SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Events and Attractions

Emirates eyes putting name on Open tradition

Is the next title sponsorship in tennis the act of a winning player hitting a ball into the stands at the U.S. Open? Emirates Airline hopes so.

The new U.S. Open sponsor was scheduled to take a step in that direction by having a tennis legend hit seven red balls this past Sunday into the stands, with the fans who caught them getting a chance to win a flight to Dubai, Emirates’ base. The airline as of press time had yet to choose the former tennis star or identify when during the day — officially Emirates Airline Day at the U.S. Open — the balls would be hit.

A fan gets ready to hit a ball out of a simulated main stadium at the Emirates Airline booth.
Photo by: CAA SPORTS
Building from that showcase, though, the first-year title sponsor of the U.S. Open Series is in discussions with the U.S. Tennis Association about naming the now-ritualistic hitting of balls into the stands on all four sides of the main stadium after a player’s win, said Roger Duthie, Emirates’ head of sponsorships.

The sponsorship would be labeled the Emirates Ball Flight, if it occurs, and would not start before next year’s event. Details including any on-court branding or on-air media treatment of the launches were still being discussed.

On site this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Emirates has a booth where fans can simulate hitting a ball out of the stadium, with the ball then flying to one of Emirates destinations. There’s also a first-class-seat booth, sponsorship of a restaurant and a renovated double suite.

 
Emirates’ name is also on a renovated double suite at the main stadium.
Photo by: CAA SPORTS (2)
CAA Sports, Emirates’ consultant for North American sponsorships, orchestrated the airline’s on-site activation. The airline has 12 official cabin-crew members staffing the booth, restaurant and suite.

CAA hired Helios Interactive Technologies to design the ball-flight simulator. After fans mimic hitting the ball, their pictures are taken and then posted to the fans’ and to Emirates’ Facebook pages.

Emirates had on-site activation at only three of the 10 U.S. Open Series events this year, but Duthie has praise for the sponsorship. He said Emirates expects an 8-to-1 return on investment and, so far, because of tennis’ global reach, the sponsorship is easily surpassing that goal.

DATA POINTS: IBM is in the last year of its U.S. Open sponsorship, but its presence is as strong as ever at this year’s event. The company is going to great lengths to use the tournament as a showcase for its data-mining operation for corporate clients. For example, IBM collected 39 million data points over the last four Grand Slam events (every serve, every return, every ball strike) to feed into a predictive model that is used for IBM’s Keys to the Match offering. The website function provides three keys for each match, culled from the millions of data points.

Rick Singer, IBM’s vice president of sports sponsorship marketing, talking to a group of reporters touring IBM’s technology rooms at the Open, said the information can serve to inform the broadcast commentators, who he noted often offer points that may not be backed up by the data. “Big data is impacting so many aspects of sporting events that it’s no longer a stretch to say that it is changing the way fans watch and enjoy sports,” said Singer, discussing the technology but not talking about the prospects of continuing the company’s two-decade affiliation with the event.

Last year, USOpen.org (managed by IBM) had 332 million page views, 55 million visits and 15 million unique users. IBM also manages the other three Slams’ websites and mobile and iPad applications.

UNIQLO SEEKING MORE: Uniqlo has two athletes under endorsement contract: Kei Nishikori, the most successful male tennis player in Japanese history, and (with a deal signed in May) the world’s No. 2-ranked player, Novak Djokovic. But the Japan-based apparel retailer, which wants to expand aggressively in the United States, is searching for more athletes to add to its stable.

“We are actively looking for more partnerships because it is a very good way to convey our brand,” said Shin Odake, CEO of the company’s USA division. He was speaking just before the company last month unveiled a new line of performance wear with Djokovic at one of its three New York stores. The company plans to open a fourth American store in a few weeks at the Garden State Plaza mall in New Jersey and another store later this fall in San Francisco.

EXTRA HITS: CAA Sports may have lost Djokovic as a client (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 27-Sept. 2), but it has added top-ranked Canadian player Milos Raonic. The agency hired Austin Nunn, who is leaving the ATP communications staff at the end of the Open, to travel with Raonic. Nunn is the son of Tip Nunn, Billie Jean King’s longtime spokesman. … Speaking of the ATP, tour officials said there is no truth to a report that players are considering a boycott of the Australian Open because of demands for more prize money from the Slams. The players have been dissatisfied with this year’s pay hikes from the Slams. The tour expects to hear from the Slams by the end of next month and then will plot its next action. There has been talk of staging an alternate event or dramatically reducing the ranking points the tour awards for a Slam. … The New York Road Runners took American marathoner Meb Keflezighi through the U.S. Open media room last Wednesday, the day the group announced the former champion would run the 2012 ING New York City Marathon.

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