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. Want to play Maris Sharapova in a virtual world? American Express brings it to you. If you are the coffee company Lavazza and want to launch your first ever full consumer campaign in the U.S.? Tie it to your US Open partnership and hit the streets and the digital space with lots of branded content.
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, Tommy Hilfiger and their launch of an underwear line with Rafael Nadal this past week. The launch itself gathered global press well away from the traditional, and that exposure brings casual attention to the US Open and tennis, generating buzz well beyond the court, similar to what Uniqlo did with Novak Djokovic a few years ago, or with Sharapova and her candy launch of Sugarpova as well. 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.
On the digital side, the mega-platforms created by ESPN online in its first full year as host broadcaster 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.
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 tent pole 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.