American Express Wows U.S. Open Fans with Super Rally

Amex

American Express is celebrating its 25th Anniversary as a partner of the USTA and U.S. Open, the company’s longest running sports sponsorship. A contactless payment wristband (Amex Band), the American Express Card Member Club (open to all cardholders) and the American Express Centurion Lounge (for platinum and centurion members) are among the benefits/conveniences available to fans visiting the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center over the next 2 weeks, but the biggest draw has been Super Rally; an interactive tennis gaming experience, featuring Venus Williams. Using custom-designed 3D printed rackets, fans standing in front of life-sized transparent monitors return virtual tennis balls in augmented reality against physical targets with the goal of collecting the most points. Not able to make it out to Queens? Here’s video of JohnWallStreet exhibiting some rare athleticism and working up a sweat playing the AR game; don’t laugh, Dante Hall (a real athlete) did too.

Howie Long-Short: Super Rally is the product of a collaboration between American Express and Momentum Worldwide, a global brand experience agency. The company, which manages upwards of $4 billion in sponsorship assets for top clients like Amex, Coca-Cola and Chevron, resides under the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) umbrella. IPG shares are +5.5% (to $23.06) since the company reported that “growth in the U.S. (revenue +4.6%) continued to be strong and international growth accelerated (revenue +7.2%)” during the 2nd quarter, back on June 24.

Fan Marino: After cooling down, I had a chance to connect with Lindsay Ulrey, Director, Global Experiential Marketing & Partnerships at American Express (AXP). I noticed that most Amex activations are geared towards card members, but Super Rally seems to target a younger demographic. Who is the AR experience designed for?

Lindsay: We know that a variety of types of groups of people are coming, so for us it’s about designing an activation that offers something for everybody; especially when we do a huge custom technology build like Super Rally, it’s super important that the skill level is not too advanced. In Super Rally, we have sensors when you walk into the booth that can tell what height you are and sets the skill level accordingly; it also makes sure balls fed aren’t out of reach. If we’re highlighting something big, we want to make sure it’s accessible to kids through people in their 80s and 90s.

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American Express Seeks to Solve Fan Pain Points at 118th U.S. Open

Amex

The first round of 118th U.S. Open was completed on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills (Long Island). Just 4 players (Dustin Johnson, Russell Henley, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy) finished under par (all shot -1) as 15-20 mph winds made for a tough opening round; the field combined for 189 double-bogeys or worse. JohnWallStreet was in attendance and had the chance to speak with Lindsay Ulrey, Director, Global Experiential Marketing & Partnerships at American Express (AXP) about why the company dedicates such a large portion of its marketing budget to the U.S. Open, what it looks to accomplish at the event and how it measures success. 

JWS: The U.S. Open (Golf) and the U.S. Open (Tennis) are the two big experiential events on the American Express calendar. How did you select those events as opposed to something with broader appeal like the Super Bowl?

Lindsay: We’re lucky that we have a team of great researchers and we know that our card members are passionate about golf and tennis, specifically. So, it’s extremely important that we explore opportunities in both of those spaces, where are card members are, and that we show up in relevant ways that allow us to really have their back in those moments.

JWS: What does American Express look to accomplish at a marquee event like the U.S. Open?   

Lindsay: At our very core as a company we’re about service, so when we come to an event like this we really try to dig into what the customer needs are. We’ve been a partner of the U.S. Open for 12 years and with that, we’ve learned what the pain points are; what are the things people could really use help with on the grounds and what are the ways we can really surprise and delight them, in ways that are unexpected. You can look at the American Express radios that we do, giving fans the SiriusXM live feed in their ear. That’s a really unique benefit that addresses a pain point, as fans aren’t in front of their TVs to receive the broadcast commentary; now they’re actually able to hear the broadcast in their ear, on the golf course, while watching in real time.

JWS: What are some of the other pain points you guys have been able to solve?

LindsayOne of the things we know about fans of golf is that they spend between 7-10 hours on a golf course. One major way we can come in as a service brand and play an important role is by having a place where our card members can come, relax, recharge and connect with their friends; so, for the first time this year, we have the American Express Card Member Club up on the 10th hole. It’s open to any card member and they can bring three guests. We have a whole bar, interactive programming and a view the fans are just loving.

