Serving Up Tennis To The Next Generation

September  5,  2012 / By Mark Beal

As the 2012 US Open Tennis Championships advances its way towards another exciting finale, I can count myself among the fortunate 700,000 plus who stepped onto the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and witnessed some of the world’s greatest athletes put on a powerful performance that consumers and marketers could take advantage of year round but don’t.

On the day I attended, I witnessed Kim Clijsters, the three-time US Open champ, play in her final Grand Slam singles match. I was energized by the buzz of more than 30,000 fans, some experiencing their first-ever tennis tournament. I was captivated by brand marketers activating their sponsorship investment and truly engaging consumers through such platforms as the Heineken Red Star Cafe, Grey Goose Bar, Ralph Lauren and Nike stores, Mercedes Benz displays, Tiffany & Co. trophy display and endless Chase ATMs. And, I stopped by the media center where I met with journalists from around the globe.

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But, it left me with a question: How can the excitement, energy and engagement I witnessed and experienced, fueled by the sport of tennis, be captured, bottled and sustained year-round?

Just three weeks earlier, I stepped onto the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon where I saw Serena Williams and the Bryan Brothers win Olympic gold medals. That same energy and excitement minus the on-site sponsorship engagement was front and center as much as it was in New York at the Open.

While the world’s sports landscape has changed drastically since the 1970s and ’80s when names like McEnroe, Connors, Evert and Navratilova were winning multiple US Open titles and the media landscape has changed even more. I guess the real question I am seeking an answer for is how can tennis be relevant year-round in today’s culture rather than just a few weeks a year?

Tournament organizers in Indian Wells, CA at the BNP Paribas Open with the support of Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison are on to something. They are on the verge of becoming the first tournament outside the four Grand Slams to attract 400,000 spectators.

Perhaps the sport of tennis should shift the paradigm and look at relevance through a different lens. As Roger Goodell, David Stern and Bud Selig look to expand their U.S based leagues globally, the “commissioners” of tennis – the heads of each of the tours, the international and national governing bodies, major tournaments, media partners and major sponsors – should join forces and explore how to make their global sport relevant locally year-round. I know it is easier said than done but imagine what kind of tennis excitement, energy and engagement they could serve up for the next generation to experience if they combined forces and best practices In delivering a sports and entertainment product built for 2015 and beyond.

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