The Wimbledon way: Digital lessons from SW19

28 Jun 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

Revered as one of the premier sporting events on the planet, Wimbledon's award-winning digital and social media presence is evaluated year-on-year, with further updates revealed this week that will see Artificial Intelligence play a role in curating highlights footage for the first time, with the help of the tournament's long-term official digital partner IBM.

LiveWire Sport has worked with the in-house team at SW19 since 2012, providing creative content and editorial expertise before, during and after the two weeks that have the world's eyes turning to the grass courts of south-west London. With the 2018 Championships just around the corner, they spoke with Alexandra Willis, the AELTC’s head of digital and content - and a Sport Industry NextGen Leader - about the thinking that separates Wimbledon from the rest of the pack.

Fresh thinking - the pressure to innovate

Innovation is hard!

In a way, we’re judged against all the other content that someone’s consumed week, day or minute before they see Wimbledon content.

As an annual event we only get two weeks to get it right so there will be things we desperately want to do but may never get around to because events overtake us or we just don’t have the time to test and learn from properly. We have the luxury of time and planning but against that we can’t really test and tweak things as we go like you would over the course of a season in another sport.

I would also ask – what does being innovative really mean? When people first started using graphics for big moments it was very striking but now you see them everywhere, so it's a case of trying to think how to disrupt that and do it differently.

We’re constantly reinventing ourselves while at the same time trying to stay true to what we are. What's paramount is that people can trust our content and know we haven't departed too far from who we are.

Setting the tone (of voice)

Wimbledon's tone of voice is crystalised into this description of the persona they strive to represent: “A slightly bumbling, eccentric, English gentleperson…”

We made a very clear decision our social output needed to have a personality and demonstrate a human side to what, for many people, might be perceived as quite a rigid, traditional place. If you've been here you know there’s a sense of warmth, of kindness, of British humour embedded within the event and we wanted that to come across on social.

We summed this up in a description to help the team that comes together for the Championships understand what we want to put across.

"Bumbling" is a very evocative word and "eccentric" just shows that we have some traditions that some people may think are completely barmy but we're proud of! "English" because we are unmistakably English and "gentle" because we forget that at our peril - you never want to be too tough!

A numbers game - the power of data

Data has become incredibly important. There are the statistics, analytics and insights that help populate our platforms. Something we’re really focused on this year, together with IBM, is creating that breadth of understanding through the use of data.

The other aspect is understanding our audiences. We’ve been working on segmenting our fans and the launch of My Wimbledon, which is what we hope will evolve into a personalised digital experience so whether you live in the US and are a Naomi Osaka fan or you like Andy Murray and live in India, we should be able to give you a tailored experience.

AI is fascinating because it's going to become something which is always in the background, so much so that you don't really need to make it ‘a thing’ any more. It plays a role for us in security, in the way we manage and control content like auto-generated highlights which we launched last year, in fan-facing applications like the Messenger bots and so many other things.

Social life - the sport brands making an impression

I really admire events that are uncompromising in their belief in themselves and want to push the boundaries. You can certainly put the NBA in that category, and they're obviously admired by lots of people.

Equally, though, you have to admire events that perhaps don't have those kinds of resources, so an event like the Henley Regatta, some of the horse racing events and smaller football teams, England Hockey - essentially they do the best with what they've got but have a very clear purpose in what they're trying to do.

I also admire and appreciate the different strengths that individual events have, so someone like the European Tour is rightly being praised for their approach to doing things with players in a way that is changing the perceptions of golf and the World Surf League leverage the phenomenal photographic and video assets they have so well.

Playing the long game - Wimbledon's take on ROI

One of the key hallmarks of Wimbledon is we take a long-term view: we want long-term growth rather than short-term gains. That means we've probably had more freedom and less pressure than some other events, where the need for immediate returns is much greater.

Consequently, our strategy is built on developing a more valuable brand and event. If we make sure we're growing and protecting our platforms, content and audiences, then we’ll have a more valuable product. It's very important we live up to that long-term view by ensuring we generate growth and do what we say we're going to do.

Philosophically speaking - the Wimbledon way

The principles that we try to embed at Wimbledon - and that are relevant to any entity that has a story to tell, not just sport – are:

  • be very clear about what you're trying to achieve
  • take the time to consider and articulate who you are and how you want to come across
  • don't be afraid of trying something - if you fail, fail in a way you can learn from
  • get the right team around you - it's the people who make the difference between good and bad output