Luminaries from Flushing Meadows

Professional tennis is a sport that is not only played on many different court surfaces, but also in environments that present many unique match atmospheres. Everyone is familiar with the prestige, strict all-white dress code and respectful atmosphere that Wimbledon offers during the fortnight on grass at the All England Club. The French Open provides an elegance and exotic appeal that also comes with an extremely passionate crowd on the clay courts in Paris. The first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, offers more of a laid back vibe (except for the Aussie fanatics) and these matches are played Down Under and in the middle of the night for over 500,000 viewers in the United States. The US Open, however, takes place in a city that people say never sleeps. A boisterous, knowledgeable and extremely engaging New York crowd creates an atmosphere not only unique to the sport of tennis, but across all sports. The night matches take place at the largest tennis stadium in the world, Arthur Ashe, where the electricity and high octane energy is unmatched. This year, with the recent addition of a retractable roof to Arthur Ashe, a revamped Grandstand stadium as well as other renovations around the tennis grounds, the US Open is taking its production to new heights and this should reap financial benefits in the long run.

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While the US Open technically began in 1881, not since the Open Era starting in 1968 has the impact really been felt.  Before that, professional players did not control their schedules and often didn’t play in the major Grand Slams we know today, because of professional promoter pressures to play in other tournaments. Additionally, the US Open didn’t become the 4th and final Grand Slam of the year until 1987 (less than 30 years ago). It starts and ends during late summer and is typically played with high east coast humidity and temperatures.

In 2008 the US Open overtook prestigious Wimbledon as the highest paying tennis tournament. This year there will be $46.3M in total prize money being offered and both the women’s and men’s single champions will take home $3.5M each, respectively. So where does all of this revenue come from? The majority of the revenue that the US Open generates comes from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and television contracts, with the majority of the money re-invested back into the sport. With more than 700,000 fans in attendance over the course of the two-week tournament, ticket sales account for approximately $100M of the close to $300M in total revenue. Additionally, last year the US Open reached an 11-year media partnership with ESPN through 2025, giving them the official broadcasting rights which pays about $70M a year.

On the sponsorship side, three of the top-level sponsors include American Express, Emirates and JP Morgan Chase. Specifically, JP Morgan Chase is taking advantage of the new retractable roof constructed on Arthur Ashe stadium, which made its debut this year at the US Open. This roof, which cost $150M, is part of an over $500M renovation at the complex. Some of the benefits Chase reaps with being a long time (35 years), top level sponsor includes an on-site Chase lounge for customers, a partnership with ESPN for live-streaming channels as well as putting their brand name on the roof, as seen in the picture below. “The roof is the feature element of the transformation and is something we felt strongly about putting our brand behind because of our long-standing partnership with the U.S. Open,” says Frank Nakano, head of Sports and Entertainment for JPMorgan Chase.

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Sponsorships aren’t just limited to the top level. Many other brands considered part of the lower tier are new additions to the tournament this year. They include Jacob’s Creek wines, Lavazza Coffee, Juice Press and Nabisco’s Oreo brand. Specifically, Lavazza coffee, with an Italian origin, felt this was a great opportunity to get additional brand exposure globally and experience further growth thanks to the large market offered by New York. “I couldn’t possibly think of a better sports partnership than the US Open. It does fit perfectly our marketing strategy in North America both in terms of brand positioning and demographics,” says Lavazza vice chairman Marco Lavazza. “New York is at the core of our growth strategy in the U.S., so we got everyone involved, indeed to loud cheers of appreciation: our major customers, their shoppers, all our business stakeholders, and, of course, thousands of New Yorkers that I hope will love the coffee experience at the tournament.”

As far as the players themselves, US tennis has had the benefit of enjoying the success and marketability of the Williams sisters, who have both enjoyed a massive amount of success and draw huge crowds to each of their matches. The fact that they go deep into tournaments year after year (even now in their 30’s) only brings in additional revenue for the tournament. The men’s side hasn’t been as fortunate. The glory days of Sampras, Agassi, Chang and Courier have passed, and not since Andy Roddick in 2003 has a male player won any of the four Grand Slams. Coincidentally, the tournament Roddick won happened to be the US Open. This just goes to show how powerful a sport tennis is globally. Domestically, however, with tennis in high competition with the major sports in the United States, creating a unique marketing strategy is critical. That is precisely what the US Open did in advance of the 2016 US Open. With the new retractable roof making its debut as mentioned above, they have since changed their marketing slogan from “Nothing Beats Being Here” to words and phrases such as “INcredible”, “IN your face” and “INtroducing our new roof” to help promote all of the on-site changes that have taken place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The hope is that this re-branding will attract new US Open attendees as well as new future sponsors who would like to be a part of this massive facelift as an opportunity to position their specific brand in an arena that is in the process of grabbing the world’s attention.

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The US Open women’s and men’s finals will be taking place this weekend and while there won’t be an American representative in either final, one can still take the opportunity to get a taste of what has been taking place at the tennis grounds. While the finals will no longer have to be pushed back to Monday due to rain, which the US Open has experienced numerous times over the years, the effect will be much greater and goes well beyond that. Sport is big business and with the global presence that tennis has, the US Open not only hopes to grow tennis domestically with these renovations and rebranding, but also to attract new visiting fans and sponsors internationally. The US Open knows that one doesn’t necessarily have to love the sport of tennis to attend. Your time spent at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will create a memorable experience for both tennis and non-tennis fans. You won’t regret it. Trust me. It will be INcredible.