Amy Choyne has been with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for more than 6.5 years, most of which she spent as chief marketing officer. Recently, her role transitioned into the newly created chief brand officer position.
As the top marketer at the organization, Choyne leads USTA’s mission which is to both grow tennis in America, as well as promote the US Open – the premiere tennis event in the country. Her goal, to make the tournament “the most spectacular stage of tennis in the world.”
The USTA’s approach to growing tennis in America is to make tennis accessible to everyone. The organization’s Open for All platform aims to give anyone interested in tennis access to watch games and to play on courts. One way in which this manifests itself is through Fan Week at the US Open. Also known as qualifying week, this week before the main US Open event allows anyone to come and see the games. “The idea is to give access to people that might not be able to afford to come into the main US Open to get up close and personal to tennis stars going through the qualifying rounds,” explains Choyne. “It’s the best kept secret in tennis and one of the largest tournaments in America and people can see the top players practicing on court and then, the USTA gets to promote tennis and get rackets in people’s hands.”
Choyne and her team work with partners to create digital activations that encourage people to become tennis fans and players, while also giving back to the community, as well. For example, the USTA hosted a free Joe Jonas/DNCE concert with CHASE and also held a food tasting event for the foods of the open. Choyne says the organization will be doubling down on these types of events in 2023. “We are working incredibly hard to introduce tennis to more people,” she says. “Not only youth but adults. There are so many lifelong mental and physical benefits to tennis. We are also working with the industry to increase the level and diversity among the coaching community so everyone can see themselves on the court.”
Choyne, a retail veteran for over 25 years, also runs Merchandise, Licensing and Ecommerce for the USTA and will be speaking at Brand Innovators Evolution of Retail event in New York this week. Brand Innovators caught up with Choyne from her home office in New Jersey to talk ‘Open for All’, social media and making tennis more popular in the US. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You used to be the chief marketing officer of USTA and now you’re the Chief Brand Officer. Can you talk about how your job shifted when you changed roles?
This is an evolution. We are a very matrixed organization and we wanted to decentralize the Marketing function. In doing so, my team now works as an in-house agency, on both the USTA and the USOpen brands, respectively the mission and the Pro Tennis assets. Business units have more accountability by deleting this additional layer.
In doing so, my role continues to champion branding, creative, content strategy, social media, as well as merchandising and licensing. As the National Governing Body of Tennis in America we are the glue of the Tennis Ecosystem. It is important that we have a trusted, authentic conversation with the industry.
Can you talk about what your brand purpose is and how that shows up in your creative executions?
‘Open for All’ is really how we look at the organization as we want tennis to be the pivotal sport for everyone because it is the sport for life with so many mental and physical benefits. You don’t necessarily see old soccer players…. However, by example, my father is nearing 80 and plays tennis four times a week. In creative, we want to make sure that we show diverse players and coaches so people can connect with sport. We put a lot of resources against using tennis as a gateway to development and education under the USTA Foundation and National Junior Tennis Learning Network,where we go into under resourced areas and bring tennis and STEM learning to help kids get through high school and possibly get college scholarships, not necessarily to become elite tennis players, but to use tennis as a gateway to education and leadership.
‘Open for All’ translates to our initiative called ‘Be Open’, in which we believe that if you keep an open mind, on and off the court, great things can happen. This initiative manifests around the tournament in many ways. For example, during the height of the pandemic in 2020 when we had no fans in the stadium, we used this platform for underrepresented black artists to have a voice via artwork on the seats, and large seat coverings honoring pride, first responders and the USTA Foundation. Additionally, we did multiple vignettes under this umbrella, whether it was sharing USOpen’s history on equality, or our support of LBGTQ+ players.
In addition, during this launch year, we also did something called Champion to Champion where we had a tennis champion have a telephone call with a real life champion like a first responder during COVID and played these with our partner ESPN around the coin toss. This umbrella continues to this day, and has evolved to doing murals at the NTC and last year, we actually partnered with The Armory to do their first off-site installation with diverse artists at our sponsor ally.
Can you talk about how you are working with sponsors?
We have really great partnerships with American Express, Rolex, Cadillac, JP Morgan Chase, to name few. We work hand in hand with them on their digital and on-site executions. For example, last year, we had three digital shows. Those shows had one-on-one segments with sponsor integration. For example, one segment was filmed in the Emirates Suite where people can see what that level of luxury looks like. Chase, on the other hand was integrated into our Morning show that recaps the events prior, as well as top matches of the day. Chase also continues to partner with us on the mission side of the organization with court refurbishment. A couple of years ago, they partnered with us on our 50th anniversary celebration whereby we transformed local courts around the country by commissioning local artists to paint within the lines. This gave the local tennis players, and particularly the youth targets a different colorful approach to tennis.
Another great integration is Amex’s work around the Amex Experience at the the USOPEN. Every where they take over an indoor space and transform it to an interactive jewel box for fans and cardmembers. They even host clinics on a court.
Last year, for the first time Grey Goose did something in the metaverse with their Grey Goose honeduece (a must have drink if you have ever been at the tournament). We always have the glass which memorializes the different champions, which continues to be an excellent program.
Which channels are you using to connect with your audience base and how are you reaching them?
The better question is, which ones aren’t we using. Facebook and Instagram continue to be incredibly great partners for us. Instagram reels and collaborating with the posting with players, influencers and celebrities yield great results. That is definitely a winning formula. TikTok has been growing tremendously year after year on the US Open side of the business. We also see great engagement on Twitter and did an amazing takeover for opening evening with Serena last tournament. For USOpen in 2022 we reached 1 billion interactions.
For USTA, we try to dedicate ourselves to grassroots programming. We highlight American players on it, but we don’t necessarily highlight the whole tournament. We’d like to highlight things that are happening in our local sections across the country. This channel is all about growing the game of tennis.
Can you talk about how your experience in retail and other brands that you’ve worked for has helped shape your perspective in your current role?
The fundamentals of marketing don’t change. A brand wants to connect with the customer in an authentic way to engage them and have them be a loyal fan. Whether the goal is for that person to purchase a shirt, an experience, or a packaged goods does not matter. The USTA wanted to change the conversation they were having with tennis players. They wanted to understand behavior, grow the audience and have a more personal approach to their CRM. So when the USTA was looking for my role, they thought, ‘Who really knows their customer?’ Retailers. They know what and how we shop.
Fast forward seven years later to where I am today, the retargeting and data information is incredibly high. I brought that CRM lifecycle expertise into the USTA. We have great programming, with onboards someone into the USTA ecosystem and bringing them through tennis basics and then based on behavior and preference, a competitive social pathway. On the other side or the business, what starts with ticketing could then eventually evolve to levels of hospitality.
Do you have any predictions for brands in 2023?
The metaverse is not going anywhere. It’s just really how you’re using it authentically (while keeping true to your brand’s purpose). I’m curious how that develops. I’m also intrigued with the development of AI and how this helps customers on a website and within their event experience.