By Steve Pratt
With a big assist from former ATP world No. 2-ranked Pro Magnus Norman, the popular paddle sport POP Tennis recently received a boost in spreading the game worldwide, according to the President of the International POP Tennis Association Mitch Kutner.
RacquetWire.com caught up with Kutner, who said the international partnership with a group from Europe – which includes the former three-time Grand Slam winning coach of Stan Wawrinka Norman and the European Sports Group Advisory and Licenses in Sweden – “creates great possibilities and larger potential for POP’s growth in 11 different countries.”
Kutner said the licensing deal to use the POP tennis branded name and logo at newly constructed sports venues in countries like Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden will go a long way in helping spread the growth of the sport re-branded in 2015.
Plans involve construction of sports venues with POP courts in multiple countries, putting on introductory and instructional POP camps and clinics, selling merchandise like POP paddles and organizing tournaments and social events.
“This agreement gives us incredible confidence in the future of POP Tennis in the U.S. and around the world,” said Kutner, an avid and accomplished player on the national level and a lifelong player of the sport that started in the late 1800s with its earliest origins in Michigan before moving to the east coast and played primarily in New York City, and also in Southern California.
The New York resident Kutner (at right) said POP Tennis has grown in popularity in the United States over the past several years and has been aided by support of the United States Tennis Association.
“The USTA is obviously focused on tennis right now after a great year of player participation growth, but they’re also supportive of alternative paddle sports like POP, padel and pickleball,” said Kutner, a three-time National Men's doubles finalist (2000, 2003, 2018) and a 2017 POP US Open Mixed doubles finalist. “The USTA & the USPTA have always been there for us, as well as major supporters such as Adidas, Babolat, Dunlop, Wilson, Drop Shot, Sport Court, OnCourt OffCourt, Har-Tru, The Tennis Channel, XTP, Reflex, Tiga. Not to mention all of the support from certified court builders, equipment supply companies and a host of incredible ambassadors around the world.”
Kutner added: “We always keep the lines of communication open with the USTA and always discuss creative ways to work together to not only grow POP Tennis but to also leverage POP as a way to help protect tennis court infrastructure around the country,”
In a December 2020, interview with Tennis Club Business publisher Rich Neher, Kutner said that former Harvard No. 1 player Ken Lindner approached him and a few others in 2014 to see about re-branding the game of POP Tennis, known from its earliest origins as paddle tennis, because it is so often confused with Platform Tennis and padel, also commonly known as paddle tennis.
“Around that time, we had also started to see pickleball’s rapid growth and it gave us hope and the drive to do it for the sport we loved and believed in,” Kutner told Neher. “We’ve always had amazing ambassadors in places like SoCal, Florida and New York, but things weren't working to grow the sport on a larger scale and we needed to try a different approach.”
The POP Tennis non-profit is based in Los Angeles and has more than 100 ambassadors nationwide. Kutner is active running the POP Tennis social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram with more than 25,000 followers on both platforms.
Kutner said there are currently nearly 300 different facilities in 24 states that have done some type of POP programming over the past two years.
“We’ve learned a lot from watching other sports like pickleball,” Kutner said. “They have done amazing work to grow their game over the past decade. A few years ago, the biggest challenge was that tennis facilities simply did not want to add other paddle or racquet sports. Some facility owners/managers and many teaching pros didn't take other alternative paddle/racquet sports seriously or felt those sports weren’t a fit or were a threat to tennis. We completely understood that hesitancy and respected it. That is why we never pushed too hard. We wanted our sport to grow organically. For many facilities, it was tennis or nothing at that time. That has changed dramatically over the last two years. Now, many job titles in the industry have changed from Director or Tennis to Director of Racquet Sports. Clubs understand they need to add options to cater to more people, to keep revenue coming in and keep their members happy. I love tennis as much as anyone and we don't want to replace tennis with POP. We just want our sport as a part of the equation to help strengthen the industry.”