Publicity, anyone? Thanks to one of the best PR operations in sports, the 2005 US Open tennis tournament enjoyed stellar ratings and increased attendance.
The 1,500 journalists at this year's event worked from a state-of-the-art media center, replete with in-house photo lab, eight transmitting rooms, three plush press conference rooms, and two large print pressrooms. The main pressroom has personnel offices, three front desks fully staffed by publicists, personal lockers, and hundreds of individual desks - each equipped with high-speed internet, phones, and a TV that provides broadcast stations and closed-circuit feeds of matches in progress, press conferences, statistics, and schedules. Adjoining Arthur Ashe Stadium, the media center also has its own cafeteria (where meals are comped) and broadcast facilities for TV and radio.
"The media are here for two weeks, usually for 14-hour days, and we try to anticipate, and fulfill, all of their needs," says Chris Widmaier, senior PR director of the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
Journalists get a steady stream of press releases, player-interview transcripts, daily briefings, and schedule updates. Not to mention the open bar from 6-7pm. Indeed, a writer could cover the entire event without ever leaving his or her chair - a far cry from when Boston Herald and broadcast tennis dean Bud Collins covered his first Open in '73.
"Back then, I think there was only one publicist and no organized press conferences," he told me. "Writers had to scramble after the players for their quotes and develop their own relationships. The process today is highly organized and controlled, but there is much greater support from the PR office. Everything you need is right at your fingertips."
Along with press relations, the USTA works closely with the two player organizations, the ATP (men) and the WTA (women), and the International Tennis Federation in developing promotional, publicity, and marketing opportunities. A newly introduced US Open Series of tournaments this year prior to the Open increased TV exposure of the sport. Tennis fans represent a coveted demographic of upscale consumers, and the Open PR team works with advertisers to extend their message.
High-profile players like Serena and Venus Williams, Andre Agassi, and Maria Sharapova are among the most recognized athletes in the world. Only 18, Sharapova has $20 million in endorsements this year alone. With new players like her emerging, the USTA hopes to expand tennis into a year-round sport. Tennis, everyone!
- Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer