By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
August 31, 2012
As Hurricane Issac made landfall on the Gulf Coast earlier this week, U.S. Open officials were no doubt hoping that this time around, they would dodge a meteorological bullet. For the last four years in a row, the U.S. Open men’s final has been pushed to Monday by bad weather. While this surprisingly enough hasn’t had much of a negative impact on TV ratings, since the tournament’s pinnacle event was moved to Monday prime time, it has certainly been a headache for organizers and tennis patrons, and for sponsors trying to wring the last bit of on-the-ground activation from their multi-million dollar sponsorship deals.
While rain may have produced a few empty seats, it certainly hasn’t kept the U.S. Open’s impressive list of corporate sponsors away, as sponsorship revenue is currently hitting record numbers. And as the United States Tennis Association looks to the future of its signature event, and ponders whether to spend the roughly half-billion dollars required to add a roof to Arthur Ashe Stadium, USTA executives can take comfort in knowing that whether rain or shine, their corporate relationships are likely to weather the storm.
So far, Emirates Airlines seems pleased with its new sponsorship of the U.S. Open Series. The airlines joins such longtime tennis sponsors as Mercedes-Benz (the ATP and Roger Federer), Citizen Watch Company (Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, and timepieces from the 20th Anniversary U.S. Open Limited Edition Watch Collection), and Polo Ralph Lauren (linesmen’s and women’s and umpires’ apparel) in maintaining a visual presence around the grounds. Technology partner IBM takes care of scorekeeping and running the popular U.S. Open website and is also debuting new “Smarter Planet” television ads targeting corporate marketing officers during broadcast coverage—among the first to target marketers in general-market media, according to AdAge.
And when the TV cameras pan the stands of Arthur Ashe, it’s hard to miss the blue-backed signage of longtime sponsors Chase, Xerox, JP Morgan, Esurance, American Express, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Evian, Panasonic, and dozens of others—indeed, marketers often cite the intimacy of tennis venues as a key factor in their partnership decisions. Even though the 22,547- seat Ashe seems vast, and is in fact the world’s biggest tennis-specific facility (the main reason why it’s so difficult to roof), its funneled design ensures that corporate logos several levels above the court are more than camera friendly.
The Open is also a haven for sports’ foodie fans, who are delighted to nosh on lobster rolls and tapas at Flushing Meadows instead of hot dogs and soggy nachos. (ESPN notes that U.S. Open concessionaire Levy Restaurants will serve 7.5 tons of lobster, crab, and shrimp over the course of the 20-day event.) Corporate partners have come running to the table.
Grey Goose last week announced that it has returned as a promotional partner of the U.S. Open, marking the sixth consecutive year the vodka brand has had a presence at the event. Heineken’s namesake bar is a popular watering hole on property; the beverage giant is also presenting sponsor of Stars at the Open, which welcomes such diverse personalities as actress Eva Longoria, NHL star Alex Ovechkin, and actors Shea Whigham and Jack Huston of the hit HBO show “Boardwalk Empire” to watch the center court action on Ashe. And while her namesake sweets won’t be sold on the premises, it’s no surprise that tennis diva Maria Sharapova chose America’s signature tennis event to launch her new “Sugarpova” candy line.
For tennis fans, even with an average ticket price of $335 for matches on Ashe, according to data from ticket reselling sites such as StubHub, there’s nowhere else to be on Labor Day weekend. The food, the Manhattan cityscape, make the U.S. Open a must-attend event.
The USTA and its sponsors welcome you with open arms.
Addendum: “See Ya Later, Alligator” took on a new tennis-specific meaning on Thursday, as longtime Lacoste endorser and American tennis icon Andy Roddick announced that he was retiring following his final U.S. Open match. The declaration by Roddick on his 30th birthday took even tennis insiders by surprise, and resale tickets for the Open’s Friday evening session, possibly Roddick’s last match as he prepared to face Australian up-and-comer Bernard Tomic, couldn’t be had for less than $123 per ticket in Ashe’s upper decks’ far reaches.
Here’s hoping there’s a broadcasting future for Roddick and his quick as his pounding serve wit.