Whenever I have the chance to attend other sporting events, it is part work and part entertainment. The work part morphs into play because I’m always looking for ideas from other nationally-respected organizations like the U.S. Tennis Association. The entertainment part comes easy as the U.S. Open assembles the best tennis in the world. It is also an operational wonder as the New York Times chronicled prior to the 2015 tournament.
I had the opportunity and pleasure of spending half a day at the 2015 U.S. Open on Day 2 of the tournament for a great fan (and work) experience. Here are some of my marketing takeaways:
1. Tournament Guide – Before I even boarded my flight for New York, I received tickets along with a brochure with information on seating, traffic, subways, accessibility, schedule and what not to bring.
2. Greeters – Dedicated volunteers are there to help find anything you need, including where to find sunscreen and find what time Roger Federer plays. (Yes, the reminder to bring sunscreen part was in the Tournament Guide, but I still forgot.)
3. Welcome the U.S. Open – volunteers, concession workers and retail workers would all greet guests with the same friendly “Welcome to the U.S. Open” at every interaction with fans. I likely heard it 10 times or more in my time there.
4. Star Access – Stars like Roger Federer, Serena Williams & Rafa Nadal are some of the biggest stars in sports, not just tennis, but they were more accessible to fans than nearly any sporting event I have ever attended. The practice schedule was even published for fans to watch openly vs. being in a credentialed zone. If you love tennis, it’s the Mecca as some professional matches are so close you could nearly touch the court. Even the high-profile professionals are close for fans.
5. Sponsor Activation – the U.S. Open has a healthy list of sponsors yet it never felt cluttered or overdone. All the displays are professional, high quality and have a strong production value. Food and beverage sponsors (ex. Heineken, LAVAZZA coffee) are naturally-integrated at the venue, they do external advertising in the city and on the subways and activate outside the event also. Emirates Airlines had a fun, interactive display to engage fans.
6. Technology – The event app was simple to navigate and set up for the most common questions and social media interaction and had a navigable structure for deep dive information about the event as well. It was created with corporate partner IBM which kept extremely subtle, out-of-the-way branding in the app that didn’t get in the way of the user experience.
7. Media Friendly – ESPN will televise the tournament from start-to-finish and had a visible presence on-site, even in the early rounds. However, there is a full contingent of other international media on-site and all over the globe. The court-side interviews at some of the smaller courts made fans feel connected.
8. U.S. Open Access – The event and sponsor activations were digitally-connected with a fan technology provided by FISH Technologies based in Dallas. Fans register once via the app and then scan a QR code at the various sponsor displays to easily enter activities, contests and more. it also makes green screen images easy to share. USA Swimming first used this technology at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012 and is planning to bring it back in 2016.
9. Inside the Baseline – The USTA produces its own daily “College Game Day” type show to preview the day that is live and on-demand on YouTube. This also serves as authentic content for sponsor IBM.
10. Single Color Logos – OK, this might not see like a big deal but high-profile brands can be very picky about how their logos are displayed. Achieving uniformity gives a clean look and is no easy task!
11. Promoting the Sport (Not Just the Event) – The USTA takes care of itself at the tournament, and that is a huge compliment. It’s easy to get focused on servicing sponsors, media and guests and not take time to promote your own organization. The USTA set up a welcome center that you could join the sport on-site. In the venue they also play youthtennis.com TV spots so the people in the sport have more awareness of how the NGB is promoting the sport. Their PSAs are also heavily-integrated into the ESPN broadcasts. (Yes, I’m impressed and a little bit jealous. OK, a lot jealous.)
12. Big Tennis Ball – It’s the parent in me that immediately thinks, “How, the heck am I going to get this on the subway, airplane, taxi …” but it’s a huge hit and encourages the accessibility of the players to fans for autographs.
13. Merchandise – The operations side of merchandise was phenomenal. There were large retail stores, kiosks, and mini-kiosks throughout the venue. The best part is getting something your wife likes and having her post it on Facebook though!
14. Virtual Reality – The latest craze in fan experience is allowing virtual reality experience. In this case, fans could “play” Maria Sharapova.
15. Holograms – The next latest craze is hologram technology that allowed me to throw up tennis balls to Roger Federer.
Note: For More “Marketing Takeaways” you can find an earlier blog on my 10 Marketing Takeaways from P&G Gymnastics National Championships from 2014.