Tennis Auckland adds food and beverage to the forehands and backhands with launch of NZ Festival of Tennis brand

In an effort to increase the numbers attending the ASB Classic and Heineken Open, Auckland Tennis has created a new umbrella brand called the New Zealand Festival of Tennis, changed its ticketing options and upped its game in terms of food and beverage.

Tournament director Karl Budge, who has been in the role for just over a year, says it doesn’t want to neglect its core role of “putting on a world class tennis experience”, but it needed to target a broader market—and also “make sure we were investing in something that was owned by Tennis Auckland”. 

“We started talking about it last year and looked at where we wanted to go commercially. We needed to have an umbrella brand that brought together the two tournaments.”

He says the naming rights sponsors of the other tournaments (Heineken has been involved for more than 15 years) hold a lot of value. So it wanted to create its own IP and he says the New Zealand Festival of Tennis brand gives it more ownership (Image Centre Group was appointed as Tennis Auckland’s agency and created the new brand). It also frees it up to look for other commercial partners that perhaps don’t want to be associated with a beer brand, although he doesn’t imagine it will go down the road of naming rights sponsorship.

Budge, who has worked on the Australian Open and as sales and marketing director for the Women’s Tennis Association, says it conducted a research project with the Gemba Group last year in an effort to find out how it could get more than just avid tennis fans to the events; what he calls the twos and threes out of five on the fan spectrum. And it found that a major area of interest for its audience outside of sport was food and beverage. So, with its new provider Sky City Catering, which won the business off incumbent Austin’s after an RFP, it’s aiming to bring a piece of Federal St to Stanley St.

Guests will be able to choose from a host of pop-up restaurants, including on-site offerings from The Grill by Sean Connolly and Al Brown’s Best Ugly Bagels. Kiwi chef Peter Gordon will also be designing menus for the corporate suites and player lounge. And while casual dining options will still be available, he says a key element was not to price people out of the market.

He says the goal is to get people to choose the tournaments as a leisure option. And to make sure that happens, it’s getting rid of the all-day pass and offering separate day and night passes for the first time, which is in line with other tournaments around the world and aims to stop the annoying phenomenon of matches that are sold out but have empty seats.

Another key initiative for the 2013/14 season is a two-week ‘Heineken Baseline’ live site, which is accessed using the all-new Ground Pass, which enables fans to watch every match live on the big screen, live tennis on courts two and four, and enjoy daily music performances, entertainment offerings and premium dining. Budge says it’s an attempt to replicate the outdoor hospitality area at the Australian Open, or even the festival vibe of the Madrid Masters.

He says it’s been a very successful year for the organisation in terms of commercial partners. Heineken has renewed its sponsorship for three years, BMW has also re-signed for three years to a much larger extent than before and Fonterra has come on board for three years with its premium Kapiti range. It’s also set to announce new partnerships with a premium champagne brand and a new New Zealand wine partner (Pernod Ricard’s sponsorship is thought to be coming to an end). 

Numbers wise, he says around 55,000 punters came through the gates last year, down 500 from the year before, but up 2,000 on the year before that. And while he’s confident more will be coming through this time, the stadium is already at 94 percent capacity, so it’s difficult to imagine a significant rise.

As for the players, the big drawcards for the Heineken Open were announced at an event at the Sugar Club this week, with David Ferrer, Gael Monfils and Kevin Anderson on the list. The ASB Classic will announce its line up on 1 October. 

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