Jul 10th 2017

Is Wimbledon serving up enough tech?

This time last year, I wrote a wonderfully cheesy blog, chock-a-block with suitably cringe worthy tennis puns. The blog looked at how the Wimbledon 2016 Championships were turning to technology to innovate and bring tennis to the masses.

Within that blog, I surmised that Wimbledon was employing the use of social media, apps, data analytics and brand partnerships to promote one of the world’s most longstanding sporting events. However this year, I have a bit of a different perspective on how the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) is (or isn’t) using tech to its advantage (here come the puns! Mind your heads as I smash them your way).

I wrote last year’s blog from an outsider’s perspective. While I am admittedly the world’s biggest tennis enthusiast, to the annoyance of my friends, family and colleagues, I had never actually been to Wimbledon. That changed this year, when I had the opportunity to queue for six hours before excitedly running around the grounds trying to find the biggest name players. It’s worth noting here that I was promptly scolded by the grounds’ stewards because apparently (and so they exclaimed, shaking their fists in disgust) ‘There is no running at Wimbledon!’

I digress slightly, but I have a point to make. Last year, I wrote what I knew. Anyone can download the Wimbledon tournament app and browse scores, player bios, photos and much more. If you’re a tennis fan, of course you’re going to follow Wimbledon on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and anywhere else you can find them. Interestingly this year, the content shared on Facebook has been translated into Spanish when talking about Spanish-speaking players. Good job I speak Spanish.

IBM has also had a longstanding relationship with Wimbledon, providing real-time analytics on match statistics, service speeds and the like. Any of these things I mentioned you can find easily in the public domain, if you know where to look. It all helps to build brand visibility for one of the most beloved sporting events in the calendar year. From a communications perspective, the more content you can provide to fans and prospective fans, the more viewers you’ll attract and the more visitors you’ll get to the ground. More footfall equals more money spend on ludicrously priced strawberries, Championship Towels (I did buy one of these, I must admit) and other mementos to immortalise your experience. All sounds good so far, right?

After my experience this year, I’m starting to think a bit differently. As a PR professional, I can appreciate the efforts that the AELTC has put into promoting Wimbledon and even pushing the boundaries of tennis as a sport with innovations such as Hawkeye and data analytics. If anything, tennis has always been at the forefront of tech innovation, as a tool to improve how the sport is played and enjoyed. But from a fan perspective, once you get into the infamous ‘Queue’ and even into the grounds, the tech is lost. Even the order of play boards just to the right of Centre Court are analogue.

It struck me how little technology there was for fans to interact with during the actual experience of the Championships. If you’re going to be queuing for six hours, why not have some interactive screens showing people’s comments or queuing experiences? Why not have some interactive tennis games? Use a bit of AR to propel people virtually onto Centre Court? Walking around the grounds, everything was very prim and proper; quintessentially English.

Away from the huge screens showing pictures of the players and the latest scores (and obviously the giant TV screen on Murray Mound), there was no real interaction with technology for the fans. Maybe it’s not needed – I know in previous interviews the organisers of Wimbledon have been keen to preserve its prestige, heritage and British style. But I can’t help thinking it might be a missed opportunity to build loyalty and love for the game. Each year, ahead of the tournament kick-off, the AELTC has always announced some new tech innovation to help bring tennis to a wider audience. It will be interesting to see how, once it has reached these new audiences, it intends to keep them, with or without technology as a tool for engagement and brand loyalty.