Bill Campbell '67, MBA '70 (Business Administration-Accountancy)

Campbell helps revolutionize sports club industry

Bill Campbell

Bill Campbell was in college when he discovered the sport that would shape the rest of his life. Tennis became the catalyst for his professional career as an athletic club owner and for his work as Sac State’s Director of Tennis. It also introduced him to his wife and business partner, Margie.

And while tennis was the spark, it was a paper in a Sac State business class that formed the foundation for his career in recreation.

Campbell came to Sac State to earn his accounting degree because at that time Sac State accounting students had the highest passage rate in California on the Certified Public Accountant exam. But while playing on the tennis team, Campbell learned something else, “I found I was more interested in teaching tennis than I was in playing tennis or becoming an accountant.”

After graduation in 1967, when he wasn’t studying for the CPA exam—which he passed—Campbell built a local junior tennis program. He soon had 400 children in the Fulton-El Camino Recreation and Park District tennis program.

Campbell’s next step evolved into the foundation for Spare Time, Inc.

Campbell says, “While pursuing my MBA, I became really interested in tennis and swim clubs.”

In researching a paper for a financial management class, he called club owners to talk about how they ran their businesses, including asking to see their financial statements. As he traveled to tennis tournaments, he stopped at 22 clubs up and down the state. Amazingly, all of them agreed to share their data. The business plan for Spare Time, Inc. was an outgrowth of that research and paper.

“I decided that what I really wanted to do was create environments where people could enjoy all aspects of club recreation—not just tennis,” Campbell says.

Thirty years ago most private clubs were pretty simple, he says. They usually had about eight tennis courts and a backyard-type swimming pool. The membership varied widely from summer and winter.

The Campbells opened Rio del Oro Racquet Club in 1973. As a multi-recreational, year-round club, it was an innovative concept in club construction and management. The pool was heated, there were 27 tennis courts, two racquetball courts, an “exercise room” with a twelve-station universal gym and two stationary bikes. It also had child care.

And while that small gym may not seem like much compared to today’s mega-gyms, “It was novel,” Campbell says. “People could mix gym-based exercise with tennis. The whole family was at the club.”

Spare Time was also one of the first clubs in California to create “Kids Clubs” for teenagers and youngsters too old for child care. The clubs give them a place to do homework, work on the computer, meet friends, watch movies, play video games or ping pong and do crafts.

“This type of club amenity is now standard,” Campbell says.

Since opening Rio del Oro, Spare Time, Inc. expanded its operations to 10 facilities, drawing 65,000 member visits each week. The newest Spare Time club, Diamond Hills Sports Club and Spa, is located in Oakley, Calif.

Campbell says a key factor to the clubs’ success is the loyalty of the tennis players.

“When tennis players join a club, they stay. We still have tennis playing members who joined Rio del Oro in 1973,” he says, adding that he has played on Tuesdays with the same club member for the last 32 years.

“There is a lot of that going on,” he says. “People form strong friendships.”

Campbell says that he and Margie believe the family atmosphere at the Spare Time clubs is an important social outlet. There is a heavy emphasis on recreational and competitive programs for children. For example, the Spare Time, Inc. Junior Tennis Academy has 220 young people, 101 of whom hold a U.S. Tennis Association Northern California ranking. Each club also has junior swim programs with as many as 300 children on some teams.

“These types of activities provide for great social events for parents,” Campbell says. “They spend a lot of time here.”

Three decades later, Campbell continues to implement the strategies outlined in his college paper.

“It’s been a satisfying life,” he says.

Of his greatest satisfaction, Campbell says, “For Margie and me, it’s been being a part of people achieving their goals. That satisfaction is in everything we do, whether it’s a child learning to swim or playing tennis for the first time, a player ranked number one in his or her age group, a winning team or an adult losing 50 pounds. It’s what really matters.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2008 edition of Sac State Magazine.