Cable Net Preps U.S. Open Push

NEW YORK It’s tennis time at USA Network. The channel has enlisted comedian Bob Odenkirk to encourage viewers to “Watch it live” with a three-spot campaign promoting the U.S. Open tennis tournament that kicks off on Aug. 27.

Created in-house, the effort aligns the network’s Open coverage with its broader “Characters welcome” branding campaign, which was introduced two years ago to focus on the unique personalities who inhabit USA’s often quirky shows.

“In the past we made the players characters. We’ve done Andy Roddick as the Rocket Man and Serena Williams as the Diva,” said Chris McCumber, svp of marketing and brand strategy at USA. The Open has been telecast by USA since 1984, and “this time we wanted to do something more in line with our ‘Characters welcome’ [campaign],” he said.

The USA creative team, led by Jason Holzman, a former Euro RSCG creative director who joined last month, crafted an oafish ball boy, portrayed by Odenkirk, who instructs a group of his youthful peers in the finer nuances of working the event.

In “Speed,” Odenkirk, dressed in a polo shirt, blue blazer and short shorts, addresses the trainees. After noting that Venus Williams can serve a ball at 129 mph, he proceeds to shoot tennis balls at the kids as a demented way of preparing them for the task ahead. The “Watch it live” tag is used in all spots.

“We have young viewers coming in via the World Wrestling Entertainment, Burn Notice and movies on weekends,” said McCumber. “We wanted to create a campaign for them.”

In addition to the three 30-second spots, the campaign includes signage near Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y. And will also have bios of the players, behind the scenes information and updated brackets.

While the quirky promos serve as a brand umbrella, the network will also air straightforward spots every day during the two-week tournament to highlight important matches. “We try to figure out what the key matchups are and what the most promotable thing will be,” said McCumber.

Separately, the USTA has teamed with American Express for a U.S. Open online highlights program.