As part of its mission, the United States Tennis Association wants to grow the game by bringing it closer to the people. Last year, the USTA turned the week of the qualifying tournament into U.S. Open Fan Week. This year they are upping the ante considerably.
Starting with the qualifying tournament that begins on Tuesday Aug. 21, fans can access and participate in a number of events that bring them closer to the game. Best part, it’s all free.
“We are very excited about this Fan Week festival,” said Lew Sherr, chief revenue officer of the USTA. “It is a core part of our mission support and a key part of our future commercial growth strategy. The USTA’s mission is to grow the game, giving opportunities to inspire the love of tennis by giving fans the chance to get up close and personal with the greatest players in the world in a setting that you couldn’t necessarily replicate during the main draw on-court competition. It gives current players and future players the opportunity to have unprecedented access to the sport.”
A key new event will be practices on the Grandstand Court by the top players in the game. It’s hoped that Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and other big names will participate in this event in the 8,000 seat stadium. The Grandstand will have a host, a DJ, and far greater ability to see the icons of the game than the seating at the regular practice courts. The Grandstand practices will run Aug. 21-26.
“We started this U.S. Open experience last year. We looked at it and said we could do even more,” says Chris Widmaier, the USTA’s managing director of corporate communications. “Our goal is to put together a full slate of activities that elevate the whole fan experience that starts with qualifying on Tuesday. On Sunday, which had been sort of a sleepy day for us, we are going to put on a doubles clinic and exhibition with present players.”
On Aug. 22, the new Louis Armstrong Stadium will be dedicated, a ceremony highlighted by John McEnroe and musician Wynton Marsalis. A doubles match will follow featuring John and Patrick McEnroe against James Blake and a player to be named.
On Aug. 22-23, the Fan Experience will also take place in the financial district of Manhattan at Brookfield Place in the World Financial Center from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. The draw ceremony will be there on Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. with defending champions Nadal and Sloane Stephens scheduled to participate.
The Open’s media day will take place in Armstrong on Aug. 24 and is open to the public.
“Our media day, which has historically been behind-the-scenes, press only function, has been turned into a public event in Louis Armstrong Stadium, similar to a Super Bowl event where fans will have the opportunity to hear the biggest names in tennis answering questions from the media,” Sherr said.
The Legends exhibition matches, historically conducted during the second week of the Open, have moved to Fan Week.
“Moving those matches to this week we think is a much better opportunity for fans to watch,” Sherr said. “We don’t need that programming during the second week of the main draw. It’s much more valuable this week.”
Bottom line, the USTA is looking for more players, more fans and a greater connection between the elite of the game and the masses.
“The spirit of this is how do we give the fans the opportunity to get up and close to the players they love and follow,” Sherr said.
That spirit manifests itself starting Aug. 21.