Five Questions for Dana Gill, CEO of Lifetime Tennis

Dana Gill

On November 21, the San Francisco Recreation & Park Commission voted to retain Lifetime Tennis to operate Golden Gate Park Tennis Center. An RFP process resulted in two submitted proposals which were reviewed and evaluated by a Selection Committee composed of experts in public projects, urban recreation, tennis programming, and finance. (Terms of the proposed agreement between SF Rec and Parks and Lifetime Activities can be found here. More information can be found in a staff report here.)

Dana Gill, CEO of Lifetime, and his team will be in charge of the daily management and annual operations planning of GGPTC. Started in 1993, Lifetime already provides operational and management services for five municipal tennis centers in the Bay Area, including in the cities of Cupertino, Pleasanton, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Walnut Creek.

Gill is a former collegiate/touring player, Elite USPTA certified pro, and was ranked number 1 in the U.S. Men’s 45s and participated in the 2017 World Team and Individual Championships as a member of the U.S. National Tennis Team.

1. What are some of the qualities of Golden Gate Park Tennis Center that you are excited about?

The GGPTC is an idyllic tennis environment. Nestled in one of the world’s most beautiful parks, the tennis center is the rare venue that can meet the needs of all players, whether they be recreational or competition-minded, students or friends, children or adults. We find ourselves especially excited about watching the revitalized tennis center serve as an inclusive environment for families, friends and colleagues. 

2. In your 26 years of experience operating municipal tennis facilities, what are some important lessons you’ve learned about operating a successful site and balancing the needs of users?

We understand and respect the uniqueness of each community we serve. From management to individual contributors, our team members have a genuine interest in helping others. Lifetime professionals listen, learn and facilitate positive experiences for patrons of all ages, abilities and interest levels. A key ingredient to operating a successful site is to learn whether a community leans more heavily towards league, lessons, tournaments, drop-ins, socials, youth, adults, and/or family services, and then deliver those services in a professional manner via affordable pricing options.

3. What things are common among the 5 sites you operate in terms of people's tennis habits or other issues? What differences exist?

Regardless of city or venue, one thing is a constant...Tennis players are passionate about their sport! Typically, adults know exactly what they want and our role is to offer services and programs that best meet those needs. However, we have found that with growing work, economic and familial demands, most people have time limitations and tend to prefer/expect organized play experiences -- whether it be for themselves or their children. Our rain or shine operating hours, online reservation systems, and broad menu of learning and league options have been well received throughout the Bay Area sites we manage.  

In terms of differences, each community varies in respect to its legacy programs, work/school commute time, weather patterns and organized tennis associations. We spend a great deal of time, before and after commencing operations, meeting with local tennis enthusiasts to learn how each of these areas influence a given tennis center and its population of players. 

4. In what ways do you see communities being formed at these tennis centers?

During the tennis boom of the 1970s, people viewed tennis centers and clubs as a second home; whereby people would simply “drop-in”, pick up a game, watch others, and relax onsite before and after playing. As the years have passed, tennis groups have become more compartmentalized with USTA adult leagues becoming the dominant activity throughout the US. Today, teams of 10-20 players tend to play together and stay together in year-round league offerings. Recreational players still tend to band together is smaller groups and enjoy their weekly gatherings, while high school teams still enjoy fall and spring seasonal play against cross-town rivals. The creation of the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) is helping to create a better pathway whereby people can play with one another regardless of age or sex. 

I truly believe that the new GGPTC will be that best of all worlds for tennis enthusiasts! The modernized and iconic venue will be host to organized events and activities, while serving as a place to relax, hang out and enjoy friends before and after a game or lessons. I expect the facility will be among the most dynamic facilities in the US and would not be surprised if it wins the USTA Facility of the Year award in 2020 or 2021. 

5. How would you describe the public/private relationship between municipalities and Lifetime?

The public/private operating model allows municipalities to forge alliances with industry specialists, while also ensuring that the needs and priorities of the local community are clearly defined through the terms and guidelines of the management agreement. Operating a public facility allows Lifetime to focus 100% of our attention on service delivery. Our mantra is to provide private club amenities and services at community-based prices. And by not being the land or facility owner, our sole focus is to facilitate a safe and desirable environment for tennis enthusiasts to enjoy. Lastly, we clearly understand our role as a contracted management specialist and always keep in mind that, as a guest, we serve at the pleasure of the City and its community.