The Consultancy's Guest bloggers | N°3: Merrick Haydon

Will the revamped Davis Cup prove a commercial success? By Merrick Haydon

The 2019 Davis Cup took place last week in Madrid, as the annual team tennis event began in its new ‘World Cup-style’ format. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) entered into a 25-year agreement in August 2018 with Kosmos Global Holding, with the tournament now taking place over the course of a single week, in a single location, at the end of the tennis calendar – rather than across the year. 

The new format and Kosmos, fronted by Barcelona and Spain football star, Gerard Pique, had a mixed response. Australian captain, Lleyton Hewitt, said earlier this year: “We're getting run by a Spanish football player. That's like me coming out and making changes to the Champions League.” While Andy Murray also expressed his reservations about the atmosphere: "The one thing I loved about the Davis Cup before was the atmosphere you played the matches in and the home and away element. They are some of the best atmospheres I've played in and I'll always remember them. I don't think that will be replicated in Madrid.” 

ATP Tour

There is no doubt though that the tournament needed shaking up. With the annual tennis calendar becoming increasingly congested, particularly for the top players, giving up eight weeks and the associated travel was no longer viable. The top players were starting to drop out and the tournament’s appeal followed suit. 

With a $3 billion commitment, it is vital that Kosmos’s ‘World Cup of Tennis’ is a success. However, the commercial signs have also been mixed. 

Alex Pantling / Getty Images

One positive has seen the broadcast rights – managed by BeIn Sports since 2015 – sold into more countries – up from 166 in 2017, to 171 in 2019, with notable partners including Fox, Eurosport, TF1 and Rakuten, which has also become global presenting partner. 

This increased global reach is crucial to the long-term success of the Davis Cup, because it needs to re-grow the broadcast audience, but also because Kosmos is using ‘virtual replacement advertising’, which allows viewers in different territories to see different court-side advertising. This technology, pioneered in tennis by Tie Break Tens, allows Kosmos to geographically segment its partners and hopefully dramatically increase commercial revenues. 

But will the commercial revenues be forthcoming? Rakuten is on-board for two years. A deal no doubt made possible by Pique’s prior relationship with the brand through its global partnership with FC Barcelona. Pique has clearly not been afraid to call on his contacts, as La Liga has also signed up as a partner in an innovative ‘property-property deal’, which should allow the Davis Cup to reach a sports-loving audience that may otherwise have been out of reach. 

Further global partners include Adecco, Head and more recently AirAsia, but there is plenty of room for more. Kosmos Tennis CEO, Javier Alonso, announced earlier this year that “there will be two levels of sponsors. Global sponsors, the ones that will be in all countries [and] on top of that, we are working on new commercial packages per region. We plan to find premium ‘presenting partners’ per region in order to maximise commercial opportunities for brands.”

Manu Fernandez / AP

The success or failure of the new format and the long-term future of the Davis Cup will rely heavily on the outcomes from last week. Spain, as a nation, is passionate about tennis, in no little part due to the exploits of world number one, Rafael Nadal, and their run to victory helped to boost some disappointing attendances. The semi-final victory over Great Britain drew crowds of 21,995, but on Monday only 12,114 turned up to watch the group stage matches. 

There were also some worrying teething problems. Start times on Friday had to be brought forward after one match ended after 4am, the second latest finish of any professional tennis match. The tournament app has also been heavily criticised. 

Alex Pantling / Getty Images

All these issues will need to be addressed ahead of next year’s tournament – also being held in Madrid – if Kosmos are going to be successful in enticing brand partners to support the event. Empty seats for a second year in a row will make it challenging for the global broadcast partners to excite their audiences and the passion the players have for representing their countries will be lost. If, however, the Spanish (and travelling) fans turn up and bring the passion we know them for, then $3 billion over 25 years could start to look like a very good deal.

Merrick Haydon is UK Managing Director of rEvolution, a global integrated sports and lifestyle marketing agency. He has more than 20 years’ experience within sports marketing, sponsorship, PR and event management working with clients such as BMW, Jumeriah, Land Rover USA, MasterCard, Mizuno, Rolex, UBS and Volkswagen. Merrick has worked with major international sponsors, athletes, federations, and rights holders to maximize activation of sponsorship programmes as well as devising and implementing international sponsorship and PR strategies.

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