Friday, September 9, 2011

Anyone for tennis? Wouldn't that be nice*?

Even if you hate tennis (disclosure: I hate tennis with an ungodly passion**), you should take a quick look at the US Open’s live tennis stream, available for free on the event’s site.

First, the player offers some great functionality, including picture-in-picture viewing of two events at once, chat with other viewers and stats for the match and the players.

More germane to this blog however, the streaming page shows different approaches to the same challenge: how to make the most of an event sponsorship, or how to cross the line between brand and direct.

The US Open deserves kudos for making streams of its events available to the public, at least here in the States.  Too many sports governing bodies alienate fans, I think, by keeping streams behind a paywall (I’m looking at you, Major League Baseball) when they could probably realize some revenue by keeping them free.  The Open folks, and the smart sponsors, recognize the value of affluent and near-affluent fans who can’t get in front of a TV during work hours or live in small apartments with one TV constantly tuned to children’s television (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Rothfeld).

That said, I think some of the sponsors made more of the opportunity than others.

Initiating the stream brings up a 15-second commercial pre-roll for one of the four sponsors (esurance, Mercedes-Benz USA, Stonyfield Organic and Westin.  IBM also sponsors the feed in what appears to be a different level of sponsorship.  So, who scored an ace and who...I don’t know.  What’s a tennis word for doing lousy?


IBM really shows its stuff here by closely integrating with the Open.  It features two other ways to enjoy the Open through the use of IBM-sponsored analytics: Pointstream and CourtConnect.  These properties appeal to the numbers-oriented tennis enthusiast and also make good on IBM’s “building a smarter planet” branding.  Moreover, it offers a clear follow-up link  for people who want to learn more about IBM’s offerings.  In short, they create interest then use that interest to drive behavior.

Certainly, many, many more people will use these properties than click through, but who cares?  Finding B2B decision-makers has always required a lot of effort.  IBM can afford to do something like this partnership to find the few hot--and valuable--prospects that they can.  Most of IBM’s offerings in hardware and services start in the millions of dollars, so even a few prospects matter.

Westin: A

Here’s a “duh” moment for you: people who watch tennis often play tennis.  Westin figured this out and featured a tennis-related visual on their landing page as well as offering the opportunity to “play tennis at Westin.”  That link leads to a list of properties with tennis facilities.

While this effort involved a lot less flash than IBM’s, I give it a high mark for keeping it simple and relevant.

esurance, Mercedes & Stonyfield: F

All of these links take the visitor to each brand’s respective home page.  Mercedes and Stonyfield have a small link on their home pages referring to their Open sponsorship, but so what?  Few visitors will take the trouble to look for them.

As I’ve said before, it doesn’t take much to make the most of sponsorship opportunities.  IBM adds considerable value to its sponsorship with a highly-interactive experience.  Westin does the same with a simple supposition.  Both of them throw esurance, Mercedes and Stonyfield into sharp relief by not only giving the visitor a place to go, but also tying it back to their sponsorship.  It’s not that hard, folks.  Make it happen.

*About that title:

**Not that it matters much, but my mother subjected me to tennis lessons when I was young to find the hidden athletic talent trapped within me.  However, whoever hid it did a spectacular job.  I haven’t found it yet and have tried just about every sport except extreme ironing.

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