SBJ/June 17-23, 2013/Events and Attractions

IBM doubles down at U.S. Open

In one tent on the sixth hole at Merion Golf Club, IBM hosted hundreds of clients and prospects in the U.S. Open’s corporate partner hospitality village. In two trailers on the other side of the golf course, IBM’s technology team made sure the Open’s official website and apps were working correctly.

That’s the two-faced nature of sponsorships for IBM, which has one of the most enviable positions in golf. In addition to being a U.S. Golf Association sponsor and tech partner, it has a similar relationship with Augusta National for the Masters. IBM has been a USGA corporate partner since 2008. Those deals range from $3.5 million to $5 million a year.

“Our job is to deliver the championship to the world in an innovative way,” said John Kent, a technology manager at IBM. “When we do sponsorships, they’re a little different. Certainly, the advertising and exposure and hospitality is all very important, but the core of it is showing what we can do with our technology.”

Rick Singer, IBM’s vice president of client executive marketing and a former NBA executive, oversees the sponsorships. Kent, who has more of a technology background, reports to Singer.

For this year’s Open, IBM introduced mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, and created products for USOpen.com, the official website of the tournament. A new online feature called “Hole Insights” provides such information as how many players made par out of the rough on a certain hole. IBM also brought out a new video console sponsored by American Express.

All of this is in addition to IBM’s original assignment, which is to maintain and operate the scoring system.
The USGA’s other partners — American Express, Chevron, Lexus and Rolex — have consumer-facing products, while IBM is a business-to-business company. So you won’t see IBM activating in the fan pavilion, but it does take advantage of its advertising units on the ESPN and NBC broadcasts. Ogilvy is IBM’s ad agency.

IBM also has partnerships with the four grand slam events in tennis.

“We like the audience of decision-makers that golf and tennis deliver,” Kent said.

OPEN EXPERIENCE: Not all of the U.S. Open action happened at Merion last week. In downtown Philadelphia, about 30 minutes away, the USGA set up its first off-site activation.

The inaugural U.S. Open Experience in Philadelphia gave sponsors a new way to activate.
The inaugural U.S. Open Experience opened last Monday at Independence Mall and ran through the week. Early in the week, it was integrated into the mall’s visitors’ center. By the weekend, it was a full-fledged fan fest with a merchandise tent, large video boards that carried live action and highlights, putting greens, historical exhibits and swing simulators.

Wasserman Media Group ran the space for the USGA. Officials would not reveal the cost of the U.S. Open Experience, only saying its sponsors covered the cost.

Not only was it the USGA’s first off-site effort, it also represented a new form of activation for corporate partners. American Express, Lexus and Chevron sponsored the U.S. Open Experience and set up their own interactive areas.

The AmEx exhibit area included a swing simulator that allowed visitors the chance to hit shots into replicas of Merion’s greens. Lexus offered driving experiences and had its cars on display. Chevron featured its Stem Zone, a mobile unit for its science, technology, engineering and math program.

“Given that we’re so close to a large metro market, and that we just couldn’t satisfy all of the demand for tickets, we went back to our corporate partners and worked with them to create a downtown experience in Philadelphia,” said Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs.

Hirshland said anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 visitors make their way through Independence Mall each day on the weekends.

“It’s not something we’ve done before, so we want to see how it goes,” Hirshland said, “but I think it’s something we’ll do when it makes sense.”

The reason it made sense in Philly was the proximity to a large metro area and the limited number of U.S. Open tickets available. Only 25,000 spectators were on the course at Merion each day. Pinehurst, the site of next year’s Open, will be able to accommodate 45,000 fans per day.

2014 HOSPITALITY: Hospitality sales for next year’s Open at Pinehurst already are under way and the USGA is packaging deals that include the men’s and women’s Open for the first time.

 
Beer trucks in driveways and tents on lawns were the norm as Merion’s small footprint forced a new approach to hospitality.
Photos by: MICHAEL SMITH / STAFF (2)
The 2014 women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 will be played the week after the men’s championship, marking the first time they’ve been held back-to-back on the same course.

The most exclusive deal — the Legends Package — sells for $385,000 and provides access to the Members Club dining room with views of the 18th green and first tee from the clubhouse. Those come with 75 daily passes to the men’s tournament and 30 to the women’s championship. All but one of those packages have been sold.

The Ross Package with a 40-by-40-foot hospitality tent is selling for $215,000 and includes 100 daily passes to the men’s tournament and another 40 daily passes to the women’s tournament.

For $135,000, buyers can have the Olmsted Package, which includes a 30-by-30-foot tent, 50 daily passes to the men’s tournament and 20 daily passes to the women’s tournament.

Prices for a 40-by-40 tent at Merion last week were as high as $275,000, which also included 100 daily passes.

CHIP-INS: Luke Donald, whose deal with IMG expires in the fall, is expected to begin talking to other agencies later this summer. Another Englishman, Justin Rose, is thought to be looking for new representation as well. He’s with London-based 4sports & Entertainment. … Diversity and global growth of golf were themes last week during the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Sports Business Initiative. The USGA’s Hirshland, Wasserman’s Malcolm Turner, Golf Channel’s Mike McCarley and SI Golf’s Dick Raskopf were on a panel discussion moderated by Jon Last of Sports and Leisure Research Group. Of Merion’s cozy 110-acre footprint, which limited ticket and related revenue, Hirshland said with a laugh, “The reality is that I’d like NOT to do it this way every year.”

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