Want to know more about the online court reservation system (called Spotery) that SF Rec & Park launched last year? Read our Q&A with the team behind it: Dana Ketcham, Director of Property Management, Permits and Reservations, and Jessica Hing, Property Manager.
Q: Why did SF Rec & Park launch the online reservation system last year?
In 2018 and 2019, as part of the renovation of the Golden Gate Park Tennis Courts, numerous meetings were held and attended by hundreds of tennis players. One great concern was from the senior community who was concerned that without reservations it would be hard for them to continue to participate in their tennis communities. In addition, GGP Tennis was the only site in our system where players could make reservations. We heard from numerous members of the community who do not play at Golden Gate Park that it was very hard to find open tennis courts and they would drive from site to site looking for courts.
In early 2019, in order to address community concerns, we offered to test a pilot free online system at a few courts to see if there was public interest in a reservation system. We proposed to test the new system at 21 total courts in 11 parks throughout the city. Prior to starting, we posted notice at all courts that would be impacted, emailed all members of the Tennis Coalition SF and held a public meeting. We held a meeting on March 21, 2019 that was attended by over 100 people. The feedback was positive, and we launched the pilot on April 12, 2019.
Q: Which parks are reserved the most? What days and times are most popular overall?
Before the pandemic, Dolores, Moscone, and Mountain Lake Park typically had the most bookings. Most bookings were made for weekends, and the most popular times to book were after 5 pm. Now, the pattern still holds but all courts have increased in popularity at all days and times.
Q: Why did you decide to expand the number of courts available to be reserved on the system?
During the initial pilot period in 2019, we indicated that we would extend the pilot if it was successful. We received positive feedback and requests to expand the online reservation system to additional courts. As we looked at which courts to choose, we did our best to offer reservable courts throughout every neighborhood in the city and to try single sites where there was only one court. We expanded the program to an additional 12 parks and we posted notice at those parks and held a community meeting on September 18, 2019. We again received positive comments and with this expansion, 35 total courts were reservable in 23 parks throughout the city.
Since the fall 2019 expansion, we have received continued feedback to expand the online reservation system. Since it was winter, we waited for spring but then COVID-19 hit requiring us to close all courts in March 2020. When we were able to reopen courts on June 6, 2020, one of the conditions from the health department was to avoid having people waiting and congregating. Also with other sports shut down, there is expanded interest in tennis, with courts being booked very quickly. Online reservations fill quickly due to the limited numbers. So in June 2020, we proposed to expand to include an additional 34 courts.
Q: How do you balance the convenience of online reservations with the community need for some courts to continue to be available for walk-up play?
In June 2020, we posted notice regarding our proposal to expand the online reservation system to include an additional 34 courts in 25 parks. For the first time, we heard concerns about the system with 95% of them relating to expanding the system to include all of the courts at Dolores, Glen Park, and Joe DiMaggio. As a result, we did not include those courts in the expansion effective July 27, 2020. In order to balance the community need for some courts to continue to be available for walk up play, we have kept walk-up courts available at 43 parks across the city. As of today, reservations are available at 63 courts in 25 parks and walk up play is available at 62 courts in 43 parks.
Q: Do you plan on expanding the system in the future? Will the new GGPTC courts be on the system when it reopens?
We do not anticipate expanding the online reservation system to all courts in the near future. We eagerly await the opening of the new GGPTC courts and will again incorporate public feedback to decide best steps moving forward.
Q: Has anything surprised you about how the system is being used by tennis players?
Two things have surprised us. First, the popularity of the system has surprised us. Most courts are booked seven days in advance. One of the big challenges is that there are no consequences for booking and not using courts and we are getting complaints that courts show booked but they are empty. We are exploring ways to address this concern including adding a check-in feature based on satellite location and if someone does not cancel in advance, their account could be suspended.
The second thing that has surprised us has been the willingness of people to try to beat the system by creating multiple email accounts and programs to automatically book courts using bots. We have had to make changes to the system to address this issue and it leads to the system having some significant slowdowns during this transition. We hope that those issues have been addressed. We are also trying to streamline the system to add better search functions and allow courts to load more quickly.
For most days and times, almost all courts are booked nearly seven days in advance! Therefore, if you book and wind up deciding not to play during your booking please think of others and cancel your reservation.