The Tennis Is Just One Small Part of the U.S. Open
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
A tennis court probably wouldn’t be the first place you’d picture the robust former heavyweight champion George Foreman. But since the cooking equipment that bears his name is a co-sponsor of the men’s doubles finals, Mr. Foreman will appear in person two weeks from today to present the winners with their award — and to promote his “Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine.”
If you thought the U.S. Open was just about tennis, think again. From the humble booth where Salton Inc. (the manufacturer of George Foreman products) offers samples of perfectly seared meat, to the swank box where American Express entertains clients, a lot of business will be going on at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, both out in public and in private suites.
The United States Tennis Association will be getting about $50 million worth of sponsorships for the U.S. Open, which runs between this coming Monday and Sunday, September 10.Although that’s modest compared to the National Football League, which collects around $1 billion in sponsorships annually, the glamour of the Open and the New York City locale make it particularly attractive to companies seeking a sophisticated clientele. Lexus, IBM, J.P. Morgan Chase, Continental Airlines, and Polo Ralph Lauren are all sponsors.
“There are several hallmarks of any successful sports league,” the USTA’s spokesman, Chris Widmaier, said. “One of those benchmarks is corporate sponsorship, and when you look at the type of sponsors that associate themselves with the U.S.Open, I’d say we’re in pretty rarefied air.”
Sponsorships generally include both rights fees to use the U.S. Open name, which can cost between $2 million and $10 million, and purchases of airtime on CBS. Many of the sponsors also provide various services. Lexus provides a fleet of 125 cars to chauffeur players and VIPs between their hotels and the Tennis Center. Continental offers flights for players and executives. And to promote its Business First seats, Continental has installed two airplane seats near the entrance to the Arthur Ashe Stadium. People can sign up to sit there for 30-minute periods and watch the matches on the Jumbotron; when they sign up, they get a “boarding pass” for their time slot. Continental has also put up a large, interactive wall map of the world, on which people are encouraged to write about the places they love to travel.
“The U.S. Open is the place to be for New Yorkers over Labor Day, and it closely aligns with our business traveler target market,” a spokeswoman for Continental, Julie King, said.
IBM runs the U.S. Open Web site and provides most of the USTA’s computers and software for the tournament, including all of the data-processing technology — from the handheld devices used by the chair umpires, to the radar guns that measure the speed of a serve, to the large electronic score boards. This year, with the Open taking advantage of instant replay for the first time, IBM will send all of the data from the cameras, GPS, and echolocation to broadcasters and to the Web site.
Most of IBM’s computing power for the Open is off-site. In fact, redundant systems are located in three different locations, which the company would not reveal for security reasons. Still, IBM can show a lot to the clients it brings to the Tennis Center. Backstage tours will give them an experience of the tournament that’s only marginally about sports. “We do bring them here to certainly see tennis, but also to experience what we do and walk away with that message,” IBM’s director of worldwide sponsorship marketing, Rick Singer, said.
As for how much business the tournament generates for the company, Mr. Singer said that IBM had a proprietary method of measuring the revenue impact of its sponsorships. “We have very specific returns on investments that we require –– a standard percentage of revenue generated, based on the expense of the event,” Mr. Singer said. “The U.S. Open is certainly one of the more lucrative events.”
American Express also builds its business in its corporate box, Amex’s vice president for global sponsorship, Rich Lehrfeld, said. The company offers perks for cardholders as well. Platinum cardholders can watch the tournament from Amex’s invitation-only luxury suite, where they can enjoy meals and mingle with former U.S. Open champions like Chris Evert, Monica Seles, and Billie Jean King. Bonuses for regular cardholders include advance ticket sales and free $2 MetroCards to get back to the city.Tennis fans who spend more than $75 on the Amex card will get a commemorative Andy Roddick and Venus Williams pin set.
But Amex’s marketing doesn’t end at the Tennis Center: As it did last year, Amex will set up giant TV screens in Rockefeller Center and Madison Square Park for the public to watch the tournament.
Other sponsors have different creative marketing strategies.Tied to the U.S. Open, Polo Ralph Lauren has launched an “interactive shopping experience” on the windows of its flagship store on Madison Avenue. The technology, inspired by the movie “Minority Report,” allows customers to shop, even when the store is closed, by clicking on touch-sensitive buttons on the window glass. The company will also open a “virtual store” — three free-standing kiosks with the same touch-screen technology — on the club level of Arthur Ashe stadium.
Other sponsors use the tournament to launch or promote new products. The George Foreman representatives will demonstrate the S525 Super Searing Grill, which sears meat at 525 degrees, and a new blender called the Brainstorm, whose internal “brain” can automatically adjust the timing and power of blending depending on what you put in it.
“Anything we do for new George products, we have innovations,” a marketing vice president for Salton, Inc., Gary Ragan, said. “We’re not just making another sandwich maker.”
Heineken is using the U.S. Open to promote its new light beer, Heineken Premium Light. Since 1996, Heineken and CBS have presented the Heineken Star Award, which honored players who made the consumer experience of the tournament memorable. “In the first few years, it was for the gutsiest performance; since 2003, we took a more historical approach,” Heineken’s director of corporate communications, Tamara Moore, said.This year, in conjunction with the launch of Heineken Premium Light, the Star Award will go to the “smoothest” champion in U.S. Open history. Fans over 21 can go to the Heineken Web site and vote.
In explaining why Heineken sponsors the U.S. Open, Ms. Moore expressed why many companies like to associate themselves with the tournament. “Tennis fans and folks who go to U.S. Open are people who would also enjoy the upscale image and cachet taste of the Heineken brand,” she said.