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Tuesday, September 4, 2012
American Express shows savvy at Open

By Darren Rovell

american express-sponsored center at the US Open
American Express' fan center at the U.S. Open is a good example for brands to follow at live events.
In the scheme of best marketing practices in sports, American Express is on the very top.

Why?

Because they are so good at what they do. They not only link their brand to the event, but they work to link their brand to your experience at the event.

Take, for instance, the U.S. Open.

Feel like you are missing the commentary when you are sitting in the stands? American Express provides the radios. Over the course of the 20-day tournament, the company plans to hand out 150,000 radios.

Having trouble figuring out what players you want to see and when they play?

Stop by the 20,000-square-foot U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and you can use the brand's Court Curator, which will help you figure out who to watch and where they play based on your personal preferences.

How about the kids, who don't necessarily want to watch hours and hours of tennis? American Express lets them hit balls on an indoor practice court or play with the Wii.

So many marketers can learn from what American Express does.

In a day and age when people often feel more comfortable in front of their TVs than live at sporting events, American Express recognizes this anxiety (especially at big events like tennis and golf) and helps fans solve that problem.

There's even more added value that ties back to actually using the card. If you use your American Express card and spend more than $150 at the on-site Ralph Lauren store, you get $50 back in the form of a Ralph Lauren gift certificate. Spend $20 on-site with an Amex Card that is synced to a social media account and get $10 back immediately.

"We're not out there just to cut deals and get a little brand exposure," said Alex Chang, the company's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing.

Then comes the final piece. American Express has plenty of money but isn't scared to align its brand with underdogs. The idea? They might not win the U.S. Open, but if they surprise a little bit, American Express gets some of the credit. As they rose up through the ranks, Carolina Wozniacki, Sam Querrey, John Isner and Victoria Azarenka were on American Express advertising in and around the tennis center at past U.S. Opens.

This year, American Express used world No. 1 Azarenka again but also signed up-and-coming Americans Sloane Stephens and Ryan Harrison. Stephens lost in the third round and Harrison lost in the second, but Amex got the bang for its buck.

"Everyone knows Federer and Nadal, Venus and Serena," Chang said. "We're trying to facilitate the discovery of who is coming next. We don't expect them to win it all, but we love to see them go as deep as they can."

Why is this great? Well, first of all, you don't get kudos for signing a sure thing, and so many companies are scared to take chances. Secondly, there's additional value in the fact that the athletes themselves appreciate the blue-chip support.

"I just think it's so cool," Stephens said of her American Express ads around the Open. "There's a blow-up picture of me. I'm like, 'Wow, that is awesome.'"