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The season-ending men’s tennis tournament, which brings together the top eight singles players and doubles teams, has been viewed by many as a benchmark for fan experience innovation in the sport since its move to The O2 in London a decade ago.
In 2021, the event, which was previously known as the ATP World Tour Finals before becoming the Nitto ATP Finals in 2017 for sponsorship purposes, will move to Turin in Italy after 12 years in London.
Ahead of the 2019 edition of the competition from November 10-17, George Ciz, the ATP Tour’s senior vice-president of marketing and business development, has explained how the fan experience at the event continues to evolve.
“When the ATP decided to relocate the Finals from Shanghai to London it was a very big step,” Ciz tells us.
“We wanted the tournament to act as a showcase and wanted to create something really special.”
“Introducing the lighting so the tennis match felt like a boxing contest was quite a ballsy step back in 2009. Tennis had never seen anything like it, but now it is taken for granted.”
Making space count
Some of the changes in the fan experience have been driven by the available space at The O2. Whereas initially there was ample room for fan zones, public practice courts and other activation areas at the venue, which had only recently been redeveloped, the addition of new facilities over the years has forced organisers to adopt creative solutions.
“We have worked really hard to improve the fan experience in the bowl itself and continued to invest in technology and added more digital surfaces to make the shows more engaging,” Ciz says.
“There are LED floors the players walk on and LED doors that they walk through onto the court. Last year, in collaboration with commercial partner Infosys, a Fan Meter was introduced to measure the noise from the stands, which really helped to engage them.”
This year, fans in the arena will be brought even closer to the action via what promises to be a stunning activation involving their mobile phones – although details of the initiative have not been publicly confirmed.
“We will involve the spectators in the show quite intimately,” Ciz adds. “It’s about coming up with creative solutions to give fans the chance to visualise the experience differently.
“At the same time, there is a vibrant creative campaign around the city with the same dynamic branding.”
According to consumer research carried out by the ATP, aside from the presence of star players, the fan experience is vital to the overall appeal of the event, which attracts an average total attendance of more than 250,000 per year.
“Spectators love the way the event is staged and how it feels,” Ciz says. “Everything we do is meant to enhance the tennis and we’re trying to make the experience better where we can.
“We have worked hard to improve the downtime parts during matches and we have a team of approximately 25 people throughout the venue, creating six or seven pieces of content per session that are shown on screens and shared on social media.”
With the organisers focusing on ramping up the in-arena fan experience, spectators are increasingly filling their seats courtside, ensuring an electric atmosphere.
“You can put on the best show in the world, but if people aren’t there to see it, it doesn’t matter,” Ciz adds.
“This tournament is special for the fans, but also really special for the players. There are several newcomers this year and I love to watch them walk onto the court for the very first time. They hear the heartbeat sound, the doors open and the arena goes wild, and you can see their eyes getting a little bigger.”
“For the fans, we look at the experience from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave.”