U.S. Open Marketers, Media Have Quite A Racket

It doesn't take much to get people excited about the U.S. Open, the tennis Grand Slam that will be held in the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY (Aug. 31-Sept. 13). But the 2015 event is certainly loaded with changes and innovations that will raise the bar on marketing and activations.

This year marks the first time that ESPN will have exclusive wall-to-wall, all-platform coverage of the event. ESPN has televised much of the Open since 2009, but an 11-year exclusivity agreement signed with the U.S.Tennis Assn. in 2013 eliminates long-time media partner CBS from the picture.

The move opens opportunities for companies not officially aligned with the U.S. Open.

Voya (formerly ING), for example, has signed as presenting sponsor of ESPN’s telecast. The deal gives Voya a "significant two-week presence” across ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPN 3, including ads, billboards, on-air features and a pact with ESPN tennis commentator Brad Gilbert for an episodic video series, “Gilbert’s Glossary.”

Concurrently, this will be the final U.S. Open for Esurance, which since 2010 has been the event's official insurance partner. Esurance said it would continue its deals with top-ranked women's player Victoria Azarenka and top tennis doubles players Bob and Mike Bryan even as it focuses on MLB, NBA and other deals.

"We will have a strong presence this year, including a new TV spot with the Bryan Brothers as part of the 'Sorta You' campaign, branding on-site, branded busses running throughout Manhattan and back and forth to (the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) and other activations," said Chris Lee, Director of brand partnerships and social engagement for Esurance. "We’ve had a great, long-standing relationship with the USTA. They certainly understand why we feel it is time to move on."

New to the official marketing roster is Mondeléz International (Oreo, Nabisco, Cadbury), which said the U.S. Open would "provide an enormous platform" to promote its brands.

"The U.S. Open ... is that rare event with strong appeal among our core targets of moms, millennials and multi-cultural consumers collectively,” said Stephen Chriss, senior director of North America consumer engagement and marketing services at Mondelez International. 

The Open also brings together some of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

According to Forbes, Roger Federer is the fifth highest-paid athlete in the world ($67 million income, including $58 million in endorsements), Novak Djokovic is No. 13 ($48.2 million, $31 million in endorsements), Rafael Nadal is No. 22 ($32.5 million, $28 million in endorsements), Maria Sharapova No. 26 — but No. 1 among women ($29.7 million, $23 million in endorsements), Serena Williams No. 47 ($24.6 million, $13 million in endorsements) and Andy Murray at No. 64 ($22.3 million, $16 million in endorsements).

Williams continues her record-setting tennis quest, seeking her 22nd Grand Slam win and her fourth of 2015 — much to the joy of such marketing partners as Nike, Gatorade, Wilson and OPI.

Djokovic is seeking his third Grand Slam of 2015, supported by sponsors including adidas, Uniqlo, Seiko and Peugeot.

American Express enters with a new deal with Sharapova, which includes what AmEx called the "first-ever virtual reality experience to feature a live-action and CGI version of an athlete simultaneously to create one user experience," with the opportunity to face Sharapova's 100-plus MPH serve.

Among others that will have multi-media presence — including broadcast, on-site and throughout the New York area — are such official partners as Chase, Emirates, IBM, Mercedes-Benz, J.P. Morgan, Heineken, Polo, Xerox, Evian, Grey Goose, Jacob's Creek and Tiffany.

More than 713,000 people attended the U.S. Open last year, more than 4.5 million viewers watched the women's final (Serena Williams over Caroline Wozniacki) and some 2.5 million watched Marin Cilic defeat Kei Nishikori in the men's final.

Small wonder that ESPN and others want to be part of the racket.

Last year, ESPN produced 100 hours of TV and 400 hours on ESPN 3 from seven courts. This year, ESPN will have more than 1,200 hours of live action, including 130-plus hours on ESPN, ESPN 2 and WatchESPN; and 1,100 hours on ESPN 3.

“Clearly for Voya and our other partners, the ability to weave coverage and content throughout our platform, to be able to put it in more places, to be able to provide more access, will be a big step up for us and our partners,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN SVP of programming.

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