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Volume 22 No. 7
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USGA looks to add two partners for ’18 Open

The USGA merchandising tent gives shoppers plenty to choose from.
The U.S. Open returned to the Midwest at Erin Hills for the first time since 2003 when Olympia Fields near Chicago hosted the major, but Sarah Hirshland already is eying next year’s Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island where the USGA is targeting to add at least two more partners.

“We’d like to have six going into Shinnecock,” said Hirshland, senior managing director of business affairs for the USGA, on the Tuesday practice day prior to the Open.

The USGA’s current deals with Rolex, American Express and Deloitte all run at least through 2018, with Lexus running through 2020. IBM did not renew its deal that ended last year.

USGA premier-level deals are valued in the seven figures annually and include a media buy on Fox, on-site activation at the U.S. Open, the Women’s U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open. The USGA is selling the sponsorships itself, but is considering adding an agency to help in the sales efforts.

Shinnecock Hills is the site of four previous U.S. Open tournaments.

Hosting the tournament at the unproven and largely unknown Erin Hills, located about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, proved to be a different type of sell.

“It is always a blank slate,” Hirshland said of selling into the new Wisconsin market. “There is an opportunity to tap into a fresh set of eyes with new corporate buyers and certainly new ticket buyers. It is a market that is ripe. There is a lot of energy. Being in farm country gives us the ability to spread out and up the experience.”

But selling in Wisconsin for the first time also brought some unexpected twists to the USGA.

“What we have found is a different sales cycle,” Hirshland said. “Frankly, we were selling tickets to a walk-up market. For a Monday practice round, we typically have capacity and we had a lot of walk-up sales and that was surprising to us.”

HOSPITALITY OVERHAUL: At a sprawling 652 acres, Erin Hills provided plenty of room for hospitality, but come the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot in New York, less will be more as corporate hospitality changes are in the making.

“Bigger isn’t better, better is better,” said Mimi Griffin, president and chief executive officer of MSG Promotions, the USGA’s exclusive marketing and management company for hospitality sales. “We will go to fewer options and more expensive options.”

The changes won’t come until the current contracts for next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach are completed.

Expect smaller hospitality footprints and more daily corporate entertainment offerings along with a decrease in the number of massive corporate tents that can accommodate more than 100 people.

“The 100-ticket tent is going by way of the dinosaur,” Griffin said from a suite overlooking the scenic sixth green at Erin Hills. “Smaller, nimble and daily, that is what the market demands.”

Hospitality offerings at Erin Hills ranged from the platinum premier package along the 18th hole, which cost $325,000 for 125 tickets for the week, to a one-day table package for $9,225 along the 13th hole that included 15 tickets.

Griffin said hospitality sales at Erin Hills were down about 10 percent from last year’s event held at Oakmont outside of Pittsburgh. “It is not drastic, but noticeable.”

MERCHANDISE MATTERS: Business inside the 39,000-square-foot merchandising tent at Erin Hills already was brisk during the Tuesday morning practice round as Mary Lopuszynski, senior director of licensing and U.S. Open merchandising for the USGA, roamed the floor and buyers lined up at the cash registers.

Shoppers enjoying the selection at Erin Hills.

The USGA has some 50 vendors — including Polo Ralph Lauren as the official U.S. Open outfitter — selling Erin Hills merchandise ranging from $2 ball markers to $13,500 framed prints of the course. A top seller: a green and gold golf hat as Wisconsin buyers supported the colors of their beloved Green Bay Packers.

The strong early week sales served as a good sign for the USGA, which expected a high number of transactions but at a lower average transaction rate at Erin Hills compared to typical U.S. Open events.

Lopuszynski would not disclose expected per caps from the 10-day on-site sale but said that to accommodate the Wisconsin market, the USGA included more lower-priced items. “Coming to a new market, there is a bit of guesswork,” she said.

This year also marks the first U.S. Open as part of the USGA’s deal with Fanatics to run the organization’s site.

Deloitte activation at Erin Hills.
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ACTIVATION ADDITIONS: The USGA added two new on-site fan activations at Erin Hills with the unveiling of the USGA Golf Innovation Experience that combines technology with fan experiences.

Among the highlights: A Deloitte-sponsored kiosk where fans could match up their golfing data with various players. Fox activated around an exhibit that allowed fans to play the role of a broadcaster around top U.S. Open moments. A Rolex-sponsored exhibit, also part of the innovation center, allowed fans to act as a USGA rules official.

“The intent is to personalize the U.S. Open,” said Katie Bynum, senior director of partnerships for the USGA.

Also new this year at Erin Hills were three American Express-branded fan information centers created to help fans navigate the course and provide cellphone charging stations and other fan service information.