First and foremost I am referring to tennis here and not golf. Maybe there is a brand identity problem since people do get confused when I mention the U.S. Open which I ALWAYS mean as tennis?
I have been going to the U.S. Open since 1974 when it was held at Forest Hills. In the 35 years I have attended more than 32 opening day sessions (I missed a couple of years while living out of the area). To say that the experience is different than when I first attended is a major understatement.
This year more than 800,000 people will attend the 26 sessions. More than $ 21 million dollars in prize money will be awarded. Arthur Ashe Stadium was sold in 2008 to a record 99% of capacity. The US Open remains the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world.
Total visits to USOpen.org, the official website of the U.S. Open, topped 39 million visits for the first time, an increase of 33 percent vs. last year. Unique visitors, from more than 200 countries, topped 9 million for the first time in 2007 and total page views exceeded 222 million for the first time.
Moving from the West Side Tennis club in Forest Hills to Flushing Meadow in 1978 afforded fans a venue that could meet the increasing demand for tickets and access. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has more than 40 courts which are only part of the experience.
As you walk in to the grounds you are now met by greeters welcoming you to the Open (ticket prices having risen substantially in the last five years so maybe being greeted will make you feel better about all the coin you dropped to get the tickets). But admittedly I thought the greeters were a great idea. People are generally happy to be there and you can see players walking around carrying their huge tennis bags looking tall (tennis players are MUCH larger than back in 1974). The USTA has done an admirable job in making the total experience better each and every year. This year the USTA had an ‘experience’ type pavilion where you could test your serve speed, play mini-tennis etc. It was free and fun.
But there are some rough edges too. There are many choices for food in the plaza, in restaurants. And contrary to popular belief the food pricing is not as ridiculous as reports might have you believe. Although on opening day this year it took me 35 minutes to get a mediocre Philly Cheese Steak. So on the value proposition it was not a great deal not because it was expensive (it was about $ 9.00 as I recall) but because it took 35 minutes and I was there to watch tennis – not stand on line.
The seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium (the largest stadium for tennis in the world) are not all that comfortable and if you are sitting in the 300 section you literally need binoculars to see the players. Also I did not realize you could buy tickets for Armstrong and not have access to Ashe! But at least you are closer to the court.
The sponsorship and marketing efforts at the US Open are without parallel. Just look at the player clothing – they are at times walking billboards. And you can buy equipment, clothing, jewelry, a Lexus (yes that’s right) all with your American Express Card (well maybe not the Lexus).
The Mets and Yankees inhabit two brand new stadiums and I have posited that they may be catering to a generation of consumers and not baseball fans. I think the U.S. Open set the mold for that years ago – it’s not all about the tennis for many people (I am not including myself here) but it continues to grow and thrive and I see no reason for this trend to change.