U.S. Open’s Grey Goose Honey Deuce Shows Potential For True Sports Partnerships
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U.S. Open’s Grey Goose Honey Deuce Shows Potential for True Sports Partnerships
Sports sponsorships are often called partnerships. However, a partnership implies both parties are contributing to (think: money, labor, property, skill) and sharing in the upside (or downside) of the business.
Sports partnerships have historically been more transactional in nature. Companies have paid for rights owners’ assets in hopes of engaging their fan base, and to leverage the league, team, and/or event’s brand equity. There was rarely upside for the sports entity beyond the revenue received.
That has started to change. Innovative partnerships now create paradigms where rights owners enjoy broader benefits from sponsor relationships.
The United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) landmark partnership with Grey Goose is a prime example of the shifting landscape. The two parties, together responsible for creating the Grey Goose Honey Deuce, recently extended a pact that is going on 17 years.
The Grey Goose Honey Deuce is a raspberry lemonade infused with Grey Goose vodka and a honeydew melon ball garnish. It is the official drink of the U.S. Open and has become synonymous with the event; much like the Mint Julep with the Kentucky Derby.
USTA National Tennis Center chief operating officer Daniel Zausner said the impetus for creating the signature cocktail came from prior visits to Churchill Downs.
“Bourbon and the Kentucky Derby is iconic,” he said.
Zausner recognized the importance of incorporating the idiosyncratic elements of his tournament when trying to replicate the success.
“Vodka made more sense for us. It is more of a summer drink and more synonymous with the Open,” he said. “There was no question that the honey balls in there are synonymous with tennis.”
Once the USTA settled on the spirit, Zausner was able to quickly hone in on Grey Goose as a brand partner. Greg Goose was a category leader at the time (and still is today), and the tennis executive believed the high-end brand would be a natural fit with the tournament’s target demo.
Excel Analytics found that the U.S. Open fan is 1.88 times more likely to both make $100,000 in annual income and have a graduate school degree than the general population.
The partnership has been an overwhelming success since the drink debuted at the 2007 U.S. Open. Fans ordered 25,000 Grey Goose Honey Deuces that first year and more than 1.8 million have been sold to date.
A record-breaking 405,000 cocktails sold at the 2022 tournament, Aleco Azqueta (VP of marketing for North America, Grey Goose) said.
Fans will be able to purchase the Grey Goose Honey Deuce at the 2023 US Open for $22. If the USTA sells another 405,000 of them, the signature drink will generate $8.9 million in top-line revenue.
And because the signature cocktail can only be bought during the tournament, it can be credited with driving in-venue attendance (and subsequent spending) too.
“People love getting a picture [with the drink] on-site,” Zausner said. “It has become an Instagram-able moment and has unbelievable levels of popularity.”
JohnWallStreet makes the annual trek from North Jersey to Queens specifically to enjoy the late summer staple.
The partnership generates substantial value for Grey Goose too. The company receives a percentage of sales from the pouring rights it has at the U.S. Open.
It also benefits from the brand association. Grey Goose’s target consumers can enjoy a uniquely positive experience created directly by the company at the venue. This type of activation has proven to drive brand purchases.
“The demand for the cocktail has actually transcended the stadium and we have developed several ways to bring a piece of the fan experience outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium,” Azqueta said. “[Like] our Honey Deuce Express delivery service which offers ready-to-drink Honey Deuce cocktails right to New Yorkers’ doors during the tournament.”
The success of the Grey Goose partnership has caused other U.S. Open sponsors (and prospective sponsors) to think differently about their integrations with the tournament. One common challenge companies exploring sports partnerships face is that potential activations often look and feel similar. The Grey Goose Honey Deuce partnership has signaled to those in the market that the USTA is willing to build custom integrations to suit its partners’ revenue and brand objectives.
“All of our partners [now] want to one-up this idea,” Zausner said. “There are definitely other partners that have taken the challenge to make more creative activations given this success."
That is not to say that every sports property needs to create its own signature drink or that the Grey Goose partnership is without risk given the executional complexity. The USTA must ensure that each customer has a consistent experience with the specialty item across the multiple locations where fans can purchase the Grey Goose Honey Deuce.
Sports industry leaders, however, can think more creatively about partnerships given the potential rewards and holistic impact these activations can have on their businesses.
The 2023 U.S. Open begins on Monday August 28.