Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content and Digital at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, writes for Sport Industry Group on how a bumper summer of sport has inspired collaboration rather than a fight for airtime and engagement.
The greatest challenge for any sporting event, other than of course delivering it safely and securely for all involved, is making the most of your moment in the spotlight. For those events that are years in the making, think Olympics and Paralympics, World Cups and World Championships, that pressure to shout from the rooftops that your event is on, and everyone should pay attention, is even more immense. It’s not just vanity, the commercial success of the event depends on it. And so any competition, anything that will distract from that moment to shine is the enemy. At least that’s the traditional view. Pointy elbows out, summon your best foot stamp and own the stage.
But the world has also changed. Instead of singular channels, we have multiple platforms to surround us with entertainment, news and sport, all day long. So many, that the average person struggles to sit still without doing at least two things at once. Athletes from different sports learn from, respect and admire each other. So instead of competition, should we be thinking about collaboration?
For an annual event such as Wimbledon, the collaborative approach has become paramount. Three of every four years we share the summer stage with a major football tournament – UEFA’s European Championships and FIFA’s Football World Cups for men and women. Every four years we fall in the lead up to an Olympics. Every other year, the Cricket World Cup for men and women too. And every year, the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone. Rather than treat this overlap with doom and gloom, we are determined to embrace it. Because our fans embrace it. Because sport unites conversation like nothing else. Even Love Island.
Last Sunday was the most brilliant example of this. At the moment that Novak Djokovic saved two Championship points against Roger Federer to make almost sure that their epic final would go to a tie-break, the England and New Zealand cricket teams tied to go to a super over. Fans around the world were double-screening – cricket on the TV, tennis on the tablet, or vice versa. They weren’t engaging because they were tennis fans or cricket fans. They were engaging because of the thrilling spectacle of live sport, riding the rollercoaster together, and using all the mediums available to them to make sure they didn’t miss either.
And we, and the ICC, worked together in that epic, crazy moment.
So that was Smashing Tie-Break Sunday, which saw a combined audience of almost 18 million watch Wimbledon and the Cricket on TV, the BBC register its biggest online peaks since the 2017 General Election, wimbledon.com break its record for unique devices in a day, and the Wimbledon social media platforms register their biggest ever interactions and video views for a single day.
There was also the summer of women’s sport, the football and netball with Wimbledon sandwiched nicely in the middle. Tennis may already be an equal sport in terms of representation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do in terms of showcasing the women’s game. And so we worked with the Telegraph Women’s Sport team, the FA, and England Netball to bring together Danielle Carter, Ama Agbeze and Anne Keothavong for a unique interview and tennis-playing experience, sharing their challenges, successes, and how one sport’s success can be a platform for another’s. We invited all 24 Lionesses (and Phil) to Wimbledon. 7 of our 13 plays of the day were women. Our Show Courts were scheduled 50:50. And we went Loco for Coco and Happy for Halep just as much as we were Delighted for Djokovic and Fulfilled for Federer.
The rationale for collaboration has not happened overnight. Every time we have tried something, we have learned from it. Three years ago, we worked with UEFA around Euro 2016, sending them a #EuroWave from Henman Hill. Two years ago, we brought NBA and NFL players to Wimbledon, taking them behind the scenes to showcase that athletes are interested in other sports. And last year and this year, we worked with FIFA, asking the sporting stars in Wimbledon’s Royal Box to wish England luck as they took on Sweden in the Quarter-Finals in 2018 with a joint video package, and celebrating Coco and Rapinoe, Serena and Solo as the US triumphed in Paris and SW19 with a joint graphic.
So all in all, 2019 was a remarkable Championships. We tried several new things – we built up to Wimbledon by popping up with the Wimbledon Channel throughout the grass court season, we brought to life our #JoinTheStory campaign with a first-of-a-kind mini documentary series on podcast and video, we trialled the concept of immersive cinema in sport with Wimbledon Rematch 1980, and we launched on TikTok, Douyin, Alexa and Google Home to continue to put Wimbledon on the platforms where audiences engage. We also enhanced existing things – we expanded our localised content offering from Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese to Korean and Indonesian, we freshened up our approach to impact graphics for the big moments, and we gave The Wimbledon Channel a fresh start to day with the new Coffee Morning live preview show, delivered using just a camera and a laptop. And of course, we used all our platforms to celebrate the moments that seem to only just happen at Wimbledon – from the exploding sprinkler to the joyful umpire, the wayward server to the ‘head it like Beckham’ – and the tennis moments – Coco, Fedal XL, MurRena and the Finals.
On the subject of collaboration, there was a joined up approach inside Wimbledon as well as outside. Digital, Marketing, Communications, Creative, Broadcast – call it what you will – we are all striving to create content that is accessible to all our fans, across all our platforms, and fundamentally, keep Wimbledon relevant. We rely heavily on fantastic support from the likes of LiveWire Sport, who support us in our content across our platforms and in particular on the #JoinTheStory series this year, to Red Lantern Digital Media, who deliver our content in Asia, to NEP, who provide all the technical support to our host broadcast operation, to Rematch, with whom we delivered Wimbledon Rematch, to Two Circles, who help us understand our audiences, to McCann, who deliver brilliant content for our broadcasters, to Mindshare, who make sure that people see it, and all our Official Suppliers all of whom we should name but don’t have the characters. What do we learn from all of this? 1. That sport is brilliant, and we are privileged to work in it. 2. That the rising tide really does lift all the boats – if we work together, we go further, farther, do better, for the benefit of our fans today and our fans tomorrow. All you have to do is start a conversation, keep open to suggestions, and be prepared to react in the moment. And if you don’t know who to ask, ask someone else who might know (or LinkedIn). 3. That any money you have to spend you should invest in getting the right people (full time and/or agencies) on the bus with you. 4. That every challenge is an opportunity. 5. That balanced is best.