The Organisation of a First-Class Sporting Event: Audience Engagement

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In Part 2 of this series, we analyse the brand engagement strategies used to make the US Tennis Open the event with the biggest audience attendance in the world, through engagement with different audiences to TV and merchandising, Deepak Trivedi, a consultant in strategic management and a collaborator of the United States Tennis Association shares his experience and insights.

Everything is millimetrically calculated so that the numbers keep growing. It is no coincidence that the US Open, the longest-running tennis championship in the world (its first edition was in 1881), has been the last Grand Slam of the season since 1987. Nor is it by chance that, as a two-week competition (the last week of August and the first of September), it coincides with the celebration, on Monday of the second week, of Labour Day in the United States.

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Content about the tournament is not lacking either: in 2017, on the social networks of the US Open—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—there were 3,800 pieces of content that generated 18 million interactions and 92 million video views. The hashtag #USOpen took the record of the entire season of Grand Slams, with a total of 38 billion impressions. Traffic on its digital platforms—usopen.org and US Open App—accounted for more than 10 million new users during the tournament with a total of 46 million visits and 366 million clicks on pages. Of all the digital interaction, 73% was via mobile phones.

Connecting with Future Generations
The United States Tennis Association had access years ago to a survey about the profile of people who practice sport in the country, and the results were like a bucket of cold water: 55% played basketball, 71% played baseball, 77% were dedicated to hockey and 89% to football. So, the president of USTA at that time, Jon Vegosen, asked the US Open organization to take into account this tendency when it came to promoting its flagship event. “We discovered that tennis accounted for 29% of the total and that there was a great disconnect between being the sporting event with the greatest attendance in the world and one of the sports with the lowest number of participants for the rest of the year” , explains Deepak. And they started working at the base, with children. This is how the sponsorship with Nickelodeon came about, the children’s television channel with the biggest audience in the United States. “Other sports such as those mentioned above had been adapted to the scale of the youngest. Even in countries like England, France, Spain or Italy, they had incorporated mini tennis courts, sponge balls, etc., but the United States did not. The partnership with Nickelodeon was a good opportunity to start adopting that model. Also, the introduction of the Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, a day when stars like Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, or celebrities like Bradley Cooper or One Direction would participate in promotions with children on the centre court”.

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Another age group on which the US Open places special interest is the 21-40 group, demographically another strong group in the New York environment. The introduction of the ‘Rock the Set Concert’ was a success when it came to bringing the tournament closer to “professionals who are in New York for business or groups of teenagers so they can enjoy, get to know and connect with the US Open”.

Interactive Public and Fan Engagement
The work at a great sporting event does not end with the handing out of the trophies, the analysis of data is almost as important to guarantee the success of future editions. “Statistics tell us a lot and some that have impacted us the most in recent years are those about the behaviour of the public that comes to see us. The use of iPhone and Android applications has increased by 173%, so enhancing interaction with the viewer is crucial in an event like ours. We know that people can use up to three devices at the same time: they watch a live match, while they listen to the commentary of another through the headphones that American Express provides, and check the results on other courts on their mobile or iPad. That tells us that the US Open consumer is very interactive. So we decided to put microphones in the boxes of the players to bring them even closer to the action. We also have ‘premium apps’ so that, for example, those customers who are in the suites or boxes can buy what they want without sacrificing the comfort of their hospitality and receive their purchase minutes later”.

The Impact on TV

One of the highlights of the US Open takes place before it begins and is the announcement of the draws. Also on this occasion, the tournament organizers sought the best channel to get attention, and that was none other than appearing on the prime-time program of ESPN. “It was a discovery as in the case of Nickelodeon. We saw that ESPN was the most watched sports channel in the United States and ‘Sports Center’ its most popular program. So the US Open draw has been announced on that channel and on that program every year since 2011″.

Websites & Merchandising

Websites continue to have great relevance, despite the strong entry of mobile apps and social networks into the digital environment. “More than 70% of entrance tickets are still acquired through traditional websites, so we can’t think they are an obsolete medium”. E-commerce is basic and we must make sure that we have items of all prices because, once you put the US Open logo on it, everything gets sold. Some people do not want to spend $50 on a T-shirt, but they do want to have something to remind them that they’ve been to the US Open. We did a marketing test with a small rubber duck that cost $8 and we managed to sell 5,600 units. If you have a well-positioned brand and you know who your audience is, put the logo on it because you’re going to sell it”.

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The US Open is an ideal case study to learn about all the operations involved in the organization of a major sporting event. Some 65% of global sponsorship, as we have seen, goes to sport, but that doesn’t mean that finding a sponsor is easy. Building a strong brand and consolidating it over time is one of the keys. And, knowing how to nurture it to reach excellence, that is the question.

Read part 1 of this series here

This article was originally published by our academic partner Johan Cruyff Institute. You can read the original article here.


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