Another thing we constantly hear from our card members is that it’s very hard to see what is happening on the golf course. So this year, every card member can simply show their card and we’re giving out complimentary binoculars.

We are also doing a couple of other things around the grounds that are more surprises as opposed to mitigating pain points. One example is the Epic Puttexperience that the USGA is putting on. It’s extremely popular, so we’re offering a priority access line for card members so that they can get to the front of the line faster.    

JWS: How do you gauge success for an event like the U.S. Open?

Lindsay: When looking at an event like this, a lot of it is, how happy are we making our card members? Things that can’t be measured. We like to say at times that we’re in the happiness business. Really, it’s about offering things that make people feel love for the brand and having people walk away saying this event wouldn’t have been what it was without American Express.

Howie Long-Short: There’s a perception that golf is out of favor (total rounds down), but the U.S. Open’s economic impact report indicates otherwise; the sport has grown revenues +22% ($84 billion) over the last five years. As for the U.S. Open specifically, the economic impact of that event has declined over the last half decade. The 2018 event is expected to generate $120 million for Eastern Long Island. For comparison purposes, the 2012 tournament at Olympic Golf Club spawned between $140-$170 million, the ’15 tournament at Chambers Bay generated $140 million and Oakmont did $120-$135 million the following year.

As for AXP, the company reported net income grew +31% YoY to $1.6 billion, despite expenses (think: rewards, member benefits & partnerships) rising 10% to $2.5 billion. They reported $9.72 billion in Q1 ’18 revenue (+12% YoY), with cardholder spending (+12%), loans (+16%) and the company’s global issuing business (+3.5 million cards) all showing steady growth. CEO Stephen Squeri, who took control of the company back in February, has been pleased with what he’s seen during his first few months on the job saying, “we feel good about our progress…we expect revenues to be up at least 8 percent this year and EPS to be at the high end of the $6.90 to $7.30 range we set back in January.”

Fan Marino: American Express doesn’t limit their partnerships and promotions to country club sports, the company has established them across the sports world (see: NBA StoreESPN+). NBA fans will be excited to learn of their most recent collaboration with Lionsgate. American Express is offering card holders exclusive access to purchase $5 tickets to an early screening of the Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving’s character) film on June 19th – more than a week before it opens in theaters nationwide on June 29th. Tickets can be purchased here through Atom Tickets.

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Fanatics Announces American Express Jersey Assurance Program, Protects Fans from Free- Agency, Trades

Fanatics 200x200

Fanatics announced the launch of the American Express (AXP) jersey Assurance program; enabling NBA fans who purchase a player jersey with an American Express card, within the Fanatics network (including Fanatics.com, NBAStore.com), to exchange said jersey if the player leaves the team (due to free agency or a trade) within 12 months of purchase. AXP has taken the initiative to back both Fanatics existing program (90 days) and to extend the protection (for those who purchase with an AMEX), offering fans the confidence required to spend $250 for a new authentic Nike (NKE) jersey; knowing unforeseen changes could occur at any time before, during or after the season. Should a player relocate (and over 100 are free agents in ’18), fans will have the option to trade their existing jersey for a model on their new team or another player on the existing team.

Howie Long-Short: The NFL bought 3% of Fanatics in May 2017 for $95 million, at a $3.17 billion valuation; which was more than 2x its revenue at the time. Noteworthy, as retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) and Hibbett Sports, Inc. (HIBB) currently have market caps ($3.72 billion, $498 million) worth roughly half of what they generated in 2017 sales ($7.92 billion, $973 million). That’s of no concern to NFL owners though, one was quoted as saying he could see the Fanatics growing “anywhere from 8-10x”.

Fan Marino: If you’re requiring usage of a jersey assurance program, you’re doing it wrong; you must take the player’s potential longevity with the team in to consideration. Look for guys that will retire with the franchise or a rookie with star potential, not a journeyman! From October-December, the league’s Top 10 most popular jerseys were; Curry, James, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Porizingis, Embiid, Westbrook, Simmons, Leonard and Harden. Only those with a recently purchased James jersey (and maybe Leonard) need to worry about holding on to their receipts. I do need to point out though, that during the ’16-’17 season, 5 players with Top 8 most popular jerseys were traded or free agents (Irving, Wade, Butler, Rose and Anthony).

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