Tennis Anyone? How Publicity ‘Serves’ the World’s Largest Annual Sporting Event – the US Open

Tennis Anyone? How Publicity ‘Serves’ the World’s Largest Annual Sporting Event – the US Open

By: Natalie Mikolich

Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, Eugenie Bouchard, Grigor Dimitrov and Bob & Mike Bryan are just a few of the US Open tennis stars and big names this year we saw on TV, on the cover of magazines and in big-time media features leading-up to the start of the 2014 US Open.  From the cover of TENNIS and SELF magazine to appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman and even features in VOGUE and The New York Times Magazine, these are just some of the high profile media features that have come out this month on the world’s biggest tennis stars generating a lot of publicity exposure not only for the athletes, but also for the US Open.

As the world’s highest attended annual sporting event, the 2013 US Open received an estimated 713,026 tennis fans in attendance and this year is projected to gross $260 million in revenue over the two weeks of the event.

With this kind of momentum swinging the US Open’s way though, many might think that the event practically runs itself at this point and likely needs little publicity promotion through the mainstream media channels.  However, this is not the case, and helping us go behind-the-scenes of the US Open to get a better understanding of what the public relations strategies and tactics are like for the US Open to be successful every year is Randy Walker, the former Senior Publicity Manager for Professional Tennis at the USTA.

Having worked 13 US Open Championships and serving as the U.S. press officer for 22 Davis Cup Ties and three Olympic Games, Randy now runs New Chapter Media in New York City.  Here is more with Randy in our Q&A following last year’s US Open on “How Publicity ‘Serves’ the World’s Largest Annual Sporting Event – the US Open:”

1. Overall, why is public relations so important for the US Open?
Public Relations is a major part of running the US Open, it is ‘the bull horn to the public’ and how you communicate with on average 700,000 tennis fans that attend the US Open.  Unless information is communicated to the media from the US Open public relations division, and then to the tennis fans from the media through online news websites, newspapers and TV channels, the tennis fans wouldn’t know what is going on before or during the US Open.

2. When does the US Open’s PR campaign usually begin each year?
It usually starts in the spring (around the time Roland Garros gets underway) when tickets go on sale to the public.  This is when the US Open Communications Department sends out the first of several staggered press release announcements throughout the summer to the media in order for them to communicate with the fans that tickets going on sale and to get them excited about the upcoming US Open.

After one of the last staggered press release announcements is sent out to the media before the start of the US Open in mid-July (usually about the player entries received and is an implemented strategy tactic by the Communications Department to have a new reason for the media to share information about the US Open with tennis fans), this is when things really get into full swing for the event and their public relations efforts.

3. What is the PR strategy leading-up to the US Open?
PR for the US Open is all about driving ticket sales at the start of every summer.  Following the US Open’s first press release announcement of the summer, there is usually always a national TV “hit” (RP lingo meaning secured media coverage) lined-up with one of the major network morning shows such as TODAY (on NBC) with one of the US Open’s top tennis stars that year.  Going on-air to do a fun tennis demo with the show’s host and talk about the US Open, the top tennis star’s most important objective in that interview is to reinforce that tickets are now on sale to the public and to get them excited to buy them and come out to the US Open.

4. What is it like managing the media during the US Open and what are some of your communication goals?
Throughout the US Open, it is essential for the Communications Department on a daily basis to be communicating with the media and providing them with story lines to share with the public. And, of the most important of the story lines generated about the US Open and its players each year, are the human interest story lines. The media want a story. They are there to cover the event, so the easier you can make it for them, the better.

Generating human interest stories surrounding the US Open and having them covered in non-sports media can have two to three times more of an impact on the event than a regular “hit” with the sports media.  This kind of coverage will help generate new tickets sales with non-tennis fans and will also increase viewership of the event on TV with the major broadcast networks who are our partners (in the U.S. and internationally).

In addition to this, let’s not forget about the high-end US Open sponsors that come with the event’s length and visibility to the tennis audience who pay big dollars to market themselves over the two-week period…they need media exposure too.  The Communication Department needs to let people know who the US Open sponsors are through our media messages. It is important for people attending the event who could potentially buy their products to know who they are. On average, people need to hear or see something seven to eight times before they will buy it.

5. What are the PR efforts like year after the US Open is over?
Even when the US Open is over and the new champions are crowned, press coverage doesn’t stop on the final day of play for the US Open.  After the tournament is over there is always a “next day” story.  You want to keep the US Open in the news as long as possible.  The more days you get publicity, the better it is for the event and especially for the people who missed it because they will want to come next year.