Tennis Business, Tennis Channel On The Upswing

In the midst of NFL, NBA and NHL seasons, a lot of marketers have plenty of reasons to look forward to tennis in 2016.

The business of tennis worldwide tops $6 billion, according to the Tennis Industry Association.

Sponsorship spend on tennis was a record $739 million in 2014, according to research and consulting firm IEG. When the numbers are crunched, the sport is again expected to set a new sponsorship spend mark in 2015,.

That comes due to activation led by brands including Anheuser-Busch, Emirates Air, BNP Paribas, SAP, Rolex, FedEx, Gatorade, Mercedes-Benz and Sony, in addition to the plethora of companies endemic to the sport.

The first of four Grand Slams in 2016, when marketing spend and viewership tends to peak, is the Australian Open (Jan. 18 - 31). That event has a roster of partners that includes Kia, Rolex, Jacob's Creek, Emirates, Heineken, IBM, Toshiba and Canadian Club.

"Of course, the endemic business is a significant part of our business. But when you look outside the tennis industry, the marketing growth is amazing," said Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO for the Tennis Channel. "We are experiencing huge growth right now in terms of viewership. And 50% of our audience is female. Which makes sense since 50% of the players on the court are female."

But what is unique, according to Solomon, is that "male viewers watch both men and women, and female viewers watch both women and men on a regular basis."

At Tennis Channel, that translates to some 35 million subscribers, and more than 55 million during major tournaments.

The recent U.S. Open, which for the first time was broadcast in its entirety on ESPN and sibling networks, had a 40% increase in average viewership over 2014 and was the most-watched U.S. Open since 2011, averaging more than 1.2 million viewers, according to ESPN. That was driven in part by Serena Williams’ quest to win her fourth Grand Slam of the year. 

"In tennis, you are reaching a vast audience with a high average income and a high intent to purchase," said Solomon, who prior to joining Tennis Channel in 2005 held executive posts at Universal Television, DreamWorks and Disney. "And you don't have to be a sponsor of a tournament. Auto, pharma, travel, car rental, hotels, the airline business are huge in tennis."

Tennis players are among the highest-paid athletes in the world, based on earnings and endorsement deals. They are led by Roger Federer ($67 million), Novak Djokovic ($33.1 million), Rafael Nadal ($32.5 million), Maria Sharapova ($29.7 million), Serena Williams ($24.6) and Andy Murray ($22.3 million), per Forbes.

That said, tennis executives are not settling into a marketing comfort zone. They have made it a priority to reach out to young demographics and ethnic groups to develop the next generation of players, viewers, fans and consumers.

According to Katrina Adams, who this year became the first African-American to be named president, chairman and CEO for the U.S. Tennis Association, "The culture of many Latin or Hispanic countries puts soccer first, and then, in many cases, baseball. We want to introduce tennis to this culture in a way that entices them to be part of it."

"The reality is that when you are in your late teens, going to college, you are not sitting in front of your TV," said Solomon. "Our challenge is to get this demographic to watch on other platforms.

“We see this as a big opportunity. They expect content and want more of it. They are watching content that wasn't available to them before. The trend is customization and curation ... allowing people to not only choose what they want to watch, but also on which devices,” said Solomon.

Moving forward, he said that live sports such as tennis shown across various platforms would continue to drive viewership and attract marketers.

"The value of live sports continues to grow. At Tennis Channel, we have aggregated 95% of the content of one sport. We are not about one event, one day, one month, once in a lifetime. Tennis Channel content is the best of tennis."

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