When asked to name the Big Five sports in the U.S., many fans list the NFL, MLB and NBA, with the NHL and NASCAR vying for the fourth and fifth spots (and MLS soccer coming up fast).
Tennis gets listed farther down. But not by a growing number of companies that are building their tennis-related marketing support, and certainly not by the brands that will be out in force during the US Open in New York over the next two weeks.
Although biased, Gordon Smith, executive director and COO for the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), was right on the money when he said, "There’s no greater stage in tennis than at the US Open."
Sponsors for the Grand Slam event, which began yesterday (Aug. 26) and concludes Sept. 9, include American Express, Chase, Citizen, Emirates Airline, IBM, JP Morgan, Mercedes-Benz, Esurance, Heineken, Ralph Lauren, Xerox, Evian, Grey Goose, Panasonic, Moet & Chandon, Westin and Wilson.
Many of them also support the Emirates Air Line US Open Series, the six weeks of tennis tournaments leading up to the US Open.
Tennis is a strategic part of marketing and sponsorship for companies domestically and worldwide, with the projected spend at the professional and amateur level this year predicted to top $700 million for the first time. That figure is up from $581 million in 2009, according to a recent report from sponsorship, marketing and research firm IEG, Chicago.
According to IEG, companies atop the tennis leader marketing board are Corona Extra, which has a role in 29% of all tennis properties; Emirates Air (21%), Rolex (21%), Wilson (18%), FedEx (17%), Evian (16%), Ricoh (16%), Sony Xperia (15%), Coke (13%), PepsiCo's Gatorade (13%), BNP Paribas (12%) and Mercedes-Benz (12%).
By category, the most prevalent companies and firms involved in tennis come from (in order): sports apparel and equipment, banks and financial services, automotive, beverages (including beer), watches-jewelry, airlines, hotels & resorts, insurance firms and media (publishing, Internet, TV and cable), per IEG.
The deals do not include those between individual players and companies. In that category alone, based on combined tennis-related winnings and endorsement deals, the leaders are Serena Williams ($46 million), Roger Federer ($45 million), Rafael Nadal ($33.2 million), Maria Sharapova ($27.9 million), Novak Djokovic ($21 million) and Li Na ($17.2 million), according to industry analysts.
Tennis in the U.S. is a $5.57 billion business, including instruction, court usage, equipment sales and the pro game, according to recent figures from the Tennis Industry Assn., a not-for-profit trade association that promotes the growth of tennis and the economic vitality of the industry. The USTA earlier this month said it would begin a $550 million renovation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open.
Esurance, the direct-to-consumer car insurance division of Allstate, recently extended and expanded its sponsorship of the US Open, which began in 2010, via a new deal with the USTA. That includes a heavy dose of digital media activation. Esurance, Chase and Xerox are sponsoring the "US Open Social Wall," a new fan enhancement to the 2013 US Open. Esurance also is the presenting sponsor of the US Open iPad app.
Gary Tolman, Esurance president and CEO, mirrored the strategies of other companies when he stated, "Our continued partnership with the USTA provides Esurance with an incredible opportunity to engage with potential customers and millions of tennis fans."