Wimbledon is one of the highlights of the global sports calendar and a much-loved fixture of the English summer.
Tradition is fundamental to the brand of tennis’ grass-court Grand Slam, which has been played annually - with some notable exceptions, including a gap in 2020 - since 1877. Centre Court, where so many dreams have been realised or dashed, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2022.
The All-England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in south-west London has built a reputation on impeccable groundskeeping and an insistence on aesthetic choices like all-white kit for players or green and purple colour-ways around arenas - factors that sponsors must also accommodate. Over decades, fans have come to view Pimms, strawberries and cream and even an hours-long wait in ‘The Queue’ for on-the-day tickets as integral to the experience.
For all that, innovation has become just as intrinsic to spectator expectations. The AELTC’s ‘masterplan’ is a rolling schedule of upgrades that ensure the SW19 site retains its world-class status. It has delivered, for example, improved connectivity, better amenities and shared spaces for visitors and crucially, given the UK’s sometimes damp summers, roofs on the main show courts.
A number of those upgrades have been driven in collaboration with brands like smartphone manufacturer Oppo, which signed a long-term deal with Wimbledon in 2019. Technology giant IBM has been a sponsor since 1990 and provides both core functions and fresh ideas.
Among its key services are the operation of the tournament website, as well as scoring services. In the past few years, meanwhile, IBM has expanded the role of its machine-learning Watson artificial intelligence tool to enable rapid daily highlights clipping for digital and social video platforms and communicate player performance and form.
The tournament organisers have come to appreciate that many Wimbledon viewers are not hardcore tennis followers with a firm grasp on the whole field. So in 2022, IBM solutions are shortening the connection to the players themselves. Win Factor data visualisations will help fans understand who has the best chance of winning a match, while AI-powered statistics will offer insights into the strengths and weaknesses of individual players, predict upsets and identify rising stars.
Other Wimbledon sponsors have also designed more of their activities around the athletes. This year, telecoms giant Vodafone, the official connectivity partner of the Championships, signed up US Open champion and burgeoning British superstar Emma Raducanu.
The 19-year-old will be central to ‘Wimbledon Uncovered in 360, Powered by Vodafone’, a digital experience that allows users to experience walking through the corridors of Centre Court in virtual reality, as well as an out-of-home activation where she will be recreated as a digital 3D digital avatar in Piccadilly Circus on the Championships’ opening day.
That continues a much older trend of Wimbledon sponsors like Robinsons and Jaguar extending their association with the event through the profile of popular players, whether they are global icons or home favourites like Sir Andy Murray, Laura Robson and Tim Henman. It also updates that approach in a fusion with new products and technologies, mirroring the evolution of Wimbledon’s own identity.
Ultimately, all of this is a recognition that Wimbledon’s lasting appeal is not just the result of a positive relationship between its past and its future, but also between the arena and the athletes who fill it with their stories.
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