January 17, 2010: The Australian Open, which launches the quartet of Grand Slam tennis events for 2010, arrives Jan. 18 with a multitude of personal tales to unfold and challenges to be met. It also comes as a victim of the economic times. Since the 2009 event, such major sponsors as Qantas, MasterCard, GE Money and Garnier L'Oreal have ended their Australian Open alliances.
However, earlier this month, Panasonic signed a three-year deal with the Australian Open to be the official TV, camera and air conditioning partner. Last year, Rolex and Jacob's Creek ramped up their partnerships from official time keeper and wine supplier, respectively, to associate sponsors; and Kia Motors, which has been a marketing partner since 2002, extended its position as the event's lead sponsor through 2013.
Other sponsors of the Melbourne-based tournament include IBM, ANZ, LaCoste, Coca-Cola's PowerAde, Evian, Heineken and Wilson. Analysts said activation from all marketing partners combined could reach $50 million (U.S.).
"We are excited to have Panasonic committing to what will be an enduring and successful relationship,” Tennis Australia’s CEO Steve Wood said in a statement. “Their sponsorship will provide an enormous contribution to the game of tennis and I look forward to working closely with Panasonic Australia in the future.”
Kia Motors' activation for the 2010 event is extending well beyond the courts. The automaker has launched a microsite dedicated to tennis and the Australian Open at www.kia.com.au/tennis. According to Kia, "As the major sponsor of the annual Australian Open in Melbourne, the dedicated and innovative microsite gives Kia Motors the opportunity to interact directly with tennis fans in Australia and around the world."
Content to be featured on the site includes the Kia Hawkeye Umpire Challenge, Fan of the Day images, tennis news, blogs and Twitter feeds, with direct links to the Australian Open Web site. Also to promote its sponsorship, Kia recruited a team of 16 precision drivers to take a squad of Kia Soul cars through a series of synchronized maneuvers at Melbourne’s Docklands.
Like Kia, whose alliances include defending Australian Open men's champion Rafael Nadal, Rolex will run TV spots with networks covering the event worldwide, with ESPN and the Tennis Channel handling U.S. coverage. The watchmaker's tennis alliances include Roger Federer, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Roddick and Justine Henin.
Henin, who also has marketing deals with adidas and Wilson, is among the most intriguing stories at the Open as it will be her first Grand Slam event since she retired in May 2008 ranked No. 1 in the world. Maria Sharapova had planned to use the Open to make a statement about her status in the tennis world, having produced mostly sub-par performances since her shoulder surgery in October 2008. Unfortunately for her, Sharapova lost in the opening round to Maria Kirilenko, not a good start to 2010 for the former No. 1 ranked women's player who won the Australian Open in 2008. The plethora of marketing partners that plan to activate behind her this year include Canon, Cole Haan, Nike, Sony Ericsson, Tag Heuer, Tiffany, Land Rover and Prince.
Federer, whose marketing partners also include Nike, Gillette, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse and Lindt, will be trying to avenge his last appearance in a Grand Slam event, when he lost in the finals of the 2009 US Open to Juan Martin del Potro.
The Australian Open also will be a great venue for fans and marketers to judge what type of season lays ahead for such stars as defending women's champion Serena Williams, Juan Martin del Potro, James Blake, Jelena Dokic, defending men's doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan and Melanie Oudin, the teenager who captured global attention during her play at the 2009 US Open.
ESPN is producing all Australian Open coverage for both ESPN2 and Tennis Channel, and they will cross-promote each other with each channel utilizing its own commentators. Cliff Drysdale and DIck Enberg head the ESPN2's team. Tennis Channel's on-air talent includes tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
ESPN2, which has been running promos that include, "If the heat doesn't beat you there are 127 other players willing to do the job," will shoulder the bulk of domestic coverage. It will offer 113 live hours, the most in its 26-year alliance with Australian Open, and for the first time will also offer coverage on ESPN2 HD. ESPN VOD, ESPN Classic and ESPN360.com also are part of the coverage.
Owing to time difference, the women's final will be shown live on ESPN2 3:30 AM ET, then on tape during the day on both ESPN and Tennis Channel. The men's final will be shown live on ESPN2 3:30 AM ET on Jan. 31, then on tape later in the day on both ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.
Tennis Channel said it would offer a new element to its third year of nightly primetime Australian Open coverage: live streamed matches on its Web site. Visitors can access the site free of charge during Tennis Channel’s on-air coverage windows to select from any one of three court feeds the first week of play, or an optional secondary feed the following week. In all, the network will offer 55 hours of live-match streams during the two-week competition.
Tennis Channel’s daily morning show, Australian Open Today, will bring U.S. viewers "up to speed on everything that happened on the other side of the world while they were sleeping."
2010 Tennis Grand Slam Schedule
• Australian Open: Jan. 18-31
• French Open: May 23-June 6
• Wimbledon: June 21-July 4
• US Open: Aug. 31-Sept. 13