Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's All About The Hype, Baby.

The US Open tennis tournament is a huge market fun fair, and shows America at its best in that sense. Many things have remained the same as last year in that regard, such as American Express handing out little ear piece radios that give closed broadcasts of several games, merely by swiping your card and giving your zip code. The radios have even become 'currency' in the hands of some Jamaican I know: exchanged for a mouse pad with a boy who had won two pads; exchanged for an ice cream by a vendor who clearly was a tennis fan without an Amex card. Some people I sat with yesterday told me that if you drive a Lexus to the tournament you can get free parking. I wondered if you needed it, but who am I to scoff? I imagined that if I flew in with my Net Jets plane and picked up my Lexus then I would be in tennis fan heaven.

But some things have also changed from last year.

For me, some clear bads:

  • American Express no longer offer their closed circuit mini TV set that allowed you to watch live games on six channels in return for simply swiping your Amex card. A young operative explained to me that it was a matter of cost. I mentioned the goodwill that it had generated, not least from those of us who pay off on time. Maybe, it's a lesson: Amex needs me to not pay and give them more fees.

But some goods too:

  • Stonyfield Farm Yogurt (SFY) sponsored the tournament (see notice) and is to promote its Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt. We get offered a small pot on either side of the entry gate and at other points.Very refreshing and tasty: SFY will hand out tens of thousands of four-oz. samples of Oikos in flavors including strawberry, blueberry, honey, plain and vanilla. I have had about 12 pots over 4 days and they are great when the sun is bleaching you to look like plain yogurt. Now SFY is a very keen environmentally friendly firm and should be known for its program of giving 10 percent of profits to organizastions that protect and restore the Earth (see website).

  • Heineken have created a little 'bar space'. Only problem is that it looks like a corporate hospitality room and many people do not venture in. Cue the Jamaican. The boy went in on day one and found soft white leatherette sofas, and a nice young man showed me how to make it from a flat bed into a sofa, and rearranged the throw cushions. They also have several interactive tennis games on large screens. Result: every mid afternoon, I lolled there and quaffed a cold one while watching a match and charging my phone. I cooled out with the staff, who are a bunch of fun young men and women. Yesterday someone surveyed me and told me that for answering five questions I would get a US$100 Amex gift certificate. I made sure that I also answered for my wife: she likes their cards. It get funky in the evening as it looks more like a bar and the music gets pumped up.

  • Smash zone, where kids and adults can be kids and take on tennis related challenges such as dealing with 90 MPH serves.

  • Amex now give a cash back deal for paying with their card and that is better than accumulating tennis posters for each US$50 spent. The posters made good presents last year--'presents' tells you something?

  • ESPN360.com has a 'pick a key and try a door' competition running: if the key fits a lock you get what's inside. Mouse pad, even a laptop can be won. But, your key may not open the door you pick. But, you can try as often as you like and the ladies running the booth are very friendly, pretty and funny.
More generally, the tournament is used to get people to part with money gently. Entry is reasonable: about US$11 for a ground pass and that covers all courts except Arthur Ashe. Food is not too disgustingly dear. Water fountains are everywhere so you can fill your own bottles not have to buy fancy Evian. Beer, though, is ridiculously priced at US$8 for a can: it's been cheaper to drink gasoline for a long time, remember. Ice creams are not badly priced. Chase and Amex try to get you to sign up (Chase ATMs abound) and offer sweeteners (text to Chase to try to win ticket upgrades); the New York Times offers a US$50 gift voucher if you sign up for home delivery. Etc.

Lesson for the Caribbean? When I have been to the one major sports event that gets mounted regularly, a Test or one-day cricket match what do I get? I get Digicel or Stag rags to wave or tie on my head or around my neck. I get Digicel 'clappers'; their SIX/FOUR cards to wave. What else? That's it. A beer company may be offering a little something, but I have never seen or tasted anything. I have to scratch my head if I ever saw a BICO ice cream stand at a game. True, we have less money to throw around but we have some. We have spent money on many things and like to feel that we can get a little something back. But, we often don't see the plays for marketing.

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