Interviews

Published on November 7th, 2017 | by Jack Martin

New tech, please: How Wimbledon is upping its digital game

Wimbledon is synonymous with tradition. The lush green grass of its courts, players wearing all-white, strawberries and cream.

Originally located in Worple Road, before moving to its current site in Church Road in 1922, the All England Club hosted its first tennis tournament in 1877, when Spencer Gore won 12 guineas for defeating William Marshall in the final.

Today, when the men’s and women’s champion now receive £2.2m prize money, Wimbledon continues to uphold its tradition, history and values and remains at the pinnacle of the game.

However, how does the All England Club manage to maintain its grandeur against the test of time? Put simply, the answer is: by continuously striving to be a leader in innovation.

Tradition and innovation

Centre Court at Wimbledon

Centre Court at Wimbledon

“Tradition and innovation are two pillars at the core of what the Wimbledon brand stands for,” says Alexandra Willis, head of digital, communications and content at SW19.

“Getting the balance right between the two is something that you see all over the grounds.

“If you take the Centre Court’s retractable roof for example. An amazing piece of engineering innovation but done in a very seamless way so that it’s understated.

“With the whole digital strategy, we’ve tried to follow the same ethos – celebrating Wimbledon’s traditions and preserving those traditions through the use of innovations.”

Website and social media

With tennis now a global sport, there are millions of fans all over the world who are unable to visit the grounds in person during the Championships. Therefore, Wimbledon and their partners IBM endeavour every summer to make them feel a part of the event using advanced technology.

For instance, during this year’s tournament, for the first time ever, mixed reality 360-degree view was used on the practice courts via the mobile app. Willis believes that development was the perfect example of how Wimbledon makes sure it doesn’t fall behind in appealing to all its fans far and wide.

The famous men’s singles trophy

“There are three core pillars to our development for each Championships,” says Willis. “One is a new platform. Two is incremental improvements. Three is an innovation test.

“Mixed reality is something that has been talked about a lot in sport. The idea of being able to bring people to a place they’ve never been to before.

“Truly experiencing it and immersed in what it’s like. I think we will see it again.

“Overall, the ability to leverage technology to better tell the story of different places around the grounds is definitely something we’re focused on.

With hundreds of million website views during the Championships, three million Twitter followers, four million Facebook likes and a three-year running deal with Snapchat, the appeal of the internet and social media is distinctly something which Wimbledon not only uses to its advantage but are keen to keep developing on into the future.

“It’s huge,” says Willis about social media. “One of the things that’s really important for the Wimbledon brand is its global reach.

“Yes, it’s a British event, held very proudly in Britain. However, it’s very important that we try to service our fanbase all around the world.

“Technology allows you to message different audience groups. This year we launched content in Spanish on Facebook. We’ve been doing that in China, Korea and India as well.

“Next year we are rebuilding wimbledon.com and we are hoping that fans will be able to track and monitor their favourite players. That will be a big step.”

BBC

After the Championships ended in July, the All England Club revealed that from next year, the newly-formed Wimbledon Broadcasting Services would take over from the BBC and control all cameras on the grounds.

It was a surprising move considering that the BBC have been the primary domestic broadcaster of Wimbledon for over 90 years and are currently celebrating the anniversary with a special exhibition at the Wimbledon Museum.

A vintage BBC camera on display in the Wimbledon Museum

“The reason for that decision was to enable us to deliver the best possible coverage of Wimbledon all over the grounds in pace with the change in technology in broadcast and to be able to deliver that to a truly global audience,” says Willis.

“The BBC have been, and will continue to be an excellent partner, and it’s no reflection as to how they covered Wimbledon.

“But we hope this will take some of the pressure of them in terms of introducing technology innovations such as 4K (television coverage in higher resolution).

“We celebrated 90 years with the BBC this year; 80 years of television; 50 years of colour TV. What’s so impressive about the BBC is the way they are also striving for innovation and change and to broaden their audience.

“The way we’ve collaborated together through social media has been great and will continue into the future. We can’t speak more highly of them.”

With the tournament itself running for only two weeks every summer, you would be forgiven for thinking that Wimbledon spends most of its time in lockdown.

Determination

However, contrary to common belief, plans, across the board, are constantly being drawn up to improve the brand.

Indeed, the ongoing three-year construction of a new retractable roof on Court One epitomises this spectacularly.

It’s clearly at the forefront in the minds of everybody who works at the Club to leave no stone unturned and that’s what keeps Wimbledon ahead of the curve.

“It’s at the heart of the Club that there is always something you can improve,” Willis adds.

“Whether that’s fixing a squeaky chair or bettering an app, there’s always something more we feel we can do and that’s what makes Wimbledon special.”

Feature image courtesy of wimbledon.com

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