While the U.S. Open drew a record 737,872 attendees in 2019, this year’s tournament in Queens, N.Y., looks quite different. Players, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Andy Murray, are required to wear masks and socially distance. Most evidently, the stands at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are completely empty.
The 52nd annual tournament is one of the few major global events to be held as planned during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading sponsors to rethink how to engage consumers forced to watch matches at home. Brands including American Express and JPMorgan Chase—which normally produce elaborate onsite fan experiences—have developed campaigns and content designed to virtually take fans to the stadium or offer digital connections with players.
Here’s a look at sponsor activation highlights from the fanless Grand Slam tournament, which kicked off Aug. 31 and runs through Sept. 13.
The financial services company doubled down on at-home content for customers and fans this year. Chase kicked off the tournament with a live, virtual Chase Sound Check concert hosted by Serena Williams, with performances by Khalid, Kane Brown and Chloe x Halle.
The brand also sponsored The Warm-Up, a daily, livestreamed series on the U.S. Open Facebook page that offers match highlights, stadium tours and games like guessing which tennis superstars are rendered in pancake art.
Additionally, the brand is delivering more than 8,000 free boxes of branded swag and treats from local bakeries to consumers who participate in its #UnlocktheOpen Twitter sweepstakes.
“2020 marks the 39th year JPMorgan Chase is sponsoring the U.S. Open, so it is a tradition of sorts to be present and enhance the experience for our clients and customers,” said Frank Nakano, head of sports and entertainment marketing for JPMorgan Chase. “We’re measuring success through a combination of reach and engagement, as well as other factors around feedback from clients and how this is a bridge as we return to an in-person event next year.”
JPMorgan Chase worked with agencies First Tube Media, CAA and Droga5 to produce the activations.
Ahead of the tournament, the 29-year digital partner of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) commissioned a survey of 2,000 U.S. sports fans; 48% responded that having an interactive digital experience—including video content, game highlights and stats—has become more important since the pandemic began. In response, IBM’s digital design agency IBM iX created three AI-fueled programs to reach fans via the official U.S. Open app and website:
- Open Questions with Watson Discovery facilitates sports debates by presenting tennis questions such as “Is Billie Jean King the most influential tennis player in history?” AI search engine Watson Discovery analyzes millions of news and sports sources for insights that are analyzed and summarized as pro and con arguments. Fans can also share their opinions.
- Match Insights with Watson Discovery allows fans to become “experts” about players and upcoming tournament match-ups. The program gathers relevant information from articles and blogs to offer fact-based insights to consumers ahead of each match.
- AI Sounds recreates crowd sounds sourced from hundreds of hours of video footage captured during the 2019 tournament. In-stadium production teams and ESPN have used the program.
The vodka brand is bringing the U.S. Open’s signature drink, the Honey Deuce, to fans’ homes this year. Grey Goose teamed with cocktail delivery service Sourced Craft Cocktails to create a Honey Deuce Cocktail Kit. Available for purchase on the Sourced Craft Cocktails website, the kits include all ingredients, skewers with honeydew melon balls and signature U.S. Open cups previously only sold inside the stadium.