We are the organizers of the community group McCarren Tennis Association. We represent more than 500 tennis players in the North Brooklyn area and are responsible for securing the recent $60,000 grant that fully restored the courts in McCarren Park. We are writing to express our opposition to the fee increases in tennis.
At the outset, we are aware of the city's budgetary problems and do not categorically oppose all fee increases. However, we believe this tennis fee increase is fundamentally unfair, effectively singling out one sport for punitive fee increases while maintaining reasonable fee structures in others.
- Tennis fees are already the highest fees on a per-person basis of any sport. Softball fees, for example, are planned to increase to $12.50 per hour for a maintained field the size of at least 12 tennis courts. Divided by 20 players (2 teams), that's a maximum per person fee of $2 per person for a 3 hour session. To play 3 hours of tennis under these proposed fee increases, it would cost one person $45 -- an expense twenty-two times greater. This massive disparity is visible in other sports as well.
- Every sport for which Parks charges fees involves substantial staffing or maintenance costs to the city. For example, the city spends millions maintaining ball fields, basketball courts, handball courts, and other facilities every year. A single public pool can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Yet tennis courts cost very little to maintain. They require resurfacing every 5 to 7 years ($6,000 per court max) and otherwise only require touch up maintenance -- my group spends $3,000 annually to maintain our eight courts. Yet tennis fees are radically higher than fees for any other city sport. There simply is no rational basis for imposing fees of this magnitude on a sport where capital and maintenance costs are so low.
- Given the low costs of tennis court maintenance and high permit fees, one would expect at the very least that the city would maintain the courts. However, the courts are in disastrous condition wherever a private group like ours does not maintain them. The McCarren courts were virtually unplayable until we fixed them -- they had not been resurfaced in more than 20 years. However, it is a fact that the city currently collects nearly $2 million annually in tennis fees. To our knowledge, not one dollar of this money is specifically allocated to the improvement and repair of tennis courts. On a city-wide basis, ball fields, basketball courts and even handball courts are in better average condition than are our courts -- and practitioners of those sports pay less, or nothing at all.
- There is a substantial chance that these fee increases will actually backfire. Read this analysis of the last set of fee increases. The article points out that doubling the fees actually didn't substantially increase revenues because people either played less -- or as is more likely, cheated. Parks does not currently provide attendants on most courts at most times, so enforcement of this increase will be difficult for Parks. Many more people will refuse to buy passes and will instead try to "sneak" on the courts. This will cause more strife between the permitted and "illegal" players, which already is a problem on city courts.
- While it is difficult to guess what might have motivated this policy, one does wonder whether it is motivated by a misperception that tennis players are rich, country-club types who can afford to pay large fees. In New York City, that could not be farther from the truth. The players in our group make up nearly every race, ethnicity, gender and economic background that this city can offer. This policy would ensure that lower income players are excluded from the game, which actually is cheap to play: it only requires a one-time expenditure on a $40 racket and a $2 can of balls every few plays. Is it really Parks' goal to ensure that low income residents cannot play this particular game? And why this particular game, when softball, soccer, track running, pools, organized frisbee, handball, and so many other sports are either free or affordable? We respectfully request an explanation.
Hopefully this will at least provoke some thought. Here are a few specific policy recommendations:
1. If Parks must increase fees, the fee increase should be reasonable. Doubling fees that are already the highest in the city (per player) is not reasonable. We could support a 15-20% increase provided that Parks would commit to some basic maintenance on its tennis infrastructure.
2. Allocate a percentage of tennis court fees to the maintenance and improvement of tennis courts. Right now we have a pure case of taxation without representation. As much as groups like ours are willing to help, we cannot shoulder the entire burden of ensuring that NYC courts are playable.
3. Provide a fee reduction/exemption for low income players. Our greatest fear is that this policy will prevent the next Arthur Ashe, Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi from ever realizing their potential. When Melanie Oudin came to McCarren to open our newly repaired courts, she spoke about how important public courts were to her development. NYC is the home of the US Open, but with policies like this the next great player will never rise in New York City.
Thank you for your consideration.
The McCarren Tennis Association