The United States Tennis Association (USTA) spearheads the USA Tennis Plan for Growth, a five-year, $50 million commitment, launched in 1998, to increase tennis participation in communities across America. Research conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys earlier in 1998 confirmed the industry’s fears – tennis participation, as well as ball and racquet sales, were declining in the U.S. like a drop shot. The program, the most ambitious initiative ever to promote and develop the growth of tennis in the United States, would use USA Tennis Month, when the industry offers free and low-cost lessons, to reverse the trend.
Media buzz in 1998 surrounding the program launch was positive in all participating communities. But after two years, media attention was waning and increasingly localized. The lofty participation goals looked out of reach. In January 2000, USTA Communications and Edelman Sports and Entertainment/ New York were charged with developing breakthrough creative programming to reinvigorate the program and deliver tangible business results. The team succeeded in sparking an avalanche of media attention across a wide cross section of categories, fueling a significant rise in program participation, bouncing ball and racquet sales and making ‘geographic history’ with the official renaming of the state of Tennessee.
Research: In-depth research interviews with all participating USA Tennis Grant Recipients, tennis fans, sports fans and the media indicated a need for a compelling national component and locally customizable messaging and delivery tactics.
Objectives: Generate national and regional exposure for the program and the sport in a wide cross section of media (general interest and entertainment as well as sports/tennis and health/fitness)
Accelerate USA Tennis program participation
Impact ball and racquet sales
Strategic Approach: The USTA and Edelman used a two-phased approach to maximize national exposure and introduce people to the sport. In Phase I, the team combined celebrities, politicians, musicians and tennis players to create an impactful launch event in Nashville that would transcend the borders of Tennessee. Edelman’s Celebrity Services group, based in Chicago, secured actor and tennis enthusiast Danny Glover, the first celebrity spokesperson used by the USTA, for top-tier national entertainment and general interest outreach; Phase II involved crafting messaging and cost-effective delivery tactics for a national rollout to maintain momentum throughout the month.
Phase I: Tennis-E/National Media Day: In early March, after a two-month lobbying campaign, our “beyond the baseline” brainstorm idea became a reality when Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist agreed to rename his state “Tennis-E” for the day and participate in a kick-off event for USA Tennis Month. On May 1st, Nashville’s Legislative Plaza was transformed, as a tennis court and sound stage were constructed for the full-day tennis and music festival which drew thousands and featured Governor Sundquist, Danny Glover, Grammy-nominated group SHeDAISY, tennis stars Jim Courier, Patrick McEnroe and Alexandra Stevenson, USTA executives and a tennis playing Elvis.
Nashville daily and weekly print and broadcast outlets aired or ran 25 pre-event or event-day segments or stories in a 48-hour period, including 2 features in the Tennessean. To build additional pre-event buzz, the team arranged for non-traditional appearances with Alexandra Stevenson, which included throwing out the first pitch at the Nashville Sounds (Pittsburgh AAA) game and calling the play-by-play action in the radio booth; co-hosting the NBC affiliate Sunday night sports show and helping with the weather on the CBS affiliate.
Coverage in Nashville was the tip of the iceberg. Danny Glover conducted a live satellite media tour with the event as a backdrop, reaching 23 major markets from San Francisco, Seattle and Denver to St. Louis, Dallas and Philadelphia. Images of the day’s events were picked up nationwide through b-roll produced and edited on-site as well as photography serviced immediately to short and long lead newspapers and magazines.
Immediately following the launch event, Danny Glover brought the program and the sport national exposure during a national media day which included appearances on Rosie O’Donnell, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and radio networks Westwood One, ABC Radio and Urban Radio Network.
Phase II: National Roll-out: The USTA and Edelman developed a detailed resource manual for participating USA Tennis grant recipients in 139 communities nationwide, which summarized the program and outlined cost-effective marketing communications and public relations tactics. The resource manual ensured unity of message and included template press materials and promotional materials, sponsorship tips, ad slicks and logistical guidelines. In addition, a special and unprecedented eight-page USA Today advertorial ran on May 1st and a one page advertorial appeared in the May edition of Tennis magazine. A mat release with camera-ready artwork for small to mid-size papers was timed to hit during the last week of April. A sampling of the stand out special USA Tennis Month events executed around the country in May follow:
May 6, New Haven (Conn.): Pilot Pen Tennis and Yale University athletics held the “World’s Largest Free Tennis Lesson” for Girl Scouts in Connecticut
May 12, Wilmington, (Del): “Tennis in the Streets” featured introductory tennis lessons, face painting, jump rope competition, tug of war and food
May 24, Portland (Ore.): “Hit the Bricks,” mini tennis courts covered the square, setting the scene for fun rivalries among local celebrities, media, businesses and teaching pros
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
The team generated high profile national and regional attention for the program and the sport
Scope of media categories covering the program and the positive attributes of tennis included national entertainment broadcast (Rosie, Fox News Channel), national radio networks (Westwood, ABC), USA Today (4 items/features), 3 AP wire stories, 2 items in the New York Times, including Public Lives, and magazines ranging from Prevention, Women’s Sports & Fitness and Jane to Teen People and Country Weekly.
A total of two hours of broadcast coverage and more than 500 broadcast and print stories generated 200 million impressions; major market coverage included: Chicago Sun Times, Newark Star Ledger, Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle and Washington Times
In 2000, USA Tennis programs added 315,000 participants, a more than 37% increase over the year 1 and 2 average. The program, currently in its fourth year, is now in striking distance of its five-year goal.
According to the Tennis Industry Association, tennis ball and racquet sales increased 6.7% and 5.2% respectively in 2000.