Mastering the Art of Tennis Branding
Journalists and fans world-wide have been cringing in anticipation after the ATP’s announcement that in 2008 it will change the well-established “Masters Series” designation for its top tier of events to “1000s.” Subsequent lower-tier events would be designated “500s” and “250s.”
The blogging Peter Bodo over at Tennis.com relayed the story of getting a call from an ATP official after awarding the name change the “Dumbest Idea by a Major Sports Organization.” He reported how the ATP is now backing down on the idea, saying nothing is in stone for 2008.
“Whatever the new brand identity will be, we will want them (fans) to know how the event in question affects points and rankings,” the ATP’s Kris Dent told Bodo. “We’ve been looking at the car industry and how that works. People seem to know the difference in designations like 250, 500, or 1000 when it comes to cars, so that’s something to look at.”
OK — for one, stop making announcements, then pretending they were just trial balloons. Second, stop looking at the car industry.
Remember the “ATP Race” idea, the parallel rankings/standings that started from zero, trying to copy NASCAR’s success? Between the real rankings, the race rankings and tournament seedings, even serious tennis fans (and journalists) were confused. Seems like the more money the ATP pumps into market research and surveys, the worse decisions they make. Calling tournaments “1000s,” thinking fans will rejoice knowing how many ranking points they are worth? Here’s some free market research — for the most part, sports fans don’t give a RAT’S ASS how many ranking points an event is worth. Sure, numbers are an international language, but they are BORING.
This is why, when the ITF (International Tennis Federation, the guys who run the four Grand Slams) heard the announcement, instead of scrambling to put out a press release stating they were now renaming the Slams to “2000s” (what their events are worth), they started laughing their asses off at the absurdity. That’s because the names Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open have clout — because, unlike the ATP, the ITF doesn’t rename their events every 5-7 years or introduce some “brilliant” (see: “New Balls, Please”) marketing plan that tries to “re-brand” everyone and everything in sight.
The U.S. magazine Tennis Life has a story on the name change in their December issue, likening the effort to deciding to change the name of Kleenex. They name-check the blog I wrote back in July, “ATP Marketing Geniuses Again Change Tennis Finale,” and even throw in blog-discussion quotes from Tennis-X Discussion Board members Paula and Alice.
“I spent years in advertising, you want to grow a ‘brand,’ you don’t change the name!” wrote Alice. “Look at how well the US Open Series label has worked out! Use that as an example!”
Aside from the over-excited use of exclamation points, the Tennis-X Discussion Board members are studs, providing some quotes in a national magazine article. Also quoted were writers from other tennis blogs, who joined in the litany. Do you listen to hardcore tennis fans, or a marketing geek who exclaims, “I know! Let’s change the names to numbers! Everybody knows numbers!” That guy probably got a raise, too.
Judging from the outcry, this idea will be thrown in the same bin as the Round Robin idea, the “Let’s Kill Doubles and Save Money!” idea, etc. At worst, the ATP could combine titles and call an event the “Masters-Cincinnati 1000″ or whatnot. Regardless, don’t hold your breath for the announcement from the ITF that they’re changing the name of Wimbledon to “England 2000.”
In the end, why not leave the Masters Series name alone, grow the already-established brand, and go back to trying to figure out how deep Nikolay Davydenko is (allegedly) in with the Russian mob, or why your PR guys can’t get the greatest player ever, Roger Federer, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or how to stop Rafael Nadal’s pants from creeping up his crack between points. There have to be more important things to do than make tennis more confusing.
Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune recently wrote, “If professional tennis is registering on the national radar, it’s about the size of a malnourished pinprick. Interest in the sport is on a par with interest in beige paint at a DayGlo plant. Do I care that Roger Federer beat David Ferrer at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai? About as much as I care about the world championship of lint.”
The ATP PR guys should give Morrissey a call and tell him the news of changing names to numbers to increase the sport’s popularity — in terms of material for sarcastic writers, that would be like an early Christmas present.
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