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How Citi Taste of Tennis Grew Into One of the Sport’s Premier Events

Ahead of the U.S. Open, Judi and Penny Lerner discuss how they created one of tennis’ premier lifestyle experiences.

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Every year, the top names in tennis gather in New York for the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the tennis season. While the tournament in New York certainly has its appeal, one of the most highly anticipated events takes place off the court.

The mother-daughter team of Judi and Penny Lerner are the powerhouse duo behind the Citi Taste of Tennis, which has become one of the highest anticipated non-sporting events to accompany tennis’ biggest tournaments.

Like most success stories, the Lerners’ business came together through a perfectly timed set of circumstances. Penny had been working as a social worker when her organization lost funding and she was laid off. At the same time, Judi, who was in the midst of a successful career in tennis, was ready to venture into her own endeavors.

Judi had noticed a void in the athlete management space, seeing that too much attention was being paid to sports themselves, rather than the athletes who played them. Tempting Penny with the opportunity to raise money for the nonprofit she had previously worked for, she used that event as a trial run for the two of them starting their own company.

“We went right into business after that, creating a woven fabric between athletes and the community in which they live to make them feel more comfortable in the place that they were going,” explained Penny.

Both she and her mom knew that these young athletes traveled all over the U.S., often far from their home countries, and would find themselves in random cities with no one to help them get acclimated.

Their agency, AYS Sports, aimed to change that.

“[These athletes] that come here don’t live here so they don’t know about our regional cuisine. They don’t know about the beauty of our little cities and how tasty or how wonderful the chefs are,” explained Penny Lerner. “We wanted to introduce the international base of tennis – players and media and people that follow the space – with the regional beauty of our American cities.”

When they started this endeavor, neither Lerner had their MBA, but Judy explains the first 15 years was essentially like business school.

“We learned how to find a space for ourselves that made sense and could take our business with us,” she explained.

From the ground up, the two built not only an agency, but a series of premier events, most notably the Citi Taste of Tennis, which occurs in tandem with many of the top tennis tournaments around the country.

Citi Taste of Tennis’ premier event occurs annually in New York City ahead of the U.S. Open, combining sport and cuisine and bringing in top athletes and chefs to interact with attendees. Past events have included cooking competitions, VIP hours where guests can mingle with athletes, and food from world-renowned Iron Chefs.

This year’s event is scheduled for August 23 at Cipriani 42nd Street and will feature several of the world’s best tennis players, most notably the powerful doubles duo Mike and Bob Bryan, last year’s U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, and the fast-rising stars John Isner and Kevin Anderson.

“[The players] look forward to these things now because it’s not an obligation that they have to do, it’s more that they want to come there and they want to have fun and we don’t ask them for a lot,” explained Judi Lerner.  “A piece of it is that we try to really understand the personality of the player and enhance that to make it into something more so that they can let their natural ability and natural flavor show too.”

There aren’t many events where you can walk in and see Nick Kyrigos DJ’ing or Gael Monfils dancing, or Serena Williams walking through, but by focusing on the lifestyle element of tennis, the Lerner’s have made that a reality.

The trust that makes this type of event possible was not built overnight.

“My mom has been in the business for a really long time and she has always delivered and never asked for much. I think that a lot of the top players have always found value in that,” explained Penny Lerner.

That type of thinking has helped both agents and players trust the Lerners to plan events that respect the players’ time, values, and interests and made it a comfortable and desirable environment. The experience itself has moved beyond sport and cuisine, transforming into a lifestyle event with a blue carpet, music, and any other element that fits players’ personalities.

As the 19th annual Citi Taste of Tennis New York occurs this week, the Lerners are already looking ahead to future events, committed to using their balance of skills, temperaments, and mutual value of hard work and persistence to ensure the events are a success for years to come.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at lucy@frntofficesport.com.

Marketing

Natty Light’s Super Bowl Moment

This year, Natural Light is giving 70 individuals the chance to pay down their student loan debt as part of their campaign around the Super Bowl.

Adam White

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Photo via Natty Light

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With the Super Bowl two weeks away, brands from most industries are looking to take advantage of the marketing opportunities surrounding the most-watched television broadcast in the U.S.

This year, Anheuser-Busch is going big for the big game. Part of their Super Bowl marketing blitz includes airing a local Natural Light Super Bowl ad in 5 of the top 10 cities hit hardest by student loan debt.

We caught up with Daniel Blake, Senior Director of Value Brands for Anheuser-Busch, to see why the brand decided to give away another $1,000,000 to help over 70 individuals pay down their student loan debt as well as how the campaign plays into the overall brand strategy for Natty Light.

