This year's Australian Open is on track to be the most successful ever whichever way you look at it.
Record ticket sales – tick. Larger broadcast deals with more global partners – tick. More digital interaction with fans – tick. And, record sponsorship revenue.
The Australian Financial Review reported Tennis Australia is on track to reach annual revenue of $300 million in the current fiscal year, which is a significant increase from from $206m it reported two years ago.
The tennis administrators are now only behind the AFL, NRL and Cricket Australia in terms of revenue.
And this is despite Australia fielding a relatively weak line-up of tennis stars compared to golden eras of the past.
Our top women's seed Sam Stosur has already bowed out, former champion Lleyton Hewitt is playing in his final tournament, while other hopefuls Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are not among the tournament favourites.
AdNews spoke to Tennis Australia to gain insight into how the Australian Open has managed to grow at impressive rates when attendances at other codes, with the expection of cricket's Big Bash, have been struggling.
Tennis Australia manager of digital and publishing Kim Trengove says a lot of it has to do with the strength of the Australian Open brand.
“We're a premium brand, and a global brand. We're strong domestically and globally and we are choosy about our sponsors. That attracts sponsors as well,” she says.
AdNews was taken courtside to the Australian Open on Monday by partner IBM, which has raised the bar of data innovation again this year.
But IBM is one of many corporate sponsors innovating with fan engagement at this year's event. There are 30 sponsors including major partner KIA, associate sponsors ANZ and Jacob's Creek, and new partners such as Guvera, Titan Water, Blackmores and William Hill - the first time a betting shop has come on board.
Each year, Tennis Australia creates a 'playbook' for sponsors full of ideas on how they can interact with fans during the event.
“We have a very creative internal team across TA production and our host broadcaster,” Trengove says.
“More and more it's not just about advertising on the site, it's about getting involved with us. Some of those properties, potential sponsors will look at those and next year say 'we want to be on that'.
MatchCentre was an example of that where we developed it and William Hill were very keen on that [the following year]. It lines up with they are trying to do.”
Other examples of this include KIA sponsoring #AOselfie, where fans upload selfies on social media using the hashtag to be in the running for a prize. A selection of 10,000 selfies are then turned into a moasic at the end of the tournment.
Then there's the TAC people's court, where you can play a game of tennis on a fans' court.
This year, there is also live-streaming using virtual reality 360 goggles so fans can get a sense for what it is like to be on centre court during the action. Trengove says this is the first time such technology has been used at a live sports event.
Trengove says most sponsors are looking to raise brand awareness, such as Guvera sponsoring a live music channel and Titan becoming the official hydration sponsor.
“I think we have reached a point where we've managed to make things look really smart around the precinct with the development of Melbourne Park, which is millions of dollars of phased development,” she adds.
“When you see the digital walls on centre court, I think it is creating more excitement around the event. People are very tennis savvy in Austrlia and there's a lot of quietness. There's still that respect with the sport and at the same time we are having fun with it.”
Last year, 703,899 fans visited the Australian Open. With several new restaurants, a spa and a host of other entertainment facilities, ticket sales are set to rise to record levels.
And the 2015 TV audience of 369 million people is also likely to be smashed with new broadcast deals across the world and a Chinese version of the Aus Open website driving up interest. For day three of the tournament, Channel 7 reported 862,000 live-streams.
AdNews will monitor viewing figures as the tournament progresses.
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