When the final Tennis Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, gets under way next week, thousands of fans will enter New York’s Flushing Meadows eager to see the world’s best players at the top of their game.
The 2013 US Open saw a huge 713,000 fans attending - compare this to Wimbledon, which has a smaller capacity than its American counterpart, with only 491,000 arriving in south-west London this year.
Wimbledon’s ‘Twitter Mirror’, that takes selfies of people in the queue, proved a big attraction.
People enjoy communicating on social media from events like tennis tournaments, and sharing content related to a sport they’re passionate about. Add to this the ever-increasing use of social media on mobile, and it could be argued that social has revolutionised the way professional sport is watched, marketed and consumed, the world over.
So more fans in attendance equals more conversation on social media, right?
Not in this case. Last year, there were over 255,000 mentions of the official @usopen Twitter handle online during the 2013 tournament. This year, @wimbledon amassed a remarkable 2.8m – more than 11 times higher than its US counterpart, despite the smaller crowd.
One of the reasons for this disparity was the significantly increased social activity from the All-England Club in order to make it "the most social Wimbledon ever".
Wimbledon’s ‘Twitter Mirror’, that takes selfies of people in the queue, proved a big attraction, running alongside the tournament’s #WelcomeBackAndy campaign. Here, all fans who tweeted with this hashtag received a digital picture of Murray winning Wimbledon 2013. This ensured that @Wimbledon tweeted 2,600 times on the opening day alone – a great way of building hype early on.
The US Open has become more social in recent years, introducing its own Social Wall in 2013, a 50ft by 8ft screen to aggregate and display real-time internet comments from fans. This year the Wall will be extended from one to three screens but it still lacks the same innovative approach that we saw with Wimbledon’s owned social activity.
#WelcomeBackAndy showed how Murray’s 2013 success created a potential platform for Wimbledon to effectively leverage the success of its local star in 2013 - something the US Open has not been able to do from the men’s side.
The last US men’s Grand Slam winner was Andy Roddick at the US Open in 2003, and it is telling that Roddick currently has more US-based twitter followers (1.2m) – despite retiring in 2012 – than any current US male player. The US is crying out for an up and coming, flashy player who will resonate with the younger online community.
However, the US does have one key asset that could be leveraged more effectively, in Serena Williams. Williams has won 17 Grand Slams and is on fine form coming into this year’s US Open as defending champion from the last two years. She also has an impressive 4.3m Twitter followers – a higher figure than both Murray and Roddick.
While Williams was last year’s most tweeted-about player by @usopen, most of these tweets were about her matches. The organisers also have the opportunity to play on her flamboyant personality and status as a fashion icon - plus the fact she attracts a host of a-list celeb friends along to the tournament. While she can often divide opinion in the US, being more proactive in championing her when she’s on a high will help position the US Open as the tennis ‘show’ of the year.
However, it’s not all about homegrown stars. Wimbledon also does well to leverage conversation from global markets too. Just 21% of Wimbledon’s social conversation is generated from the domestic market, compared to 37% for US Open.
While smashing Wimbledon in social may not be a realistic aim for 2014, the US Open has the opportunity to raise its game.
Of course, the US Open starts at a disadvantage with games at less convenient times for European markets, particularly around its bright and atmospheric night matches. But it can make itself more relevant to markets outside the US by really using social media to play up the star qualities of the players, the crowd and the unique glitz and glamour of the event, in contrast to Wimbledon’s traditional image.
Given Wimbledon’s prestige and large social following – the highest of the four Grand Slam Twitter profiles – it’s important to note that its outbound activity and volume of earned conversations are also far higher than all the Majors - Roland Garros and the Australian Open generate a similar level of conversation to the US Open.
While smashing Wimbledon in social may not be a realistic aim for 2014, the US Open has the opportunity to raise its game and firmly establish and build on its social presence.
By drawing on real-time conversation, star players from home and away, epic late night matches, tactical celebrations of player victories and by creating a sense of the passion, emotion and noise, the US Open has huge potential to make great strides in social this year.