By Barry Janoff
March 1, 2013: The last time that Rafael Nadal was seen on a tennis court in the U.S. was during the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open (now the Sony Open) in Miami last April.
The next time he will be seen on a tennis court in the U.S. is Monday night (March 4) at the BNP Paribas Showdown, an exhibition match being held in New York's Madison Square Garden.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion had been out of action since June, when he lost in the second round of Wimbledon, missing seven months due to severe tendonitis in his left knee. Following extensive rehabilitation, he returned to competition in February, finishing as runner-up at the Chile Open before winning the Brazilian Open title in Sao Paulo.
On Saturday, he earned his second victory of the young season by defeating David Ferrer in the finals of the Mexican Open in Acapulco.
The former No. 1 ranked-player in the world has been limiting the majority of his comeback to clay-court events, which industry analysts believe he will continue to lean on well into 2013. Nadal has won 93% of the matches he has played on clay during his career, according to the ATP, the governing association of men’s tennis professionals.
Missing the U.S. Open last year and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where he had been scheduled to defend the gold medal in won in 2008 in Beijing, put him out of sight with tennis fans but not out of mind with marketing partners. Nadal earns about $25 million in annual endorsements from such companies as Nike, Bacardi, Babolat, Armani. Kia Motors and PokerStars.com.
During his rehab, he appeared in a series of spots for PokerStars.com in which he went undercover as a hotel clerk and had guests believing he was merely a Rafa look-alike. In addition, the ATP launched a multi-media, "multimillion-dollar" global campaign in January, under the umbrella tag line, "Beat This," that includes such top-ranked men's players as Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,
He also is featured in marketing support for the BNP Parabis Showdown, which will see Nadal, currently ranked No. 5, versus No. 7 ranked Juan Martin Del Potro. In the women's exhibition, No. 1 ranked and 15-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams will play No. 2 ranked (and former No. 1) Victoria Azarenka, who won the first Grand Slam of 2013 at the Australian Open.
"I'm looking forward to playing in that event at Madison Square Garden, especially because I missed playing in New York during the U.S. Open," Nadal said during a recent conference call regarding what would be his first career match in "The World's Most Famous Arena." "I'm feeling better now then the first couple of months [after surgery]. My knee was not improving correctly, but now I feel better."
Nadal, Del Potro and Azarenka are making their debuts in Madison Square Garden. Williams has appeared in previous BNP Paribas Showdown events. This will be the sixth such Showdown, and the fifth consecutive event under title sponsor BNP Parabis.
Also among the companies supporting the Showdown with marketing and activation are first-year partners Alpari, Dominican Republic Tourism, Geico, Hong Kong Tourist Board, Kia Motors and Smartwater; along with returning partners Delta Air Lines, Getty Images, Hugo Boss, JW Marriott Essex House, NASDAQ OMX, Nespresso, Optimum, Sportime, Tennis.com, U.S. Tennis Assn. and Wilson Tennis.
The Showdown will air on ESPN2.
“We are proud to have such a strong lineup of returning and new partners for the BNP Paribas Showdown, which has become one of the premier events in tennis," Greg Economou, evp-corporate sales and solutions, MSG Sports, said in a statement. "This enthusiasm serves as a testament to the important exposure these companies know they will receive by aligning themselves with world-class tennis players and The World’s Most Famous Arena for this unrivaled, one-night only experience."
All marketing partners will receive multi-platform integration at the event, including on-site signage throughout Madison Square Garden, video spots on the GardenVision center-hung scoreboard and in-arena PA reads.
Select partners will receive added exposure through incorporation in national print, TV and digital advertising, as well as involvement in a number of pre-event activities, including a Wilson junior tennis demonstration that will begin the evening. The Showdown will be broadcast live internationally in more than 130 countries.
A supporting BNP Parabis Showdown TV spot offers: "From the majors to the Mecca, the world's best players come to Madison Square Garden for the BNP Paribas Showdown March 4. Olympic gold, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Serena Williams, takes on world ranked No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in a rematch of the U.S. Open Final. Then 11-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal make his Garden debut against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. It's Tennis Night in America."
Serena comes in with her own power roster of marketing deals, including Nike, Apple's iPhone, Gatorade, OPI, Wilson, Mission Athletecare and Sheets energy strips,
At the Showdown, MSG Sports and StarGames, in partnership with the USTA, will "continue their efforts to grow youth participation in the sport by supporting 'Tennis Night in America,'" including a pre-match demonstration with players ten and younger. In 2012, the national Tennis Night in America program had more 2,000 tennis facilities in 48 states participate, making it the largest one-day grassroots program in all of tennis, according to the USTA.
Marketing partners are also leveraging fthe Showdown through a variety of promotions and hospitality event integration.
Among them, Delta Air Lines will host a Sky Miles auction for a chance to attend a clinic with one of the players; Hugo Boss will formally outfit the officials and ball kids, host a post-event VIP reception and conduct a Hugo Boss "Best Dressed Fan" contest during the event; Kia Motors will display the 2013 Optima Limited in the MSG Mall and courtside inside the Arena; Optimum will have several unique GardenVision features, including a seat upgrade for a lucky fan; Smartwater will be hydrating the players and Garden guests throughout the event; and JW Marriott will be the official hotel.
"This enthusiasm serves as a testament to the important exposure these companies know they will receive by aligning with world-class tennis players."
According to Jerry Solomon, president for StarGames, which is producing the event with MSG Sports, “As we head into the sixth year of the Showdown, it is rewarding to see so many blue chip sponsors return year after year. Our goal remains, to provide a platform through the event and ancillary programs that allow our partners to achieve their objectives year in and year out."
And Rafael Nadal has his own goals, as well. “You work hard every day in the gym, you go every day to rehabilitation," he said during a pre-matfh promo. "I will keep fighting to keep doing what I love to do: play tennis.”
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