Inside IBM’s U.S. Open Digital Expo

Heineken and Xerox also serve Twitter winners

During a rain-soaked evening this week in Flushing Meadows, Queens, N.Y., middle school kids took shelter while playing with IBM’s billboard-sized “Game Changer Interactive Wall” touch screen, which was found inside one of the many buildings on the U.S. Open Tennis Championship campus. Their elders eventually joined the digital amusement, which consists of everything from virtually whacking tennis balls, looking at service aces and fault data from the tourney, learning how hydration affects player performance, checking in on Foursquare and slews of other features.

“Tennis is a lot of fun,” said John Kent, IBM's program manager for sponsorship marketing. But even better, tennis provides a compelling way for IBM to visually demonstrate its attributes. “It gives us a great chance to tell our clients, ‘This could be your data.’”

Indeed, IBM’s 22-year sponsorship of the major tennis tourney in New York City is no longer just a branding vehicle for the tech giant, but also—on the same grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair—an expo hall to court brand clients. It's 16-year-old digital agency, called IBM Interactive, offers Web design, mobile apps, Internet and social media analytics, etc.

To enhance both brands while creating ad sales this year, as one piece of the partnership between the U.S. Open and IBM, the two sister companies debuted a U.S. Open iPad app that’s being sponsored by Esurance. The online car insurance brand appears in banners at the bottom of the tablet pages as well in videos. From the consumer's perspective, the app serves streams of tennis data from current matches on a dashboard, designed to show viewers which player is most likely to win. The tablet app is designed to complement the tourney’s three-year-old iPhone app and one-year-old Android app.

IBM’s tennis-minded data is also utilized in partnership with ESPN, as the cable channel employs IBM-crunched numbers in its “Keys to the Match” broadcast feature.

The U.S. Open’s arenas—most notably Arthur Ashe Stadium—have been outdoor marketing platforms for big brands for decades. For the 2012 event, tennis fans—while eating in the outside food courtyard or waiting in line for matches— get long looks at Mercedes-Benz sedans on display, Xerox signage and Heineken beer stands galore, just to name a few examples.

Interestingly, the latter two are extending their campaigns to Twitter, buying Promoted Tweet ads for the “USOpen” search results on the social site. Xerox even has a charitable Foursquare tie-in to its tennis-minded effort. Check out the brands' copy and twitpic images below.