Say what you want about the Olympics, The Super Bowl, even NASCAR, perhaps the largest multi-day annual experiential sports branding event kicks off Monday when the US Open starts play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. From champagne bars to celebrities playing in sponsored events with fans to social media and community awareness, no event packs more punch and more people into two week’s than the USTA’s grand event.
The brand exposure used to be limited to two weeks in Flushing Meadows and maybe a bus shelter here and there with some New York Times ads mixed in. However for the last ten or 12 years, the USTA has expanded the value of tennis’ biggest branding event not just nationally but globally, with partners like Emirates Airways now in the mix and social media giving fans a chance to grab a piece of the Open wherever and whenever they like.
Also unlike the Olympics, which cracks down heavily on any promotions in the host city, a number of athlete-sponsored events always seem to extend the life of the event well beyond, the two weeks, especially in the fashion world. Take for example, Uniqlo announcing plans to launch an apparel line modeled after performance wear created and worn by Novak Djokovic this past week, or Venus Williams unveiling new items from her fashion line EleVen . All will drive more ancillary interest in the event, bringing it even further to the top of the mind of casual fans not just in New York, but around the world. While this doesn’t mean that the USTA protects their marks and brand sponsors any less than other properties, it does create a bigger opportunity for brands to get exposure who may not be US Open official partners.
The Open this year even gets a bigger bounce coming off the London Olympics, where players like gold medal winner Andy Murray and the Bryan Brothers were heavily involved in promotional campaigns into and around the Games. The Bryan Brothers were front and center on Citi’s Olympic promotions, which ties nicely into a trip to New York despite the fact that rival Chase spends millions as an official US Open sponsor. Maybe some confusion, but great awareness for the game during the lead-in.
On the digital side, the mega-platforms created by CBS, The Tennis Channel and ESPN online fit really well with IBM’s enhancements for the Open in the mobile space, as well as with the encouragement by the USTA, the WTA and the ATP to have players use social media platforms to pull attention to the event. As much as the London Olympics were deemed “The Social Olympics,” rest assured the US Open will find ways to engage with fans through digital media that will probably surpass all tennis events and most sports and entertainment events in the past.
Why does The Open really succeed year in, year out as such a huge event for brands? Yes it’s the tennis in some ways and in many ways it’s the transitional time of year when brands are looking to cap a period of promotion while also looking introduce new platforms for the fall and into the next year. However the Open’s greatest value is in its location. No other mega-event is located every year in the same place (the largest media market in the world) at the same time. That gives both buyers and spenders and easy annual mark to build a tentpole around and in today’s 24/7 always changing world, that consistency is very much welcomed. All of which leads to another blockbuster two weeks of brand tennis, which helps not just the event’s partners but the game of tennis continue to grow.