American Express Blends VR & AI in an immersive tennis experience spearheading its ‘Ace The (US) Open’ Activation.

American Express’ ‘Ace The Open’ tennis leverage programme at the 2017 US Open was spearheaded by an immersive virtual reality experience – allowing fans on-site to play VR tennis facing an AI opponent.

The game, called ‘Air Tennis’, aimed to create a better experience for tennis fans in a live gaming installation by using responsive technologies (like air haptics and motion capture systems) to create an interactive live gaming experience.

It doesn’t use any tennis equipment and sees fans face an AI opponent: users simply use their hands and body to return the ball.

The experience is customised to each player through a Kinect motion sensing device that captures each player’s body shape and builds a ‘virtual skeleton’ to tailor the experience to their height and position.

When it’s time to hit the ball, the game delivers a blast of air out of one of the five tubes – two to the left, two on the right and one up top – whenever the ball hits their hand.

Fans test their skills against an AI opponent on a life-sized large screen that serves them a ball from across a digital tennis court.

As player’s hitting streak increases, the balls ‘catch fire’ and move faster with the goal to get the highest average streak in two minutes.

In total there are eight bays for fans to play in simultaneously in a branded, on-site structure built specifically for American Express by Momentum Worldwide.

“We really constructed and designed the experience to create that level of spectator engagement, as well as to provide as many fans with the opportunity to play, which is why we created multiple bays so we could get as many fans experiencing the specialness of it as possible,” said Deborah Curtis, VP Global Experiential Marketing at American Express.

“For us it’s about, what are the different dimensions that make that talent special? Also, [what are some] things that are important and instrumental to our brand? One of the things that we talked to Venus about is the fact that she’s an entrepreneur and her life blends between being a tennis pro, her personal

“One of the things that we talked to Venus about is the fact that she’s an entrepreneur and her life blends between being a tennis pro, her personal life and her new businesses. We are also in the business of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, so we were very excited to bring her interior design business into the design of our card member club experience,” said Curtis.

The immersive game is held within the ‘US Open American Express Fan Experience at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Other elements of the on-site leverage programme included an ‘American Express Ace Toss’: a fun and interactive on-site photo experience that sees iPhoto technology capture fans going through the entire motion of a serve from the perspective of the ball and gives fans will a digital photo to commemorate the moment and share on their personal social networks.

The tournament partner also ran its own ‘Guest Info Hosted by American Express’ utility activation strand: built around three guest information booths located within the grounds to help fans navigate their way around (with help from large touchscreen ground maps).

Additionally, AMEX partnered with tennis superstar Venus Williams to give fans an opportunity to get a closer look at her life. From how she gets ready for the Open to a closer look at her life outside of tennis, fans get to understand Venus Williams on a deeper level.

Commercials in the series, which debuted on air in mid-August 2017, included ‘Quality Control’ and ‘Ready’.

Other US Open Amex activation strands included a set of exclusive benefits for card members including:

> American Express Card Member Club: in collaboration with Venus Williams and V Starr Interiors, a space for card members to relax and benefit from a set of complimentary services (such as phone charging, massages, food and drink etc).

> American Express Radio Live at the Open: these radios, exclusively for Card Members and distributed via Amex booths, bring fans closer to the tournament through live commentary and updates from ESPN.

> US Open Card Member Offer:  members can enroll their eligible American Express Card to get $20 back after they spend $100+ in one or more transactions on-site at the US Open.

> American Express Section within US Open App: for the first time, Amex had a dedicated section within the USTA’s mobile US Open App where eligible Card Members can enrol in the US Open Card Member Offer, unlock an Amex Map View of the grounds and learn about everything American Express is offering throughout the tournament onsite.

“At American Express, we are dedicated to providing memorable experiences for our Card Members, and the US Open continues to serve as the perfect platform for us to engage tennis fans in new and exciting ways through premium access and benefits,” said Deborah Curtis, Vice President, Global Experiential Marketing and Partnerships, American Express.

“We’re thrilled to continue our partnership with Venus Williams – a Card Member, champion and entrepreneur. From delivering a newly designed Card Member Club influenced by Venus herself to a multi-sensory tennis activation, we think that we are delivering services that will truly elevate the US Open experience.”



This is another well-rounded, integrated US Open activation programme from American Express and it isn’t the first time the brand has used VR in its tennis tournament activation.

This 2017 activation follows in the footsteps of last year’s American Express US Open leverage work – which included the inventive ‘Pro Walk’ immersive experience (see case study).

The VR initiative reminds us of previous on site virtual tennis experiences such as the Infosys/Playstation immersive activation in London’s O2 during the 2016 ATP world tour finals (see case study)

and American Express’ very own ‘You vs Sharapova’ initiative at the 2015 US Open (see case study).



American Express:


Momentum Worldwide


US Open: