‘A hell of a lot of work’: Nine on what the Australian Open means for brands and fans

The much-anticipated Australian Open begins today, a triumphant feat in the midst of a global pandemic and, because of it, 'one of the biggest sporting events that's going to happen in the world this year'. Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby spoke to Nine's Matt Granger and Brent Williams late last week, when today's launch was still uncertain, about what to expect from the ad campaigns and ratings.

After a three week delay, quarantine dramas, and a last minute COVID-19 scare, many of the world’s top tennis players take to the court from today for an Australian Open that is once again big for both fans and advertisers.

In 2019, for instance, Uber Eats took over the last ad spot of the Open with an iconic commercial that looked like an extension of a tennis match.

And last year, Special Group once again intertwined the campaign with the tennis: Magda Szubanski was Sharon Strzelecki as a ball girl, and Serena Williams and Nick Kyrgios received food deliveries on court. The ads, part of the ‘Tonight I’ll Be Eating’ platform, bookended the ad breaks to again look like part of Nine’s Australian Open’s coverage (attracting Ad Standards scrutiny).

Last year’s Uber Eats campaign, running through the AO, featured Serena Williams and Magda Szubanski

Uber Eats will be back for this year’s Open, joined by a returning list of advertisers that includes Kia, ANZ, APT, Chemist Warehouse, Peters, Swinburne University, Suncorp and Stan, and new partners in Samsung, Telstra and AHM.

“It’s great to have a lot of returning brands and partners over the last two years and a number of new ones,” Nine’s director of sports sales, Matthew Granger, tells Mumbrella.

“What’s really evolved this year off the back of last year is really how those brands have looked to use our broader content ecosystem, particularly extending now into radio and print from the successful broadcast and digital proposition from year one. And we’re seeing that go even further this year.”

Peters returns this year as an advertiser during the Open. Source: Nine. Click to enlarge

Kia unveiled a new logo this morning, uncovered by Dylan Alcott and Nick Kyrgios, at the vehicle handover ceremony. And the rest of the campaigns are still to come.

Granger says the brands, whose ads he can’t talk about in detail ahead of their launch, have “different strategies and business needs” in 2021.

“For example, there are clients who are rebranding, clients who are launching new products, partners who are repositioning … based on the current business circumstances, some are going deeper and evolving their content and brand story,” he says.

“There’s a campaign that’s launching a couple of new products and new brand positioning that are significant launches.

“Some have got more of a direct position, some have got a cheeky, fun environment. That’s why tennis is so great, because it really plays to all those aspects.”


The Australian Open was meant to begin on 18 January, but was pushed back three weeks due to COVID-19. Last week, a hotel worker tested positive to the virus, which meant 500 players and staff had to isolate and the Grand Slam’s debut was again plunged into uncertainty.

Ensuring the event went ahead was the result of an “unbelievably strong partnership with Tennis Australia”, Nine’s director of sport, Brent Williams, explains.

“We worked extremely closely with them, not just over the last few months, but the several months before that leading up to this event,” he says.

“There’s been a lot of flexibility from both parties. There’s been a lot of cooperation to get us this far, and there’s been a hell of a lot of work that’s gone into making this happen. And all credit to Tennis Australia and the Victorian Government.”

Kia is on board again for this year’s AO

Granger confirms that every advertiser stuck with Nine through the delay, since “three weeks was no significant strategic challenge”.

“This is a key launch pad for that campaign, or that strategy they had in place,” he elaborates. “None of that changed. From an inventory point of view, again, excitingly, effectively at a part sponsor level we are full, at capacity … so it didn’t have that impact.”

In fact, the gap provided breathing room for some clients, giving them “a bit more time to tailor and target what they were trying to achieve”.

Last year, the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem brought 1.524 million metro viewers to Nine, down from the 1.589 million who watched the 2019 final, 1.73 million in 2018, and 2.772 million in 2017.

The 2020 women’s final attracted 890,000 metro viewers, while the highest performing men’s match was the battle between Rafael Nadal and Kyrgios, watched by 1.918 million across the five capital cities.

Williams doesn’t “like to make a projection on ratings”, but “what I can say is this is an unbelievable tournament and we’re confident”.

“The big name players are here and a really strong Australian contingent and the stories that the Australian Open always throws up,” he says. “We’re really confident it’ll be a very strong springboard for our 2021 programming.”

As soon as the tennis wraps up, Nine will move into the eighth season of ratings juggernaut Married at First Sight on 22 February. Williams says the AO has “done a wonderful job for us for the last two years” when it comes to creating momentum for the rest of its slate.

“It’s incredibly important and we’re confident, as I said, that it will do the job for us again this year, leading into MAFS and Lego Masters and The Block and all the other successful programs we’ve still got to come,” Williams reiterates.

The Olympics is still precarious, despite Seven’s confidence, given the difficulties experienced by the smaller-scale AO and other sporting fixtures. But regardless of whether Tokyo 2021 goes ahead in July, Williams is adamant that the Australian Open is “one of the biggest sporting events that’s going to happen in the world this year”.

“It’s been several months now since we’ve had a Grand Slam tennis tournament, so there’s a lot of anticipation around this,” he says. “And not just around Australia, but around the world too, to see how this all unfolds.”


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