The USTA earlier this year introduced Emirates Airline as the new title sponsor for its summer U.S. Open Series, in a deal that USTA Chief Revenue Officer LEW SHERR said “was largely driven by the recognition that these events are televised around the world, and that there’s global interest in the sport.” Sherr said of negotiating the deal, “Emirates saw the value that we saw in the property, in the series specifically, and that we recognized the value that they brought to the event in terms of prestige, their ability to activate on site and their ability to leverage their global network to help promote our property.” With the U.S. Open Series already in full swing, Sherr took some time to discuss social media, grunting in tennis, the Olympics and his favorite place to grab a bite in N.Y.
Q: How has the growth of social media changed the marketing, broadcast and promotion of the Series and what benefits have you seen from it?
Sherr: The USTA, the events themselves and the partners are all actively engaged in leveraging social media platforms to promote not only the events, but their unique associations with the events. We’ve found that our social media outlets have given us an opportunity to really engage with fans over an extended period of time. The Series itself is sort of a six-week promotional runway leading up to the U.S. Open, and the ability to keep folks engaged over that period of time, not just through watching on the broadcast but through participating in our social media programs, is really effective for us. We also have a great ability to target those individuals who are most interested in the sport.
Q: How would you like to see the game of tennis grow or change in the coming years?
Sherr: Our focus is really, squarely on attracting more youth into the game. I think if we identified one thing over the past few years, it’s the fact that tennis can be a very difficult game to learn. It can be very frustrating and it can take a while before you have enough success that you want to stay with the game. The rule changes that have kicked in this year related to 10-and-under play -- with new smaller courts and lower compression balls -- has made it so much easier for kids to have success early, which is allowing us to retain them and allowing them to enjoy the game more. That change, more so than anything else we will do, is going to have a profound effect on what the landscape of the sport looks like in five or 10 years
Q: What are your thoughts on grunting in the sport?
Sherr: To a certain extent, I think it is fine. There are probably cases where it has gotten extreme, and to the extent that it runs the risk of alienating some fans or things like that. It’s certainly something that we’re pleased is being looked into. At the same time, the game itself has never been played better than it’s being played today, and you’ve got some of the top players in the history of the sport all playing simultaneously. I think that dwarfs everything.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Sherr: Early in my career I was at Wilson Sporting Goods and I had the opportunity to work for a gentleman named ED ABRAIN, who was general manager of the golf group at Wilson for a number of years and was a great coach, teacher, mentor for me early on in my career. He would constantly remind me that at the end of the day your job is to leave your business or leave your brand better than it was when you took it over or when you started. I’ve always thought of those words in terms of what I was trying to do in any role. You just want to constantly move things forward and leave things in better condition than you found them.
Q: What sports business story are you most closely following right now?
Sherr: I’m very interested in this year’s Olympics, and to see how not only brands are activating, but how the Games are presented through all the media outlets and channels that exist today. I think in many ways our business models parallel the Olympic model, so that’s something we’re obviously paying close attention to. The other thing that we’re always paying attention to is just what’s happening with technologies and how technologies are changing. That impacts not only sponsorship, but broadcast and our fan experience. So that's the piece for us that we’re watching most closely -- how we can leverage technology to enhance our offering and at the same time being aware of what’s happening with technology to make sure we’re still viable.
Q: What is your favorite sport or team to follow outside of tennis?
Sherr: I love the New York teams. I am a longtime baseball fan, huge Yankees fan, but through my years at the Garden fell in love with the Rangers. I didn’t have a big interest in hockey prior to working at Madison Square Garden, but fell in love with attending hockey games in person and getting to know some of the players and seeing what good guys and good role models the hockey players are.
Q: Most of your career has been spent in the Tri-State area. What is your go-to N.Y. restaurant?
Sherr: I probably lean towards the traditional steakhouses. We spent a lot of time, while working at the Garden, a lot of time at KEENS and a lot of time at UNCLE JACK’S because they were close by. Yeah, I’m probably partial to most of the better steakhouses.