Forget that the players are past or approaching AARP age, the fans are still bringing the noise, and the marketers are lining up. The fourth annual "BNP Paribas Showdown" at New York's Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28 will have more sponsors doing more activation than in the prior four years, which have seen the Williams sisters play each other for the Billie Jean King Cup, among other matches.
The forthcoming match features John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl in one set, followed by a best of three-set match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
The title partner, for the third year, is financial firm BNP Paribas. It will hold a VIP reception at the Garden for 900 guests (up from 500 last year), including appearances by the players. The company has been running signage in Times Square and on New York City buses, taxis and in Metro North trains.
Other partners for the event include Cadillac, Delta Air Lines, Euflexxa, Fiji Water, Hugo Boss, Longines, NASDAQ, Nespresso, Rums of Puerto Rico, Tennis.com, 2K Sports and USTA. All get brand integration at the event, including on-site digital signage, video spots on GardenVision center-hung scoreboard, and in-arena public address reads.
Greg Elliott, SVP of marketing partnerships for MSG Sports, says for the first time the Garden is bringing its digital signage system into play for the "Showdown," letting individual sponsors have in-arena domination on the system during breaks in play. "So our partners will be able to own the entire landscape during breaks on the court," he says.
"We have done this with team-sports marketing but not in an event of this scale. Because it's an exhibition we have the ability to push the envelope a bit in bringing these adaptive technologies to the court area for partners. It partners to bringing highly flexible messaging and brand-statement options to the event. With our old systems the signage was static, and you were locked into a message."
All of the sponsors will also get brand exposure on print, television, and digital marketing and will be in pre-event activities such as a tennis clinic hosted by Stefanie Graf. Other activations include Euflexxa's spokesperson and R&B recording artist Gloria Gaynor of "I Will Survive" fame.
Hugo Boss is providing outfits for the officials and ball kids; Nespresso has coffee machines for the VIP reception; Cadillac is putting the CTS V coupe on-court and the CTS Coupe and SRX on the MSG Mall; and FIJI Water is offering a ticket discount with purchase promotion at Duane Reade stores as it did for last year's event. Watchmaker Longines will provide the official clock.
Elliott says ESPN II will televise the event, which is almost sold out. "Attendance is way up, and our partners have responded throughout the process."
"We have more partners than we have had before in number and in scope. And what we are seeing now is partners taking part outside event parameters by doing things like online consumer sweepstakes involving social media, even Web sites."
He says MSG hasn't projected the TV viewing audience, "but based on what we are seeing, what the show is up against, and day of the week and weather, what we are seeing in terms of metric has grown exponentially; it's attributable to the athletes' legacies and the fact that they are still relevant because they are iconic players. They aren't out there on a daily basis but there is still equity to see them play. They are still hyper competitive and there are still rivalries. This is not Sunday in the park."