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U.S. Open Tennis Follows A Social Game Plan

With two weeks of celebrity sightings, corporate entertaining, and lively spectators, the U.S. Open tennis tournament is a highly social sports event. Earlier this summer the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) increased fans’ social options by launching the contest “Follow Me to the U.S. Open.

PRNewser spoke with USTA communications director, Tim Curry, and marketing director, Nicole Jeter West, about the contest, attracting international attendees, and plans for the final match taking place on 9/11.

Contest extends the tennis season and expands the audience

“Follow Me to the U.S. Open” encourages participants to earn points on social and other media outlets. The contest started in mid-June and continues during the Olympus U. S. Open series of ten summer tennis tournaments and the U.S. Open. The grand prize includes a trip to the 2012 U.S. Open and a one-hour hitting session in Arthur Ashe stadium.

“The overall goal was to tie the series to the Grand Slam tournament, and the U.S. Open’s status was used to elevate the Olympus U. S. Open series,” Jeter West explained. “Including the series in the contest lengthens tennis fans’ season from two to eight weeks,” Curry added.

The USTA also wanted to allow the tennis audience to have an online dialogue and show their passion for the game. As Jeter West noted, “it was important to reach a younger demographic with the involvement of social media.”

A comedian, multiple platforms and weekly prizes engage contestants

Judah Friedlander of 30 Rock is the celebrity contestant, and Curry described him as “a big tennis fan, an impassioned advocate, and an active recreational player. He has a strong social media following and brings the tennis conversation to a new audience.” Friedlander watches the series from home, tweets funny story lines, and captures amusing tennis moments on video.

‘Follow Me to the U.S. Open,’ developed with Omnigon Communications, rewards contestants for their tennis activity on Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, and by scanning QR codes. As Curry emphasized, “we wanted to make the contest work for everyone, regardless of the platforms they use, and weekly prizes allow anyone to participate even if they signed up recently.”

By mid-August, over six thousand contestants had participated, with the leaders each earning over one million points. “Most have been playing in the Facebook space and on Twitter,” Jeter West reported, and plans are to incorporate new social platforms every year.

Planning for international attendees, final match on 9/11, and weather delays

While non-U.S. residents can participate in the contest, they are not eligible for prizes.  However, that does not stop international fans from attending the tournament, which they do en masse every year. They follow their favorite players on Twitter and as Jeter West and Curry observed, “for die-hard fans the U.S. Open is a destination.” To encourage their arrival the USTA reaches out to foreign media outlets and to travel groups that offer packages.

Another focal point at the U. S. Open this year is the final match being held on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. “Our main concern is how to honor the moment appropriately,” Curry said. Special tributes are planned for that day to do just that.

Despite the extensive advance planning, they must also contend with the weather. Rain during the tournament caused delays during the past couple years. As Curry acknowledged, “it’s just a matter of handling what we’re dealt.” We’ll find out starting next Monday, August 29.

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