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United States Tennis Association

United States Tennis Association

70 West Red Oak Lane
White Plains, New York 10604
Telephone: (914) 696-7000
Fax: (914) 696-7019
Web site:



The United States Tennis Association (USTA) was the official governing body of American tennis and the owner of the US Open, the only Grand Slam tournament held in the United States. But the USTA membership, while holding at 500,000 individuals and 6,000 organizations, was not growing, and Nielsen ratings for telecasts of the US Open had dropped from a high of 5.8 in 1981 to 2.8 in 1998. The organization had earned a reputation as a group for professionals rather than the average tennis player, and the US Open had come to be viewed as a slow-paced, unexciting event, entertaining only to older audiences.

In 1999 the USTA launched a $2 million, two-phase marketing campaign created by ad agency Fallon McElligott New York. Phase one was intended to build interest in and to help boost ticket sales and television viewership for the US Open, held at the National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, and phase two was aimed at increasing membership in the USTA. The first phase, titled "US Open Excitement," included television spots that ran on cable, network, and local New York channels and print ads that appeared in publications like the New York Times and USA Today. The second phase, called "Direct Response TV," consisted of two television spots that ran during the airing of the US Open.

Both phases of the campaign far exceeded their goals of increasing ticket sales and television viewership by 10 percent each and of adding 10,000 new members to the USTA. The "US Open Excitement" campaign helped increase television ratings 100 percent over 1998, and ticket sales for the event were up 16 percent. Following the "Direct Response TV" campaign, memberships in the USTA jumped 69 percent, with the organization adding more than 16,000 new members. In addition, both campaigns were recognized with EFFIE, CLIO, and Athena awards.


The United States National Lawn Tennis Association was founded in 1881 as the governing organization for the sport. By 1999 the organization's name had been changed to the United States Tennis Association, and its purpose had grown to include promoting both community and professional tennis, developing world-class American tennis players by helping to provide the best coaches and training facilities, and encouraging cultural diversity in the sport. The organization also owned the US Open, one of four worldwide Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

Despite its long history and its appeal as a sport people could play throughout their lives, tennis was in a decline that had begun in the 1980s. In 1995 the USTA replaced its New York agency, Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, and launched a marketing campaign created by Grybauskas Beatrice, also based in New York. The campaign, which was designed to attract new players to the sport, was titled "Get in the Game" and featured tennis players like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. But interest in the sport continued to slip. According to the USTA, in 1999 the number of tennis players overall had dropped by 50 percent since the early 1980s. The number of players younger than 25 had dropped 15 percent during the same period. Further evidence of the declining participation in tennis was seen in the sales of such equipment as tennis racquets, which fell 40 percent in the 1990s. Although interest in the US Open was strong, ticket sales were down, and while individual memberships in the USTA were at 500,000, growth was stagnant, with only a reported 3 of every 100 tennis players signing on as members in 1999.

With the goal of increasing ticket sales for the US Open as well as television viewership for the tournament, the USTA reviewed a list of agencies, including Lowe & Partners, NW Ayer, and the Lord Group. The organization finally selected Fallon McElligott to create a multimedia campaign to promote the US Open and to increase membership in the USTA.


The USTA's 1999 marketing campaign was two pronged, and it was aimed at two distinct target audiences. Phase one of the campaign, "US Open Excitement," was directed at younger audiences as well as a wider group of sports enthusiasts who had lost interest in watching the USTA's flagship event, the annual US Open. Phase two, "Direct Response TV," targeted tennis players who enjoyed participating in the sport but who had never become members of the USTA.

Over the years tennis had gradually earned the reputation of being slow moving and boring to watch. By the mid-1990s the typical audience attending the US Open was skewed toward older, well-educated, affluent, conservative fans. The goal of the "US Open Excitement" campaign was to win back younger enthusiasts, those between the ages of 18 and 25, along with other fans who had tuned out tennis in favor of such high-octane sports as the X Games, the events shown on ESPN's SportsCenter, and college or professional football and hockey.

Although baby boomers were playing tennis, the number of players under the age of 25 had begun to decline in the 1980s. In addition, players of all ages were going on their own rather than joining the USTA and taking advantage of the benefits it offered. According to the organization, only 3 of every 100 tennis players were members in 1999. The goal of "Direct Response TV" was to build interest in the sport and attract younger players to the game. It also was designed to build awareness of the USTA with active tennis players of all ages and to change the perception that membership in the organization was only for advanced players or for tennis professionals.


Two professional sports that were winning ticket-buying fans away from the US Open, which in 1999 attracted 584,490 people during its two-week run, were baseball and football. With New York the home to two Major League Baseball and two National Football League teams, among many other diversions, the US Open thus had strong competition for local audience dollars and ticket sales as well as for television viewers. In addition, the US Open was played during the end of the professional baseball and the beginning of the professional football seasons.


The United States Tennis Association created a website targeting kids who wanted to play tennis, along with their parents. The site,, included games and contests as well as information for parents, such as how to locate Little Tennis programs for kids, an online magazine with tennis-related articles, and a calendar of tennis and Little Tennis events.

Traditionally known as America's pastime, Major League Baseball in 1999 had an average attendance of 28,888 fans per game, for a season total of more than 70 million. New York's baseball teams—the Yankees and the Mets—reported per-game attendances higher than the national average, with 40,651 and 33,650, respectively, and 1999 season totals of 3.2 million fans for the Yankees and 2.7 million for the Mets. Both teams worked with their ad agencies in 1999 to create marketing campaigns designed to boost ticket sales. The Yankees choose BBDO New York to create a series of newspaper, radio, and billboard ads that emphasized the team's successful past, including 24 World Series championships. Working with its longtime agency, Della Femina/Jeary and Partners, the Mets focused on the present and the team's up-and-coming status with a campaign that used the tagline "Are you ready? New year. New team. New magic."

The National Football League's pregame battle cry was "Are you ready for some football?" For fans the answer was typically yes. In 1999 the average per-game attendance nationally was 65,349, with the total attendance for the season at 16.2 million. In New York, fans of the Jets and the Giants were equally enthusiastic. For both teams home attendance averaged about 78,000 per game in 1999. The season totals were also about the same for both, with a total of 624,847 fans attending Jets games and 623,777 attending Giants games. Traditionally seen as a blue-collar game, football was going through a transition by 1999, attracting fans who arrived at games in Range Rovers and who preferred snacking on wine and aged cheese rather than on beer and peanuts. As the crowd morphed into a wealthier, more educated demographic, it was also getting older. According to a report in the Tribune Business News, Russ Hawley, the vice president of marketing for the New York Giants, explained the reason for the changing fan base: "The fan who first bought tickets in 1970 at age 29 is now 58 and, most likely, making better money."


In 1999 the USTA was confronted with two challenges: turning around steadily dropping tickets sales for its main event, the US Open, and bolstering the number of people actually participating in the sport of tennis and in the USTA, whose membership had also been on a steady decline. To reverse the slide in both areas, the USTA joined with Fallon McElligott to create two separate marketing campaigns. The cost of the campaigns was estimated at $2 million.

To promote interest in the annual US Open and to increase ticket sales as well as television viewership among people unable to attend the tournament in person, Fallon McElligott created the "US Open Excitement" campaign. Besides stirring interest in the event, the campaign was designed to change the perception that watching tennis was boring and appealed only to an older, country-club set. The multimedia campaign included television spots that were aired on national networks to encourage viewers to tune in to the US Open and on channels in the New York City area to convince local residents to buy a ticket and see the action in person.

The cable, national network, and New York television spots all used humor to appeal to a younger audience. They featured an eccentric spokesman who compared tennis to such exciting-to-watch sports as basketball and figure skating, with each spot portraying what might happen if those sports took place on a tennis court. In one spot, for example, a pair of figure skaters attempted unsuccessfully to execute a difficult routine on a hard-surface tennis court rather than in an ice rink. At the end of each spot the claim was made that nothing beats "the excitement of U.S. Open tennis."

The print ads were aimed at sports fans in New York. Running in such publications as the New York Times and USA Today, they featured tennis star Andre Agassi poking good-natured fun at people skeptical of his abilities. In the ads Agassi's tournament opponents consisted of the criticisms he had faced during his career, including "Can't win the big ones" and "Doesn't train hard." He advanced through the brackets and ultimately won by defeating each charge. Other ads, which appeared on New York City buses, pictured rows of people sitting in stadium seats, with Upper East Side society women wearing hats and holding small dogs on one side and East Village punk rockers on the other. The text stated that all were "going to the U.S. Open. Are you?" Ads that appeared in New York metropolitan area commuter trains had a similar theme. In one an out-of-shape man was leading a step aerobics class. The text read that the regular instructor "will be out at the U.S. open next Thursday. You may want to do the treadmill that day. Almost everyone's going to the U.S. Open. Are you?"

The second phase of Fallon McElligott's effort, to build enthusiasm for participation in the game of tennis and to increase membership in the USTA, resulted in the creation of the "Direct Response TV" campaign. To dispel the perception that membership in the USTA was only for serious tennis players and to convince people that the organization offered something for every level of player, from beginners to professionals, Fallon McElligott developed two television spots with the tagline "Help us grow the game we all love." The spots were aired on CBS and the USA Network during the US Open. One ad, titled "Anthem," portrayed the emotional aspect of tennis, with players both winning and losing competitions. A second ad, "Benefits," took a more reasoned approach in trying to motivate people to join the USTA. The commercials included the organization's phone number and listed some of the benefits of membership, such as a free subscription to Tennis Magazine.


Turning to Fallon McElligott for its two-part marketing campaign produced the results that the USTA wanted. The 1999 "US Open Excitement" campaign led to increased ticket sales, and it increased television viewer-ship for the finals as well, with ratings up an astounding 100 percent compared to the previous year. The campaign to increase USTA membership, "Direct Response TV," had similarly positive results. According to the USTA, following the campaign's launch the organization added almost 17,000 new members in a two-week period, the single largest increase in its history.

Fallon McElligott's 1999 creative efforts for the USTA did not go unnoticed by the advertising trade. Both campaigns were awarded 2000 EFFIEs. The "US Open Excitement" campaign received a Bronze EFFIE for helping to shatter the myth that tennis matches were stuffy and boring and for increasing interest in the sport. The "Direct Response TV" campaign was recognized with a Silver EFFIE for helping to change the perception that the USTA was only for professionals or serious tennis players. Further, two of the print ads featuring Agassi were recognized with 2000 CLIO awards. The "Fed Cup Congrats" ad was included on the award short list, and the "Agassi" ad received a Bronze CLIO. The Newspaper Association of American also awarded the "Agassi" ad a grand prize in its 2000 ATHENA awards for outstanding creativity. Fallon McElligott shared the top honor, and the $100,000 prize, with Ogilvy & Mather.


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                                        Rayna Bailey

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