Friday, March 7A Fishy fan club
By Darren RovellESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Mardy Fish was breezing along in his first-round match against Joachim Johansson. But six fans with fish heads covering their faces and "G-O-F-I-S-H" spelled out on their chests and backs continued to lead the normally conservative Arthur Ashe Stadium daytime crowd through their best rendition of "Fillet 'Em Fish."
|Their bodies read 'Go Fish,' while they cheered their hearts out for a small stipend and free tickets.|
Most of the crowd didn't know better, other than to willingly chant along with those crazy guys in the upper deck, but these weren't just any old fans. The idea was dreamed up by a marketing firm, and the makeshift Fish Fan Club members were actually hired guns.
Although Fish is the third-ranked American in this year's U.S. Open -- behind Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick -- he is relatively unknown outside the hard-core tennis circles. At age 21, Fish is ranked 26th in the world, thanks to making it to the finals of the Tennis Masters Series in Cincinnati last week. He could have been ranked even higher had he managed to execute on the two match points he had against Roddick.
The six "Fish Freaks" volunteered their services to Bennett Global Marketing Group, the company that was hired by Fish's family to help promote Mardy. In exchange, they received a free ticket and a small stipend.
"We were asked to create some buzz for Mardy, we had the idea, implemented it and I think these guys nailed it," said Jeff Bennett, president of the company.
The clan -- ranging in ages from 20 to 38, from a student to a chemistry teacher -- had the crowd fired up even though Fish had relatively little trouble dismissing the Swede. Although they were sitting high up in the upper deck, they weren't hard to notice, loudly clapping with plastic fish over their hands or cheering Fish on while holding up signs (already prepared by the marketing company) such as "Stomp the Swedish, Fish."
"This isn't 18th-century tennis; it's like a cemetery in here," said Doug Akin, the group's 26-year-old appointed leader who wore the "S" on his chest and back. "We're just trying to get this crowd going."
Despite his high ranking, Fish admits that even on American soil he isn't a household name yet.
"The more matches I win, the more people get to know who I am, people kind of get to know the name Fish," he said.
And for those who watched him play on Monday afternoon, it would be hard to forget that name, thanks to the guys who wanted to make sure the crowd knew that Mardy was a Fish but wasn't a fluke.
"These guys were awesome," said Fish's mother, Sally. "We have to get them down closer to the court for the next match." Mardy's father, Tom, said having the group was "money well spent."
After Fish finished off his opponent, the first thing he did was point to his fan club in the upper deck. "They were great," Fish said, later adding he was unaware they would be there.
If only Johansson had been smart enough to hire his own fans, maybe the outcome would have been different.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com.