SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

U.S. Open mad as ale over ads

The U.S. Open last week demanded that Stella Artois remove ads touting the beer brand near the site of the event, but the Belgian beverage maker declined.

Ambush marketing is no stranger to big events like the Open, but the scale of the Stella Artois ads had U.S. Tennis Association officials angry. There were 15 ads located on the highly trafficked Long Island Rail Road platform a few hundred yards from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the tournament.

The ads had tennis themes, with slogans like “The Top-Seeded Belgian,” “Your Trophy Awaits” and “A Perfect Match.”
“We approached Stella Artois and asked them to reconsider this blatant ambush,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier. Adding that the USTA would protect its sponsors, Widmaier said, “We have many people who would like to capitalize on the power of the U.S. Open
DANIEL KAPLAN / STAFF (2)
The event says the tennis-themed ads touting Stella Artois amount to ambush marketing.
without going through proper channels.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns the Stella Artois brand, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Open’s beer sponsor, Heineken, renewed this summer for another four years. It has been an event sponsor since 1992.

While the U.S. Open’s exclusivity for sponsors stretches beyond the tennis center to include all adjacent parkland, the nearby Citi Field parking lot and the heavily trod boardwalk stretching from a subway station to the center, it does not reach to the nearby LIRR platform.

The platform is the property of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs LIRR. From the platform, fans can clearly see the grounds of the tennis center.

The Open’s sponsorship rules also do not cover several large MTA buildings that overlook the boardwalk. In years past, K-Swiss, AIG and Rolex have been among the companies to have hung large ads on these buildings while not being an Open sponsor.

“They want to share some of the association and they want to market around it,” said Ben Sturner, CEO of sports marketing firm Leverage Agency. “They just have to be careful.”

Likely thousands of people take the LIRR train daily from the Open into Manhattan. Widmaier said he was unsure if the USTA had also complained to the MTA.

Gordon Smith, USTA executive director, said the problem is that if the Open sponsors do not buy the space, the MTA will sell it to someone else.

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