Open Season

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When Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln brand was offered the opportunity to pick up Infiniti's sponsorship of the U.S. Open tennis championship two years ago, the automaker wasn't sure it wanted to jump in racquet first. Although the Open is one of tennis' four major tournaments, its TV ratings rank somewhere between cricket and the lone season of XFL games.

But then Lincoln looked at the demographics. Its research showed the average viewer of the U.S. Open is between the ages of 35 and 55, 75% hold a college degree and more than half earn $75,000 or more yearly.

"The ratings are what they are, but it's a mix of people in the luxury market who are watching that event," said Brad Johnson, senior VP-account director for Lincoln at WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, Irvine, Calif.. "From ... different research we looked at, the findings really show that the audience we want to talk to is there."

Ad managers for other high-end brands apparently agree. JPMorganChase is in its 20th sponsorship year and will sponsor the women's singles championship, which will be televised by CBS in prime time for the first time ever Sept. 8. Canon USA is a 25-year sponsor, Tiffany & Co. is in its 15th year, and IBM Corp. and Heineken USA have each invested 10 years at the Open. According to a person close to the situation, the main marketers are paying about $10 million for a sponsorship.

The U.S. Open seemingly defies ratings logic. Last year, the nine national broadcasts on CBS over the two-week span garnered a cumulative 2.8 rating, meaning it was seen in about 2.9 million homes by 3.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's a fraction of other major sporting-event telecasts, such as the Masters golf championship, which drew a 10.7 rating earlier this year when Tiger Woods won his fourth consecutive major title. (Even last year, when Mr. Woods finished fifth, the Masters still far out-distanced the U.S. Open with a 7.6 rating.) The 2001 Super Bowl, the mother of all sporting events for advertisers and viewers, drew a 40.1 share with 41.3 million homes and 84.3 million viewers.

Individually, last year's U.S. Open women's final drew a 4.5 rating on a Saturday afternoon. But even that ranked eighth for the week for sports programs behind five NFL games, a University of Notre Dame football game-and an episode of "WWF Smackdown!" on UPN.

Still, advertisers flock to the Open, thanks in large part to its relatively paltry 30-second TV commercial fee of $150,000 for the women's final and $110,000 for the men's final. The Super Bowl drew $2 million for a 30-second spot in January.

"We're the fourth-largest beer advertiser in the world, but we're still way behind the top three," said Dan Tearno, public relations director for Heineken. "The major domestic beer companies have a substantial interest in most of the major sports like football and baseball and basketball. But the U.S. Open is a unique property. We look at a different demographic there, the 21-35 year old, but it's a consumer that is an imported beer drinker."

Heineken has worked with four-time U.S. Open champion John McEnroe to create an original Open art-work T-shirt and hat, as well as a series of TV spots featuring tennis' former bad boy. Heineken has also promoted several regional radio ticket sweepstakes.


Other advertisers this year include American Express Co., which launched a print campaign around the Open as well as a promotion in which those who purchased 2001 tickets with the Amex card were entered to win tickets to the 2002 men's final. U.S. Open-themed ads and promotions are also being employed by Citizen Watch, Evian, Fila USA, IBM, JPMorganChase, MassMutual, Pepsi-Cola Co. and United Airlines. Pepsi put the Open logo on 12 million cans in the metropolitan New York area, while sibling beverage Tropicana put a series of print ads in subway interiors, bus interiors, bus tails and city kiosks.

For some, however, it's not an open and shut case. "It's a very crowded neighborhood," said Mike Sheldon, general manager of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, which handles Mitsubishi. "Unless you are the title sponsor, you get buried."

Which is probably why Lincoln eventually replaced Infiniti. "With the growth of tennis in the U.S., and with American players like Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters and Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport all playing a part in the resurgence of American tennis, the U.S. Open provided us with our perfect target customers," said Jennifer Beindors, Integrated Marketing Manager for Lincoln.

"Maybe the ratings don't say it," said Pierce O'Neil, chief marketing officer of the USTA, "but the U.S. Open continues to grow in stature each year."

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