U.S. Open: different ad game

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The U.S. Tennis Association aims to alter the image of the U.S. Open with a campaign that swaps the polite country-club image of tennis for something more akin to boxing.

The commercials, from Havas' Arnold Worldwide, are set in a "gritty, gladiatorial prize-fight environment," and use the tagline, "The U.S. Open: A Different Game." The campaign, breaking next week, is part of slew of efforts to boost attendance and viewership of the event, which starts Aug. 25.

"This is an event that belongs up there with the Oscars and the Super Bowl," said Arlen Kantarian, USTA CEO-professional tennis, who wants to boost its mainstream appeal.

This year's women's singles final will move to a better time slot, with CBS bumping it from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 6. Last year, the prime-time women's finals, sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, earned a 5.2 rating according to Nielsen Media Research, down 23.5% from the year before. The $1 million prize money-equal to the men's-is purported to be the biggest prize in women's sports, a point promoted by the USTA, which is working with public relations firm Edelman, New York.

`compelling story'

"The women's event will be a very compelling story with the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Lindsey Davenport all back in the game," Mr. Kantarian said. The USTA plans a star-studded before-and-after party with Spike Lee and P. Diddy on the invite list.

The USTA has enlisted the firepower of a range of partner companies, and is expected to reveal a new corporate sponsor of its own this week. PepsiCo, as in previous years, will distribute five million cans of Diet Pepsi in the New York/New Jersey area starting next week to promote the event. American Express is shooting a series of spots as part of its long running "Official Card" campaign. The ads will feature famous tennis players including Monica Seles, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi. American Express works with WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York. American Express, a 10-year sponsor, will also give card holders special access areas and mini radios to listen to commentary at the grounds and will sponsor a live screening event at New York's Rockefeller Center.

IBM back

Returning U.S. Open sponsors include United Airlines, Lincoln Mercury, Heineken, Evian, Mass Mutual and Citizen Watches. Separately, IBM Corp. renewed its long-term sponsorship agreement with the event. IBM has been a sponsor the past 11 years and has reupped its commitment for a minimum of three years. IBM also the event's technology provider, helps run the Web site USOpen.org.

The USTA, however, would like to eventually move its sponsorships to a more exclusive model. "We'd like to have fewer sponsors in a long-term, broader way," Mr. Kantarian said.

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