On Natty’s Super Bowl approach…
“Super Bowl is a unique opportunity to talk to people, to engage with people. The Natural Light local SB spot is geared towards our core audience, students and graduates who are experiencing first-hand the gravity of student loan debt. Staying true to our fans is core to what Natty is as a brand, so it makes total sense that we talk to 21+ young adults about issues that impact their lives.”

On why sports are important to the brand…
“Sports are a big part of that, and we know from experience that our fans appreciate when we bring sports-related content and experiences into their daily lives. Our Race Resume program is the perfect example of this. In September 2018, Natural Light had the chance to create a paint scheme for Chris Buescher and the #37 car at the South Point 400 in Las Vegas. That paint scheme happened to be the resume and headshot of an aspiring motorsports journalist, Briar Starr. Briar won the contest we held to be featured on the car. It was a really innovative way to combine two topics that our fans are passionate about and it got a very positive response.”

Disruption is in Natty’s blood…
“We are always showing up in the places that are important to our fans. This will be the first of many sports moment where you’ll see Natty doing something fun and disruptive this year.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

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Inside the Revenue Generation and Marketing Frenzy of a Super Bowl

With kickoff just around the corner, let’s take a look at just how big of a deal (literally) the Super Bowl is from a business perspective.

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Photo via CBS

Every year, millions of Americans — and even more around the world — take time out of one particular Sunday to watch one of the most captivating, polarizing and moving spectacles in culture today: the Super Bowl.

Aside from the occasional Olympic Games or World Cup, it dominants the sports landscape around the world across all industries, too, from sports to entertainment to technology to finance. With kickoff just around the corner, let’s take a look at just how big of a deal (literally) the Super Bowl is from a business perspective.

Viewership

An estimated 103.4 million people watched last year’s Super Bowl on NBC. Consider, even though last year’s viewership was a seven-percent drop from the previous year’s broadcast (111.3 million), Super Bowl LII still ranks in the top 10 of the most-watched U.S. television broadcasts of all time.

During last year’s big game, NBC’s online viewership also averaged an additional two million fans throughout the course of the game on the NBC Sports app, NBCSports.com, and the Yahoo Sports app. With usually 180 countries broadcasting the game in 25 different languages, it has no shortage of a diverse audience.

TV Advertising Revenue

According to estimates by Kantar Media, NBC generated roughly $414 million in advertising revenue from last year’s game. In fact, NBC claimed that it had sold out of all the company’s Super Bowl commercial spots for last year’s installment.

Many viewers have grown accustomed to the Super Bowl being filled with dazzling commercials, often playing into the tongue-in-cheek humor that advertisers look to capitalize on with such a large, captivating audience.

READ MORE: How Music Will Play a Huge Role at the Super Bowl 

“For now, the Super Bowl is simply the biggest sports and entertainment event in the U.S.,” said sponsorship consultant Jim Andrews. “From an advertising standpoint, no other broadcast delivers the audience that the Super Bowl does. From a promotional perspective, there are few, if any, other platforms that can impact such a massive number of consumers. If you are a mass marketer that wants to reach the most people at one time, nothing else comes close.”

Last year’s broadcast contained a staggering 49-plus minutes of commercial time. In total, ads accounted for 22 percent of the total broadcast. There is a rhyme and reason, as NBC averaged over $5 million for every 30-second commercial spot that aired. To put this in perspective, since Super Bowl 36 in 2002, the average advertising cost has more than doubled over the last 16 years, rising nearly $1 million in the last four years alone.

Host City Economic Impact

Last year, over a 10-day period leading up to, and including, the Super Bowl, approximately $370 million in new net spending was generated throughout the Minneapolis area, where the Super Bowl and prior events were held.

The fanfare brought over 125,000 visitors to the city with 95 percent coming from outside Minnesota and six percent coming from outside the United States. Since 1988, Minnesota ranks fourth amongst Super Bowl host cities in terms of total gross economic impact. Much of the economic impact goes beyond the dollars and cents as fans travel from far and wide to take in the unique experience of this yearly spectacular event.

“One of the trends happening in the sports industry is a focus on connecting with fans and sponsors with unique content using experiential marketing,” said Adam Grossman, CEO of Block Six Analytics. “The audience has some of its best opportunities to see things in the game, halftime concert, television ads, and the social media conversation that it has never seen before. The ability for the echo of the Super Bowl content to reverberate throughout the entire year is critical and makes the event an essential annual sports experience.”

Social Media

Planning social strategy around the Super Bowl is a huge advantage that businesses have to hone their brand. Content and direct advertising of Super Bowl ad campaigns tend to see a massive uptick in content posts beginning in January and surging throughout the postseason leading into the Super Bowl.

As social media continues to grow, brands will continue to hone in on an ever-consuming online audience.

