An Electric 74th U.S. Women’s Open in the Lowcountry
How research-backed strategy and targeted creative drove fans to BE HERE for the championship moment.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) celebrates, serves and advances the game of golf. Founded in 1894, the USGA conducts many of golf’s premier professional and amateur championships, including the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. The U.S. Women’s Open is known as the ultimate test of golf for the best female players in the world. It’s the one golfers want to win the most. Each year, the USGA brings the world’s best golfers to the country’s best sports fans, to compete at historically proven venues for this championship.
Knight Eady entered into a partnership with the USGA as the marketing and creative agency for the U.S. Women’s Open in advance of the 2018 championship at Shoal Creek in Alabama. After a successful year-long partnership and the development of a strong working relationship, Knight Eady’s partnership was extended. Knight Eady was tasked with continuing to provide media planning and buying and creative services for the 2019 championships at the Country Club of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. From a year of diving deep into the U.S. Women’s Open brand and analyzing the robust reporting data from the 2018 campaign, Knight Eady had a greater understanding of how to market this unique event and recognized key learnings essential to developing the new strategy for the 2019 campaign. Those insights, along with the passion, direction and knowledge of the USGA, set the stage for developing a targeted and effective strategy for a new 2019 campaign.
Setting the Stage
Coming off of a rainy week at the 2018 championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama, all eyes were on the Holy City as the next host for the U.S. Women’s Open. The 2019 Championship would mark the first time the event had been held in Charleston, and the world’s best players would be competing for golf’s most coveted title at the beautiful Seth Raynor-designed Country Club of Charleston. However, the Knight Eady team needed to help the USGA extract the right storylines for this championship that would resonate with both endemic golf fans and casual event-goers. As one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S., Charleston is not lacking in activities and entertainment and there is a lot of competition for the attention of potential ticket buyers. Additionally, the market had recently hosted a PGA Championship at a different course in the area. Target ticket buyers would need to be educated on the difference and significance of a U.S. Women’s Open championship and the convenience of attending an event at the Country Club of Charleston on James Island. The goals were defined: $500,000 in ticket revenue and 1,500 volunteers. Knight Eady had to develop a deep understanding of the market, identify and segment the personas of potential ticket buyers, develop a message they could relate to, and place the message in the right place at the right time in a way that would drive fans to purchase and attend.
A Winning Game Plan
In order to be successful, Knight Eady needed to help the USGA develop a strong Go To Market plan rooted in a strong understanding of the demographics and psychographics of the area and the right audience segmentation. Knowing the ticket campaign would launch the week of the championship the year prior, a strong strategy and creative direction had to be established early. From the USGA’s insights, it was known that most ticket buyers for a U.S. Women’s Open come from within a 150-mile radius of the host site. While the majority of the ticket buyers fall within the 55+ male demographic, the revenue goals would not be met without attracting a variety of both golf enthusiasts and casual event-goers. Knight Eady began by conducting secondary research on the Charleston DMA to understand the types of potential ticket buyers in the area and learn where they spend their time, what their interests are and how they consume their media. These insights would direct not only the flighting and placement of the campaign but also how to structure and target a variety of strategic messages in order to best capture the attention of each type of buyer persona.
Working with the USGA, Knight Eady defined the strategy amongst two buyer persona types. The core golf enthusiast embodied the buyer the USGA knew the most about. He or she is a frequent U.S. Open or U.S. Women’s Open attendee, loves and plays the game of golf regularly and is an avid fan of the game. This buyer would resonate with player imagery, golf-specific messaging and emphasizing the magnitude of the championship experience. The casual event fan represented the stretch audience. This buyer type is engaged in the community and likes going to events and being seen at events. He or she cares less about the inside-the-ropes golf action and more about the overall experience from food and beverage options, family-friendly experiences and post-worthy settings. Both persona types were segmented further between the young adults (25-44) and the active adults (45+) in order to speak directly to their interests, event experience preferences and family status.
Ultimately the campaign landed on the idea that fans must “Be Here” to experience the event live and in-person. Regardless of if he or she was attending for the golf, with their family or to post on Instagram, they had to physically be here at the Country Club of Charleston to have that type of experience. Using the active voice, the messaging presented a more inviting and inclusive tone, which helped the championship feel more accessible to all types of fans. Artwork featured a variety of perspectives a fan may have when experiencing the championship – from being up close along the rope lines, getting an autograph from a favorite player, bringing your child to their first championship, enjoying happy hour with friends and more. Taglines accompanied each visual to tell the full story of a championship experience. For example, an image of a dad with his daughter on his shoulders watching the final putt was accompanied with the tagline “Be Here for her first championship” to signify the experience of sharing that moment with your daughter for the first time. The artwork was placed strategically to target the specific audience it was intended to speak to at that moment. Throughout the campaign, each visual and message was adjusted to speak to the time of year. The campaign ebbed and flowed during specific seasons with peaks for the summer launch, holiday messaging and the spring time frame leading up to the championship. Each media buy and placement of the artwork was extremely intentional in order to efficiently and effectively utilize the media budget and reach the audience at the right time and drive them through to purchase.
Getting the Win
From a strong summer ticket launch through to the final push the week of the event, the Charleston market was extremely engaged with the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open campaign. By the fall of 2018, nearly eight months before the championship week, volunteer recruitment was full. Over 1,700 volunteers registered to work the event. In the end, ticket revenue was over $574,000 and brought an estimated $25 million in economic impact to the area. Not only was the revenue goal met, but the fans showed up all week. The energy and excitement could be felt throughout the 18 holes of the course, and the players noticed. “There were so many people out there (Saturday). It’s great to see. I didn’t realize I was that much of a fan favorite. I felt like I was in the Solheim on some of the holes with the cheers. It’s an amazing feeling,” Lexi Thompson said of the crowd to the Post and Courier. “If you make a bogey, they’re still cheering you on, rooting you on and keeping you upbeat. I feed off that. It makes the sport, honestly. The fans make the sport.” All in all, fans of all ages and interest levels in the game made a point to be here for the championship experience, making the 74th edition of the U.S. Women’s Open a grand slam.