Jul 8th 2016

Wimbledon 2016 serves up tech innovation to gain fan engagement advantage

As Babel’s resident tennis fanatic and an amateur player, Grand Slam tournaments are as exciting to me as Christmas. So when Wimbledon 2016 kicked off on the 27th June, I was not only looking forward to seeing which players would be competing for the coveted trophies, but I was also intrigued to see how the tournament would once again be using technological innovation to build fan engagement.

Wimbledon brings an air of prestige and class to the game of tennis. It’s super traditional, quintessentially British, and the oldest tennis tournament in the world (the first tournament took place in 1887). However, each year the All English Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) looks to pull The Championships out of the dusty history books and into the 21st century by using technology to build a more global fan base. Here’s a look at how Wimbledon has been looking to gain the competitive advantage with fans by embracing digital in 2016.

A smashing use of social

Wimbledon already dominates Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds with talk of match play, player interviews, court scandals (Nike dress fiasco anyone?) and shock early exits. This year Snapchat is being added to the arsenal, with a ‘Create your own story’ element encouraging users to share personalised photo-based videos. While all of this social media activity is great, Wimbledon’s one big fault is the fact there’s currently no Wi-Fi available on the grounds. This is likely to impact the amount of fans using social media on site and also the frequency with which they choose to engage with hashtags, share content and interact with the Wimbledon website and app.

Driving insights with Big Data

Tech heavyweight IBM and Wimbledon been partners since 1990, with IBM providing data on match statistics and player performance. IBM Slamtracker’s “Keys to the Match” feature is built on IBM’s predictive analytics technology. Mining eight years of Grand Slam data, it provides fans with a wealth of statistics on players to help predict the winner based on match scenarios and past performance.

IBM has now introduced its Cognitive Social Media Command centre, powered by Watson AI and cloud technologies. The Command Centre ingests content from several social media platforms and then separates conversations about Wimbledon from conversations about other sports. It then pinpoints and highlights trending topics, emerging topics and real-time conversations about Wimbledon itself. The idea then is to feed this data back to Wimbledon’s editorial teams to help hone and adapt content based on what’s resonating with target audiences. Seriously smart stuff.

Keeping fans ‘appy

This year, Wimbledon has gone from strawberries to apples. Or rather Apple TV. For the first time, tennis fans can watch live matches and listen to radio coverage of the tournament through a new app for Apple TV, as well as a completely new app for mobile and tablet on iOS and Android. The ‘Plan Your Visit’ feature of the official Wimbledon app identifies first time visitors, rather than just regular ticket holders, and serves up relevant, personalised content and tips to create a more seamless, comprehensive Wimbledon experience.

Wimbledon aces brand partnerships

What’s a huge sporting tournament without big brands backing you up? Links, Stella Artois, Rolex, Haagen-Dazs, Ralph Lauren, Jaguar; a prestigious tournament needs endorsement from luxury brands. As the official beer of the tournament, Stella Artois and Wimbledon have this year created The Time Portal, an ‘all-immersive theatrical experience’ that takes fans back to Victorian London in 1887 to discover the beginnings of the Belgian beer and the most famous tennis tournament.

Car manufacturer Jaguar is also harnessing virtual reality technology to provide tennis aficionados with the opportunity to ‘fly into Centre Court’ and ‘feel Wimbledon’ from the perspective of British Number One Andy Murray. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s apparently a pretty emotional experience for the die-hard fans amongst us.

In remains to be seen how Wimbledon will outdo itself digitally in 2017 (apart from actually having Wi-Fi access). Wimbledon could certainly try some of the tactics employed by US sporting events with merchandising, ordering goods from the comfort of the seat and creating a more service-driven approach to the fan experience. Perhaps one of the best technologies the tournament could consider would be more accurate weather-prediction tools (or just more roofs!)

Either way, a delicate balance needs to be struck between the tournament remaining authentic, preserving its heritage and prestige, while finding its footing in a 21st century digital age. For the time being, the AELTC seems to have a good grip on balancing tradition with digital and in my opinion certainly has the advantage over other major sporting events in terms of fan engagement online and on the grounds. It will be interesting to see how fans react to this year’s initiatives and how other sporting events follow suit.