Sponsors ace Australian Open as Nine kicks off its ‘biggest year of sport’ yet

Mumbrella's Kalila Welch speaks to Nine's Anne Gruber about the tentpole sports moment kicking off Nine's "biggest year of sport" to date.

The 2024 Australian Open (AO) is officially underway, opening for the first time on a Sunday in a bid by organisers to mitigate the impacts of late finishes with an extra day of competition.

The crowning jewel of Nine’s summer programming, the tournament has proved a major success for the network since its first took over the broadcast rights from Seven in 2019. The move ended the latter’s 40 year relationship with Tennis Australia, with Seven quickly snapping up Nine’s cricket rights in a shared deal with Foxtel that has since been extended to 2031.

Happily for Nine, the AO tournament has remained immune to broader trends in linear audience, bringing in over 11.7 million Total TV viewers last January, proving the value of the network’s $60 million annual investment. That investment will jump next year to $85 million per year in an extended deal that will see Nine hold onto the rights until 2029.

Brand’s eagerness to be placed front and centre in the coverage is of course central to the AO’s appeal to the network, which in turn will hope to prove the value of the audiences who routinely tune into Australia’s premier tennis event each January.

The launch last night saw upwards of 400,000 linear viewers tune in to channel Nine for the opening matches, a reasonable figure compared to last year’s launch, but perhaps not the numbers the network would have hoped for with a name like Novac Djokovic on the court. Cumulative figures looks though to tell a more positive story, with Nine proclaiming a national reach of 3.747 million on the first day of the competition.

Of course, the full picture of audience will be pieced together later in the week when Total TV figures are revealed.

Regardless, the early start brought about by the extra day of play this year is a change welcomed by Nine’s director of content partnership, sport, Olympics and Paralympics, Anne Gruber.

“They’ve added a 15th day of competition,” she explains, “which is amazing from a brand and sponsor point of view, because all of the scheduling is extended by the additional day. So all [brand and advertising] opportunities exist across the additional day.”

This year, Gruber says, the network has taken a new approach to positioning its assets for brands looking to work with the AO.

In an unprecedented, though somewhat obvious move, television, radio and total publishing assets have this year been clearly differentiated into three buckets, from which brands can choose depending on their marketing campaign – most of which, Gruber notes, have revolved around the launch of a new product.

“Most brands see this as a launch platform to set up the year, and usually it’s linked with a product launch.”

“Everyone’s back from holidays, they’re back at work, they’re consuming media again,” she continues, “so that’s how we position the assets.”

Notably, this year marks a significant change to the sponsorship lineup for Nine’s AO coverage, with Qantas Frequent Flyer and Uber having stepped up investment to become the major partners for 2024, taking over the remit held previously by Kia.

The automotive brand will remain on the AO’s sponsorship lineup until at least 2028, with Gruber explaining that the change came down to Kia’s decision to invest more into the production of their brand integrations with the AO, rather than the top line sponsorship.

As for the new major partners, she says Uber will this year move away from the Uber Eats integrations that have been previously associated with the AO coverage.

“They’re going to be speaking a lot about Uber One, their subscription model, rather than focusing on on the Uber Eats messaging, which you’ve seen the last five years with different creators.”

Qantas, she adds, will be focused on their frequent flyers program, in what she describes as a “huge push” for the brand “after the last couple of years and what happened with travel”.

Also accessing the full suite of Nine’s Summer of Tennis assets this year is the likes of APT Luxury Travel, Bunnings Warehouse, Bupa, Chemist Warehouse, Domain, Chubb Insurance, Google, Peters Ice Cream, Stan, McDonalds and Visit Victoria.

Nine will also showcase activations from partner brands Ralph Lauren, Aperol, LifeSpace, Bondi Sands and Mastercard, which will appear on-ground at Melbourne Park.

Google is one of several brands to join the tournament for the first time, leveraging Nine’s Summer of Tennis coverage to launch its new Google Pixel 8 Pro in the Australian market. The product will be integrated into live-matches, capturing courtside vision, with a ‘disruptive’ TVC also set to demonstrate the phone’s audio editing features.

Anne Gruber, director of content partnership, Sport, Olympics and Paralympics, NineAccording to the network, partner brands will be able to reach as many as 20 million signed in users across the Nine ecosystem, with the AO coverage set to include a special Tennis edition from Good Weekend magazine, dedicated podcasts, and content on the Wide World of Sports website.

But Nine is not the only media owner to benefit from the summer tennis fanfare, with oOh!media and ARN having both extended their respective out-of-home (OOH) and audio agreements with Tennis Australia late last year.

The OOH deal sees oOh!media continue to deliver live scores and match highlights across its networks until 2026, with key advertisers able to integrate commercial messages with the tournament. ARN will air coverage on its GOLD and KIIS stations, as well as AO Radio, which will stream “ball-by-ball commentary” of the matches on the iHeart app. The commercial network will this year share the rights with ABC Sports, which announced a new agreement with Tennis Australia in December. For the first time since 2015, the deal will see the ABC deliver AO commentary across its local radio networks and the ABC listen platform.

However, the investment for Nine is not just in the AO moment itself, but plays into a broader strategy that Gruber says ultimately sets Nine up for the year both from an audience and a network perspective.

“It’s been a really great, a really great investment for Nine,” she tells Mumbrella. “It gives us an opportunity to partner with brands who are looking for more longevity. There are new [brands] added every year and if you look back, the same group of the key brands that return year in and year out.”

Not to mention, the 2024 Summer of Tennis marks the kick off to what Gruber describes as “the biggest year of sport Nine’s ever had”.

“Clearly, what we’ve seen over the last few years is a kind of a further shift in fragmentation of viewing,” she says, speaking to the importance of sport in Nine’s content strategy.

“There are key cultural and social moments that still bring people together in real time, and there’s nothing, no amount of people’s schedule or busy lives can stop that. So obviously, sport is key, alongside key news events, so we’re certainly looking to continue to review every opportunity that comes that comes our way.”

No doubt the next biggest sporting event on Nine’s 2024 calendar will be the Paris Olympics, for which Mumbrella understands the sponsorship line up will soon be revealed.

The six month lead into the games, known as the road to Paris, will start this month, with the Youth Olympics launching on the 19th of January.


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