READ MORE: Why Winning Should No Longer Be a Strategy When It Comes to Driving Attendance

According to Nielsen, there were 170.7 million interactions between the three big social media platforms regarding last year’s Super Bowl throughout the day as the game was being played out. And with brands such as Pepsi, Doritos, Dodge, T-Mobile, and Tide showcasing ads that combined for over 136,000 mentions over the course of last year’s Super Bowl, it demonstrates the role social media plays in broadcasting exposure to ever-engaging fans.

Betting

During last year’s Super Bowl LII, a whopping $158-plus million was bet in Las Vegas’ sports books. This paced ahead Super Bowl LI betting intake of $138.4 million within Nevada sportsbooks. During last year’s big game, Americans were expected to dole out $4.76 billion in bets. Granted, only three percent was actually bet within Nevada sportsbooks. The other 97 percent with local bookmakers and overseas sportsbooks.

Yet this year, with multiple states legalizing sports gambling, the sheer betting numbers will continue to grow. 

Player Payouts

It definitely pays to win big.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton’s recent attempt to fire up his team at the start of the playoffs involved displaying a staggering amount of money in the locker room.

This large sum, which was to the tune of $225,000, was stacked with so many dollar bills, it echoed scenes found within a Hollywood movie (plus the Lombardi hardware accompanying the stack of cash wasn’t bad either). In actuality, the payout for going all the way in the postseason hovers closer to $201,000 per the NFL’s latest collective bargaining agreement.

But, it even pays to lose on the big stage. With playoff bonuses coming with each victory throughout the playoffs, Super Bowl losers ultimately do not walk away empty-handed. After last year’s Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, every New England Patriots player still walked away with a $56,000 check, bringing their total playoff earnings to a cool $135,000.

There is no denying that the Super Bowl presents a multitude of revenue generation and added value exposure opportunities for companies and brands. As the spectacle continues to evolve and grow, the business of football will continue to eclipse the conversation and the market.

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Marketing

Adidas Gets Creative With Latest Activation

Ahead of the Australian Open, Adidas and Parley for the Oceans teamed up to pull off an activation that made use of the iconic Bondi Icebergs Pool.

Adam White

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Image via Adidas and Parley

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Ahead of the Australian Open, Adidas and Parley for the Oceans teamed up to pull off an activation that saw them turn the iconic Bondi Icebergs Pool in Sydney into a tennis court.

Taking some time out of the craziness that is the Australian Open, Bec Ballard, Senior Manager of Brand Activation for Adidas Pacific, gave us an inside look at how they pulled off the activation.

On the idea and location…
“We were looking for a way to bring to life the story of our Parley partnership whilst launching our first Parley tennis range to the world. We wanted to visually represent the beauty of the oceans, the threat they are currently facing, and the solution that adidas and Parley are working towards. We felt the backdrop of the iconic Bondi Beach, with the symbolic empty pool (that they empty every Thursday), and then the unveiling of our footwear and apparel range made from 100% marine ocean plastic, was a perfect way to tell this story.”

Tying it to more than just sales…
“The Parley partnership is incredibly important to the adidas brand globally, and it resonates strongly with our Australian consumers. Our Parley partnership and associated products aim to protect our oceans for generations to come. This purpose aligns strongly with the Australian beach culture.”

“As a brand, we have the core belief that ‘Through sport, we have the power to change lives’. Donating the tennis court to a primary school in Western Sydney really rounded out the activation. We wanted to give the court a purpose beyond the activation; encouraging kids to be active was the ideal solution.”

On making it happen…
“The activation itself had multiple layers of complexity. When dealing with a natural environment we had to allow for many uncontrollables: the tides, the swell, and the weather. We had to be incredibly well planned, and operate with a flexible mindset. The pool is drained weekly for cleaning, so we took the small window of opportunity while the pool was empty.”

“We were given access to the empty pool at 3 am, we had to clean it, build the court, install all the signage and be ready for the event at 9 am. We had waves crashing over the side, rain, and were working in the dark! The event kicked off at 9 am and concluded by 10 am. The court had been dismantled and removed from the bottom of the pool by 10:30 am. By mid-afternoon, the pool had been filled naturally by the ocean, and people were once again swimming laps.”

On measuring KPIs…
“From a PR perspective, it completely exceeded our expectations from both reach and messaging perspective. The reach of the event extended far beyond our shores, and the more pleasing element was the integration of the message. The message about the Parley partnership and product range was prominent in all media coverage, and the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive. The products are currently available for purchase at our on-site retail store at the Australian Open, Flagship Store in the Melbourne CBD near the event, eCom and the sell-through has been very strong. We are conducting brand health research which will also be a key element in the impact of the activation for the brand.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

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