The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) is vastly expanding its program to market licensed, co-branded apparel both nationwide throughout the season and in the New York City area during the U.S. Open, which started on Monday and continues until Sept. 7 at the USTA Center in Flushing, N.Y.
Paul White, USTA director of licensing, says the association has offered branded products at the Flushing venue during the event in years past--but this year, U.S. Open-branded apparel will be available all over the tri-state area at some 20 locations, including a pop-up store in SoHo and kiosks at Madison Square, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Grand Hyatt Hotel, area airports and tennis shops, and at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Sports Authority and Ralph Lauren's Polo.
As part of its plan to expand U.S. Open licensing nationwide, the association also inked a deal this year with manufacturer Under Armour for U.S. Open-branded tennis-wear for men and women.
"We approached them--we wanted to increase our product offerings and felt Under Armour would create more awareness around performance apparel," says White, explaining that USTA will distribute on site at the U.S. Open, on the web site, and via a new relationship with wholesale tennis distributor Fromuth Tennis. White says the deal gives USTA its first national distribution alliance. Per White, Fromuth has over 3,000 tennis-specific accounts at tennis shops, pro shops, and country clubs.
"That's where we want to place the emphasis right now: the tennis-buying community at pro shops, country clubs and online as well as at tennis events," he says, adding that there are nine U.S. Open Series events around the country, where products are available.
He says that this year's efforts are the first moves toward developing the business beyond the U.S. Open venue, and ultimately beyond the tennis vertical. "We have done this before, but it was more promotional; our goal is to create a sustainable tennis brand with legs throughout the summer, rather than just the two-week window [during the U.S. Open]. The U.S. Open has such a wide appeal that we feel there is a much bigger market than solely fans who attend the Open itself," he says.
New branded products this year include a vintage line, Tad Davis Originals, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Open, and a celebrity-designed T-shirt series, designed by Heidi Klum and Billie Jean King.
White says the U.S. Open's merchandising strategy is to focus on relatively high-end products. The SoHo store, a 1,700-square-foot space with wood fixtures and marble floors, is at 129 Prince St., the center of the prestigious shopping district. White says Ralph Lauren, which is official apparel sponsor of the U.S. Open, will carry branded apparel in its Polo stores nationwide.