Emirates Suite the place to be at U.S. Open

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Fischer Travel CEO Bill Fischer with grandson Max Rosenthal, development analyst with Virgin Hotels, in the Emirates Suite at the US Open.
Fischer Travel CEO Bill Fischer with grandson Max Rosenthal, development analyst with Virgin Hotels, in the Emirates Suite at the US Open. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

NEW YORK -- The Emirates Suite at the U.S. Open tennis tournament may be September's most sought-after ticket in New York City.

Over the years, celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Shaquille O'Neal, Gladys Knight and Jimmy Buffett have made appearances there, posing with flight attendants and enjoying what Emirates says is the same hospitality one would get on its flights.

It's also where Fischer Travel CEO Bill Fischer (whose clients pay $100,000 just to use his services) rubbed shoulders last Friday with JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes while the Jonas Brothers Facetimed with the daughter of Benjamin Shubitz, an associate agent with Valerie Wilson Travel.

"It's a great event, and they do a really good job of it," said Sunil Mahtani, executive vice president of the Ovation Travel Group, who was here to watch eventual champ Rafael Nadal's semifinal match against Matteo Berrettini. "For us, it's great to come here and meet people and catch up on what's going on in the business. We can meet here and have a conversation. It's completely casual and relaxed. And we can also bring our clients."

Emirates Airlines has been among the three "Tier 1" sponsors of the event, along with J.P. Morgan Chase and American Express, since 2012.

It's clearly become an enviable position. The U.S. Open has long attracted luxe brand sponsors including Rolex, Ralph Lauren, Mercedes and Tiffany. But travel companies in recent years are increasingly going after the high-income fan. According to a report in Forbes, the median household income for fans attending the 2017 U.S. Open was $182,000, almost three times the national average. 

And the tournament itself is growing more popular. This year, the U.S. Open drew a record 737,872 fans to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens. The facility's marquee venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, sold out 23 of 24 sessions.

Emirates' name is displayed prominently at the tennis center, on the court and nets in Arthur Ashe Stadium and on the U.S. Open's website. Emirates is the official airline of the U.S. Open, and last year it doubled the size of its suite at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"The U.S. Open attracts a passionate audience, and we want to engage these fans," said Genevieve D'Souza, Emirates' manager of sponsorships, events and visual services.

Emirates also sponsors other pro tennis events, including the French Open, the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the Dubai Tennis Championship. D'Souza says that Emirates benefits from this "powerful and consistent presence."

"Tennis is an ideal platform to reach our fan base around the world," she said. "We bring people to markets and connect fans to the tournaments."

That fan base is generally considered to be a high net-worth fan, more so than the fan bases of mainstream sports like baseball or football.

The upscale fan is what attracted InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to the U.S. Open this year, when it became the tournament's official hotel partner. IHG has significantly expanded its luxury footprint, acquiring Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants in 2015, Regent Hotels & Resorts in 2018 and the wellness-focused Six Senses brand this year.

IHG chief executive Keith Barr said at an event promoting the partnership in late August (featuring former U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick playing table tennis with 2016 Olympic gold medal tennis player Monica Puig) that the high net worth of tennis fans and the location of the U.S. Open drew IHG to the event.

Andy Roddick and Monica Puig at an event promoting IHG's sponsorship of the US Open.
Andy Roddick and Monica Puig at an event promoting IHG's sponsorship of the US Open. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

"New York is one of the most upscale outbound markets," he said at the Kimpton Eventi, where the event was held.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority also became a U.S. Open sponsor this year, as the event's exclusive tourism partner. The island is promoting Bermuda's role in the introduction of tennis to the U.S.: a banner on the U.S. Open website says, "Bermuda: Served up tennis to America in 1874."

"The collaboration with the U.S. Open puts Bermuda in the cultural conversation at one of the must-see events in New York City, our top visitor market," said Victoria Isley, the Bermuda Tourism Authority's chief sales and marketing officer. 

She made note of New York being only 90 minutes from Bermuda by air but said Bermuda hopes to reach more than New Yorkers.

"The tournament's national and global fan bases match up perfectly with the type of visitors we're hoping to attract," she said. "Through our partnership with the U.S. Open, the Bermuda Tourism Authority is introducing the island to a new generation of travelers who are looking for a luxury destination with a side of active adventure."

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