By Courtney Thompson Posted September 2, 2010, 12:36 PM EDT
Pairing a corporate buzz-generating event with a charitable cause is a must these days, but doing so in a way that comes off as both genuine and fitting is a rare feat, one that Nike accomplished at its Primetime Knockout exhibition on Pier 54 last Wednesday. Unofficially kicking off the U.S. Open, the event paired Nike athletes—Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, and Victoria Azarenka (who filled in for an injured Serena Williams)—with celebrity doubles partners.
The charitable component came in the form of 200 amped up, tennis-loving kids from four different youth organizations around town, who were divided into Team Maria (City Parks Foundation), Team Nadal (The Urban Dove), Team Federer (New York Junior Tennis League), and Team Azarenka (Harlem Children's Zone). After being bussed in courtesy of Nike, the kids got a chance to volley on the 48- by 88-foot Sport Court as the sun set, then took to the bleachers, where they danced and hollered their way through the night, rooting for their team athlete to win and posing for photos with courtside commentator Serena Williams.
Nike hosted a smaller version of the public event, dubbed “Game, Set, NYC” in the Flatiron last year, but this time wanted a larger execution. Tony Berger and Alison Kostas of Relevent headed up the production, setting up bleachers, concession stands, and retail, custom T-shirt, and live photo op stations on the pier. Rain lingered throughout the day—a nerve-wracking monkey wrench for anyone hosting an outdoor event—but the skies cleared just in time for the 7 p.m. start time. Tagged “Lights On. Lights Out.", the game didn't start until around 8 p.m., when the sky was dark and the court lights would have the maximum effect.
Mimicking a mini tennis arena, the court and its surrounding bleachers were privy to an only-in-New York backdrop, with views of the West Side Highway, the Hudson River, and New Jersey. “We wanted to give guests a unique N.Y.C. Nike tennis experience in an unexpected location with major impact,” Berger said.
The light-hearted tennis matches saw Azarenka and Giants defensive end Justin Tuck beat Nadal and his partner, model Bar Refaeli, while Sharapova and actor Bradley Cooper eked out a win over Federer and a lucky camper plucked from the audience.
Nike donated $30,000 to the youth organizations.