An article in today’s New York Times describes the ambitious marketing plan for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, which highlights the many stars of the Women’s Tennis Association. It’s a bold new move that features an international cast of athletes and highlights several of the global tournaments they compete in.
One of the challenges noted in the article is how to promote the sport beyond the four Majors (US Open, Australian Open, French Open, Wimbeldon). Larry Scott, the chairman and chief executive of hte Sony Ericsson WTA Tour brings up a valid point that relates not only to my feelings regarding the ‘flatness’ of the sports marketing world, but also the need for brands to create a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU):
“How do we get them (casual tennis fans) more deeply engaged and follow the sport on a more regular basis and get an emotional connection to increase viewership, sponsor interest and measure return on investment, and help build the players so their equity goes up?”
That’s the (several) million dollar question. One area where sports like tennis and golf really struggle is the focus on those four major tournaments. The rest of the season, for the casual fan, just doesn’t exist. The other challenge is that team sports can call on a history to help develop a narrative. When the Celtics and Lakers battled for the NBA title, it wasn’t just Kobe Bryant v. Paul Pierce, it was the memory Magic v. Bird and Chamberlain v. Russel. When Venus Williams battles Maria Sharapova, no one recalls the great battles between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, there’s no connection.
But the WTA can try to create a narrative over the course of the season. Make me care about the tournaments in Bogata, Stockholm and Mumbai. I’m not saying that’s easy, but until I do, the Tour will be a four event sport. Part of this falls on the individual event organizers as well. They need to take risks and try different things. If I were running a clay court tournament I would make my clay blue. A gimmick, yes, but everyone would know which tournament was mine. The NHL proved you don’t have to play every game inside an indoor arena by staging an incredibly popular game at an outdoor venue. Now it’s becoming a yearly event. If several of the smaller events could would hard to increase their profile, the tour as a whole would benefit.
I would look to see what else the casual tennis fan cares about. Is it international travel? Reality shows? Self-improvement? How can elements like that be worked into a larger narrative that goes beyond the on-court action (while not taking away from it)? Just a thought, but a reality show featuring women who travel the world following the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour that has a positive message of female empowerment would seem pretty compelling to me. Get yourself a strong woman like Jackie from Bravo TVs Workout, throw in Anna Kournikova and a local at each tour stop and you’ve got a nice mix. Maybe they ambush a local consumer who has entered an online contest on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour website.
That’s just some ideas off the top of my head, but women’s tennis has a lot of great assets, they now need to create that Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe that pulls in viewers for something more than just the great tennis on offer.