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Tennis stars earn their keep at top hotels
IF YOU followed the social media accounts of tennis players Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka and Garbiñe Muguruza, all in New York for the 2018 US Open, you might have noticed a certain similarity to a few of their Instagram posts or tweets. All are staying in swanky Manhattan hotels that they seem eager to promote.
Responsible for their own expenses, tennis players have discovered a way to subsidise and earn money from their sleep, striking deals with hotels to mention where they are staying in social media, and sometimes making other appearances, in exchange for free rooms and discounts.
Social media is the primary avenue for promotion, with players often required to post how much they are enjoying their stay, much the way that other so-called "influencers" do for hotels and resorts around the world.
In addition, several New York hotels issue news releases naming the players who are staying within their walls during the competition.
"This year, 2018 French Open Men's Doubles Champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut will make the Quin their base of operations as they take on the US Open field," the Quin Hotel announced last week.
The Quin offered other guests a rate of US$1,995 a night for a "Quintessential US Open tennis experience" that included "exclusive opportunity to meet with several of the players who will be staying at the hotel throughout the tournament, subject to availability".
Though he has a relatively low profile at the US Open, as a headlining player at his hotel, Mahut receives two rooms for free and then pays for another two at a lower rate, allowing him to put up his coach, physiotherapist and trainer - a typical entourage for a top player on the tennis tour. "It's a very good deal for players," he said.
Mahut's deal was set up by his manager Fabien Paget, the founder of O2 Management. Paget has arranged hotel partnerships for many players. He said that he is working with eight to 10 hotels this year, helping them find a way to connect themselves to the excitement of the US Open without being an official tournament sponsor.
"They can engage and create content through an athlete who plays the tournament," he said. "We were confident that there was a win-win situation here, so the concept was very simple."
Some of the partnerships are obvious: the Japanese players Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka are staying at the Kitano Hotel, which is the only Japanese-owned hotel in the city.
Paget once matched Nick Kyrgios, a flashy Australian player, with the W Hotel in Times Square. "It's a trendy place; Nick is a trendy guy, with many interests beyond tennis," Paget said. "He loves the energy of the city."
Paget starts discussing US Open arrangements with hotels as early as March. He works to create promotional events to engage with the hotel's guests and ensure that there is something gained to justify giving away rooms to players.
The most star-studded hotel event this year was a badminton exhibition at the Palace, including Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal and Kyrgios.
Sam Querrey has stayed at the Tuscany St Giles, which asks him to make an appearance each year at an event such as a cocktail party or a breakfast for invited guests and the news media. "It's pretty easy, and they're always really flexible," Querrey said.
With many prominent stalking cases, particularly in women's tennis, a player announcing where she is staying may seem counterintuitive, perhaps even dangerous.
In a statement, the Women's Tennis Association said that it would not comment publicly about its security procedures. "We do take these matters seriously and provide clear guidance and education to WTA players and their support teams regarding personal safety and security," it said.
Caroline Garcia, seeded sixth at the US Open, took part in a hotel partnership for the first time at this year's tournament, with the New Yorker hotel. Garcia said that the deal allowed her to stay in a nicer space than she had previously. "We got some big rooms, which is kind of important because in Manhattan, it can be very small," she said. "It's an easy deal," she added. "It's not like they ask you to post 10 pictures; they were happy with one or two."
John Tobias, an agent with TLA Worldwide who represents last year's US Open champion Sloane Stephens, among other players, said that the typical deal requires two to three social media posts, with arrival and departure usually being fixed occasions for them. He added that usually there were limits on the types of players who could snag these deals.
"It depends who you are," Tobias said. "You've got to be a reasonably highly marketable player, or they're not going to be interested. They'll take a look at your social media following to see if the type of audience you have is even worth it."
At Association of Tennis Professionals and WTA tour events below the Grand Slams, players in the main draw are provided with a room at the official hotel for five nights.
At the US Open, there is a per diem of US$400, but in New York that does not go far towards hotels, particularly for players travelling with coaches and other personnel.
"I've never been at a point in my career when I didn't worry about the numbers and just stayed at the tournament hotel," said 115th-ranked Nicole Gibbs, who lost in the first round here. "I've managed to make money every year of my career by just being expedient, and making sure I'm not spending money where I don't want to be."
Gibbs, who was grateful to be offered a partnership this year with the Viceroy Central Park hotel, said that players in her section of the rankings needed to be cost-conscious throughout the year. NYTIMES