In tennis, the phrase 'new balls please' is spoken by the umpire every time there is a ball change. The used balls are removed from the court and brand-new balls are used instead.
Why Was a Campaign Needed?
A majority of tennis viewers seemed to be getting bored with the continuous run of such established players as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and the ATP were concerned about the public interest drop-off in men's professional tennis in general. This was not to say that Sampras' and Agassi's play was tedious, but there appeared to be nobody new to challenge them.
The Ad Campaign
The 2000 ATP Champions Race, however, saw a boom of new players, all talented and all bearing a threat to the well-established players. The ATP leapt on this chance to attract people back to men's professional tennis, launching a massive advertising campaign.
The campaign involved various photo shoots during Wimbledon and the UBS Open in Gstaad. The eight original players who posed for the campaign were:
- Gustavo Kuerten
- Lleyton Hewitt
- Jan-Michael Gambill
- Tommy Haas
- Juan Carlos Ferrero
- Nicolas Lapentti
- Mariano Zabaleta
- Roger Federer.
The first phase involved the players in gladiatorial poses on black and white backgrounds. The brainwave behind the poses was akin to that of Russell Crowe on the Gladiator film merchandise.
During the week of 24 July, 2000, the New Balls Please campaign was officially launched. It was featured in the Newsweek and USA Today print advertisements, as well as in TV commercials the following week back-to-back with the Tennis Masters Series in Toronto.
The players who participated in the campaign became known as the 'New Balls Brigade', and increased in number. The run-up to the US Open 2000 saw them in good form, and in the tournament itself, two of the Brigade players, Hewitt and Marat Safin, came out in style. Hewitt reached the semi-finals, and Safin went even further, not only reaching the final round but defeating Pete Sampras in straight sets to become the champion.
Media Response to the Campaign
The New Balls Please campaign was hailed a success by the media. Here are a few comments from the press:
The launching of the ATP's New Balls Please campaign came at the most appropriate time, as Marat Safin defeated Pete Sampras to win the US Open men's singles championship. Safin's win signals that the young generation of men's tennis is ready to rock and roll.
- Marc Berman, New York Post, following the US Open 2000.
The Old Ball Gets Tossed - After serving up controversy - and a lot of snickering - with its New Balls Please campaign, the men's tennis tour is getting the last laugh. One of its New Balls boys, Marat Safin is the new US Open champ. 'How Do You Like Me Now?' declares the follow-up ad, which debuted last week. Even the irreverence seems appropriate - the 20-year old Russian clearly wasn't intimidated by tennis great Pete Sampras, 29, demolishing him in a 98-minute straight-set thrashing. Once famous for smashing racquets - he says he smashed 48 of them last year and 36 so far in 2000 - in the final, Safin broke only Sampras's serve and spirit. 'I was steam-rolled,' said the legend. 'The way he's playing, he's the future of the game.'
- Newsweek: Newsmaker Section
It's a brilliant campaign, because it doesn't preach to the converted. The campaign, playing on the brashness of youth, gets it just right.
- David Williams, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, USA
Various taglines were used in the campaign, reflecting the players on the specific advert. The original tagline was of course 'New Balls Please', but afterwards it was changed regularly.
Some taglines used the player's names, advertising the player(s) in the picture (eg, Kid Roddick) or 'rivalries' between players (eg, Kuerten vs Safin).
A few lines on the original advert said 'A new breed of player is emerging... see them challenge the old guard'.
Soon, the rivalry between the New Balls Brigade and the Old Guard was coming true, and recently, the ATP released the latest spin on the 'New Balls Please' campaign.
It involved two of the best players on the circuit, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, in poses similar to that of the New Balls Brigade. The tagline used was:
Dream on boys
A little retort from two of the best players in the world. This advert and the New Balls adverts were featured in Paris and during the Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon.
Success of the Brigade and the Campaign
Gustavo 'Guga' Kuerten defeated Andre Agassi in Lisbon in the final, and this shot him up to the top of the 2000 ATP Champions Race and the coveted World No 1 spot at the end of the year.
Additionally, Lleyton Hewitt defeated Pete Sampras at the US Open 2001 Final in straight sets to claim his first Grand Slam win.
Feeding off the success of the players, the ad campaign released a 2001 calendar, with new shots of the New Balls Brigade and the Old Guard in Australia.
The campaign is continuing, with fresh faces like the rising and highly regarded American tennis star, Andy Roddick. The ATP have planned new photos and more advertising merchandise for the coming year.
Comments from the New Balls Brigade and the Old Guard
I think it's fantastic for tennis. It's fantastic to be put in such a group of elite players. You've got the Kuertens, the Philippoussises, the Safins, the Ferreros, who obviously are the future of tennis as well. It's fantastic to be labelled that, but you've still got to go out there and prove it as well. You know, you can't get lost because your in this campaign. But you know, I think it's a good idea on the part of the ATP. You have high guys up there, the Rafters, the Agassis, the Samprases, and then the newer guys 23-and-under sort of coming up and biting at their heels.
- Lleyton Hewitt
I think it's always good to introduce the players to the public or the public to the players. Especially if they're young and they're going to be around for a while. The earlier you get to know them, the better it is for the game.
The great thing about the guys in that ad is they force me to get better.
- Andre Agassi
Every day I am a gladiator.
- Gustavo Kuerten, after being informed that his photos made him look like a gladiator
I think it should be, 'Old' Balls Please.
- Justin Gimelstob, after losing to Pete Sampras.
They're still healthy.
- Pete Sampras, when asked what was wrong with the 'old balls'.