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Volume 20 No. 41
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DDB helps Open sharpen digital strategy

Tennis has long battled the perception of being an old, stodgy sport. The U.S. Open’s promotional advertising in the past has reflected that to an extent through a reliance on traditional billboards, TV and mainstream ads.

Six months ago, the tournament’s organizers at the U.S. Tennis Association set out to change that, hiring DDB to handle digital advertising, which had been handled internally. The Open for the first time this year advertised on food websites to reach foodies; sites geared toward young women to target those looking for a “girls night out;” and event sites for those eager to attend spectacles. It was a targeted approach rather than scattered consumer outreach.

Sue Hunt, the USTA’s chief marketing officer, said up to 60 percent of the Open’s ad budget remains traditional inventory, which is handled by McGarryBowen. In a city like New York, where people are outside so much, physical ads at railroad stations and subway stops remain a must. Still, the Open now is dedicated to targeting fans through other means.

For example, the Open’s social media push is ticking up. Interactions with fans have grown substantially over last year, Hunt said. Instead of just posting a message on Twitter encouraging readers to buy tickets, messages now solicit feedback.

As of last Wednesday, organizers said the Open was 1,200 tickets ahead of last year’s 709,000 attendance total. The Jewish New Year, which began Wednesday night and which rarely falls during the tournament, could dampen this year’s total, however.

SPONSOR SNAPSHOT: One of the companies active at this year’s event was Esurance, which renewed its Open sponsorship shortly before the start of this year’s tournament. Gary Tolman, CEO of Esurance, which Allstate acquired in 2011, said the online car insurer has an ad budget of $200 million, and currently about $5 million of that is spent in tennis, the bulk of which goes to the Open.

The Open’s social media campaign this year sought to engage, not just to sell tickets.
Tolman is a tennis nut who says he keeps up on the court competitively with endorsers the Bryan brothers. (A source who knows Tolman and the Bryans well contends the brothers are humoring him.) Either way, he plans to invest further in tennis, hoping to ramp up the company’s sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and various exhibitions and lower-tier events.

Esurance is in its fourth year of sponsoring the Open. Before the Open deal, the company spent $200,000 to $300,000 in tennis. The Open gives Esurance brand visibility, Tolman said, though specific sales related to the Open activation are minimal. Still, he says return on investment is good if measured by eyeballs that see Esurance next to premier brands and other Open sponsors like JPMorgan Chase and American Express.

TV TALK: Could CBS be trying to get back into the U.S. Open broadcast business after its deal expires in 2014? ESPN is set to take over in an 11-year deal broadcasting the entire event starting in 2015. Sources said recently that CBS has raised the possibility of sublicensing some of the event back from ESPN. That would seem unlikely given the premier semifinals and finals that CBS has had — which ESPN almost surely will not want to give up.

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus declined to comment. Jason Bernstein, head of ESPN tennis programming, said via text message that there is no chance ESPN would give up parts of the Open and the CBS talk was just that.

ESPN does have sublicensing deals with Tennis Channel for some tournaments, but the matches that flow to the smaller channel are not in highly coveted time slots.

Sources said CBS was surprised ESPN bid as much as it did for the rights ($825 million for the 11 years). CBS had bid $24 million for coverage on Labor Day weekend along with the semifinals and finals, and then showed willingness to go to $30 million, the sources said. But the USTA told CBS not to bother, that ESPN’s bid was too high to pass up.

LOVE GAME: Congratulations to Lagardère Unlimited tennis agent John Tobias, who became a first-time dad last week. His daughter, Emma Rose Tobias, weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces. Tobias represents players including Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and John Isner. He did not attend the Open, however, staying instead with his wife in California.

And Tobias isn’t the only new first-time dad in the tennis fraternity. Former player turned broadcaster and ATP board member Justin Gimelstob welcomed Brandon Graves Gimelstob on Sept. 3 at a hefty 9 pounds, 2 ounces and 20 1/4 inches long.