Of all the sporting events trying to operate in a COVID-era fanless world, the U.S. Open—which starts Monday in New York City—might face the toughest task.
Fans are in the event’s DNA, from the boisterous late-night crowds filling the upper reaches of Arthur Ashe Stadium to the countless swanky corporate hospitality gatherings hosted by sponsors that pay top dollar for suites. In a normal year the tournament draws 700,000-plus fans to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, making it the largest annually attended sporting event in the world, according to the United States Tennis Association.
While it will be impossible to recreate the Big Apple buzz this year, the USTA and its sponsors are scrambling to at least maintain some of the tourney’s magic through a series of campaigns and virtual activations. Organizers have had to move faster than a Serena Williams serve—since the decision to go-forward with the tournament came less than three months ago.
“The last two months, we have had to completely re-imagine how we are marketing the event,” says Nicole Kankam, the USTA’s managing director of marketing.
Below, a look at what to expect.
Addressing social justice
The USTA will debut a new campaign called “Be Open” from dentsuMcgarrybowen that hits on themes of racial justice and equality. It includes a video narrated by singer Andra Day, as well as her song, “Rise Up,” that will run on ESPN Monday, on the tournament’s opening day, and feature equality advocates and trailblazers including Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King. The effort includes a program called “Black Lives to the Front” in which the USTA has commissioned artwork from 18 black artists that will fill empty rows of the stadium.
“We would be remiss if we didn't leverage the huge opportunity and attention on the U.S. Open and not address the reality of what is happening out in the world from a social justice perspective,” Kankam says.