industry has spent more than $50 million to increase tennis participation in the United States, and it's worked wonderfully. Tennis ball sales have shot up more than 10 percent, and rackets are up an amazing 17.4 percent. Even ESPN and other national cable sports channels have benefited: Their tennis-match ratings have been on the upswing for years. All this interest has also benefited entrepreneurs like 33-year-old Chris Deverian, the CEO of Balle de Match, a sporty clothing company that promotes "the casual tennis lifestyle."

Deverian had been looking for a sports trend back in 1992, when he started Balle de Match in Irvine, California. At the time, he thought he would focus on the hip and happening volleyball crowd, but when he determined it was an oversaturated market, he looked elsewhere. Deverian got his start by following a national tennis tour and selling to the attending players and crowds. "We went out and met the tennis people," says Deverian, explaining how his company-which earned upwards of $2.8 million last year-became entrenched in the sport. "We had good, solid designs, a lot of hard work and lots of luck." Projections for 2001 are an astounding $3.2 million.

Deverian says there are a lot of opportunities in the tennis industry, but if you're daunted by it, certainly there are many other sports waiting to become the next hot thing. Russian face-slapping, anyone?

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas.

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