Restart Wimbledon: how a year off the track boosted its digital strategy

A year away from the courts has given Wimbledon time to consolidate its digital strategy while experimenting with new channels. As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, we catch up with its head of marketing to find out how he took advantage of a crisis.

Wimbledon was, in many ways, the canary of the Covid coal mine for sport. In April 2020, while other events on the calendar were “postponed” optimistically, in the hope that the pandemic was a short-term mistake with promises of a speedy return, Wimbledon became the first to be canceled completely.

This was not a decision taken lightly; it would be the first time since World War II that it would go any further. But organizers had been in crisis meetings since January, before the virus was on the radar of most Britons, after a Chinese sponsor raised a red flag. And when the government issued blockade warnings in late March, it knew the chances of it returning to normal were low.

“In January 2020, we were talking to Oppo, one of our business partners, and our chief executive at the time thought Covid could have an impact on us,” recalls Alexandra Willis, head of marketing and communications for All England. Lawn and Tennis Club (AELTC). “So we formed a crisis group and when the first cases were reported in the UK we started thinking about having it potentially with limited viewers or playing behind closed doors.

“It was on April 1, when we officially canceled, that we saw the reaction of the people. There was a feeling that even if Wimbledon is canceled, this Covid is a big deal.

Wimbledon is one of the most popular events on the sports calendar. His particular British brand attracts crowds at home and abroad, attracting tennis enthusiasts and those who enjoy his strawberry and cream traditions while cheering on Roger Federer. It’s a brand that has been perfected and managed carefully for decades, but that was still worried about what a free year could do.

“We were worried that people would get out of the habit. And if they leave, you will never get them back. ”

So the tournament started creating a marketing campaign that reminded people what it represented and why Wimbledon was special. Nicknamed “Wimbledon Recreated”, the initiative asked the public to submit stories about their favorite memories of the tournament and partnered with the BBC to re-organize iconic matches from days gone by.

“Obviously, the numbers didn’t come close to what they would have been in a normal Wimbledon year. But it allowed us to keep our reputation at the same levels as in 2019, according to YouGov. “

That also gave him time to plan for next year. Despite being rooted in tradition, Wimbledon is one of the most advanced media brands in the world. Over the past six years, it has been in an evolution that has transformed it from a “covert” to a digital powerhouse, forging a partnership with IBM to review its data, website and application capabilities and using artificial intelligence to create content from key court moments, which is then distributed on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Weibo, WeChat and, more recently, TikTok.

Pre-pandemic, much of its marketing was aimed at people attending parties. After the 2012 London Olympics, he focused on the IRL experience and created a “magic word of Wimbledon” that began from the moment they arrived at the local tube station.

“Not knowing how many people (if any) we would have, we decided to focus on how people could participate from anywhere,” Willis says of his 2021 strategy.

“One of the things we’ve released, which isn’t original in concept, but which I hope is running, is Wimbledon at Home. It’s a series of things that people can do wherever they are in the world, depending on different points. So you can order your own afternoon tea in the UK, we’ve created a lot of recipes for cooking, we have a survival pack for fans that you can buy and we’ve launched Wimbledon Kids with content aimed at young people “.

As part of the drive home, there’s a virtual reality mobile game led by Andy Murray. It allows fans to experience playing at the Wimbledon Center, where the former male No. 1 encourages players to try to achieve goals through a network.

Elsewhere, he partnered with American Express to build a virtual Henman Hill (or Murray Mound) where people could “sit” to watch a game. It is Wimbledon’s first foray into a virtual world and allows users to create an avatar that can dress in themed costumes purchased with their own virtual currency: Wimblecoins. Users can explore the hill, play and participate in competitions.

“It’s very helpful to watch a match, but we hope it’s another point of contact to bring people to Wimbledon. IBM has been saying for years that we should have a Wimbledon Minecraft run, so it’s a good way to learn while we offer the event. “

It also doubled in giving home viewers access to player performance information. Working with IBM, he has created Power Rankings, which sees an artificial intelligence tool intelligible everything from a player’s previous match stats to media comments to create predictive ideas and generate probability that a player will win before the match begins.

And in the spirit of looking outwards, his McCann advertising campaign this year celebrates the traditions fans have created rather than his usual tactic of highlighting the moments he believes make Wimbledon great.

Virtual worlds and the use of artificial intelligence to predict match winners even before stepping on the court are a long way from Wimbledon. And as we get out of last year, Willis ’key role is to attract younger fans with these innovations, keeping purists on the sidelines.

“The way we try to approach it is not to conflict innovation and tradition, because as soon as you do it suggests that there is a commitment. One of the reasons we have been successful with our innovations is because we have not been random: we have built them around the concept of keeping all traditions relevant.

“If you think about Virtual Hill, the execution is very innovative. What makes it Wimbledon, though, is the fact that it’s green with grass, that it has strawberries, that trophies appear, and the Rufus hawk appears. All of these things are differential and characteristic and make it special, but we use innovation to bring them to life in all sorts of different ways. “

Check out The Drum Sports Marketing Center for more information on how the marketing industry can achieve long-term success through partnership with sports.

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