This year, The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) is celebrating 150 years since it was founded in June 1868. The Wimbledon Museum’s exhibition, ‘Through the Hoops’, will pay tribute to this momentous feat by delving into the history of croquet, while Rod Laver and Billie Jean King, the Wimbledon Singles Champions of 1968, will be the Chairman’s Special Guests.

However, despite its emphasis on tradition, the AELTC continues to push the boundaries of sports technology, and Summer 2018 is no exception.

The 2016 clash of the UEFA European Championship, British Grand Prix and the men’s singles final forced the tennis club to dramatically rethink its digital strategy; in short, adapt or lose its audience to other sporting events.

Working with its long standing technological partner, IBM, Wimbledon has taken its digital transformation to the next level, creating a fan experience like no other.

 The next best thing to being there

As little as 5 years ago an afternoon spent watching the tennis on your living room sofa was no match, pardon the pun, for a quintessentially British day out, coupled with the electric atmosphere of Centre Court. Yet very few people ever had the chance to attend. With this in mind, The AELTC set out to replicate the feeling of ‘being there’, and today little of the action’s excitement is lost in its transmission.

New to the 2018 Championships, Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS) is providing coverage of all 18 courts, with Centre Court being offered in 4K definition to achieve the highest quality picture. 360-degree robotic cameras capture the atmosphere in the grounds and recognition software allows viewers at home to watch their favourite players warm up in real-time.

Alongside multi-camera coverage, IBM’s Watson uses artificial intelligence technology to process millions of data points each second; players’ facial expressions and the crowd’s reaction are analysed to produce automated highlights, minutes after a match has ended.

This engaging content attracts an international audience in over 200 countries through TV, web and mobile. The IBM Apple TV app is perhaps the epitome of Wimbledon’s omni-channel approach, combining video content, radio, and score information in one place so that the viewer is superficially transported to the Championships.

Digital enhances the physical

And it’s not just fans at home that are reaping the benefits of Wimbledon’s digital transformation.  For the first time this year, free public WI-FI extends along the length of The Queue. Access to a live stream of the Big Screen means that non-ticket holders, waiting in line, will no longer miss a second of play.

The addition of ‘MyWimbledon’ to the official championships app enhances a visitor’s in-ground experience through its personalised push messages and augmented reality. It guides each fan through their visit according to their day, ticket type, and favourite players.

As The AELTC’s Head of Communications, Alexandra Willis, explained in an interview, technology should not distract from the main event. Instead of visitors walking round glued to their smartphones, the app is designed to complement and enhance the fan’s physical experience, not replace it.

Joining in the conversation

The interactive nature of Wimbledon’s fan experience is something that differentiates The Championships from any other sporting event. Named after Britain’s legendary three-time Wimbledon champion, Fred Perry, ‘Ask Fred’ is Wimbledon’s cognitive assistant. Via the official app, it provides answers to fans’ questions on a range of Wimbledon topics.

IBM’s Watson uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to monitor questions to Fred, as well as conversations across different social media platforms. This determines the type of content that fans want to hear, read and watch. This feedback loop allows Wimbledon to continuously innovate in an agile way that aligns with its audiences’ needs and expectations, putting customer centricity at the forefront of its strategy.

These same social listening tools are also used to trigger debates around ‘Who is the greatest tennis player of all time?’. Instead of broadcasting to the masses, organisers, fans and IBM’s Watson are engaging in individual conversations via the #WhatMakesGreat campaign. Fans’ involvement with the organisation at such an intimate level boosts their individual experience of Wimbledon, ensuring they feel valued and stay loyal to the brand.

Combatting retail trends 

As well as sports technology, The AELTC is innovating in the retail sphere. Faced with the same challenges as many high street stores – changing consumer behaviour and fierce competition – The AELTC has opened its first pop-up store on the high street in Wimbledon Village in a bid to boost sales.

Adrian Mills, The Wimbledon Village Business Association (WVBA) Chairman, commented: “We are proud of our links to The AELTC and have been collaborating with them to achieve our vision of increasing the appeal of the Village as a visitor and business destination, not only during the tennis, but also throughout the year.”

By launching a limited time pop-up store, The AELTC aims to promote Wimbledon Village as a continually thriving high street, as well as increase the hype around the Championships.

The AELTC is certainly no stranger to brand partnerships; AB InBev’s Stella Artois is partnering with Wimbledon for the fifth consecutive year and has released limited-edition packaging to celebrate. The launch of Evian’s #WimbleYoungReporters campaign, which provides an alternative look at all the action, is another example of a great collaboration that promotes both brands through social media.

So, what can we learn?

Prioritisation

Organisations may be aware of the need to build a customer-centred brand through their experiences or products, but are they engaging with all their customers equally?

With the influx of digital and changing consumer behaviour, prioritising an omni-channel approach that provides a seamless customer experience across all platforms is an integral part of any digital strategy. The AELTC is an organisation that values both online and offline consumers, augmenting the experience for those attending Wimbledon, and for the rest of the world watching. Its engaging content creates a digital journey that not only excites customers, but also fosters high levels of trust through different approaches to personalisation.

Therefore, to become truly customer centric, organisations should consider all customers, focusing on the quality and consistency of their content across every channel.

Innovation

Next, innovation! Is an organisation truly engaging with its customers or are they only listening when there is money to be made? Exemplified by Wimbledon’s social listening tools and sentiment analysis, data should be harnessed for the benefit of customers. Insights generated can be democratised to improve the customer experience, allowing the organisation to innovate in ways that align with customer needs.

As demonstrated by the #WhatMakesGreat campaign, this insight can even be shared to enhance consumer trust and loyalty. Agile and iterative ways of working that harness data have enabled The AELTC to innovate year on year, transforming its use of digital into what it is today.

Collaboration

Finally, alliances are key! Brands can deliver much more collectively than if they were operating alone. They can drive brand awareness and often create unique and compelling customer experiences. Take for example the collaboration of Toyota and Amazon’s Alexa, or more recently Uber and Virgin Trains, whose partnership offers customers a door-to-door transport service.

By joining forces with the WVBA, Wimbledon’s pop-up store is increasing the hype around the tennis whilst also boosting the appeal of the high street. Furthermore, its many sponsorship and broadcast partners will continue to imbue the tennis experience with excitement and fun, as well as driving value for themselves, Wimbledon, and most importantly, the fans.