Grow and Engage: WIMBLEDON is one of the crown jewels of the sporting calendar for Fan Engagement

As a brand, the annual Grand Slam tennis tournament hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is up there with the Superbowl in terms of worldwide awareness.

That brand is one of deep-rooted sporting and social tradition: grass courts, royal box, strict dress code, strawberries and cream etc.

The Championship was first held in 1877, but those 142 years of history do not insulate it from the challenges of the digital revolution that is quickly eroding traditional modes of fan engagement.

In that respect it is no different from say the Canadian Premier League in football, which was born this year, or any other sporting organisation.

In fact, AELTC head of communications, digital and content Alexandra Willis takes it further and views Wimbledon as also being in the same boat as traditional and digital forms of entertainment and media.

Willis, who will be part of a panel discussing how to grow and engage new and existing audiences at the Digital Transformation in Sport Summit in San Francisco in January, said: "The challenge for sport properties is keeping themselves relevant in an increasingly fragmented and competitive world because our benchmark, particularly in Wimbledon's case, is no longer other tennis events or even other sporting events. It is other media and entertainment properties because we are competing for people's time and people are choosing to spend their time in different ways."

KEY AIMS OF FAN ENGAGEMENT

Willis and her team have so far done a great job in being proactive in navigating the evolving digital landscape, with their work guided by two key ambitions.

"One is to put Wimbledon in the minds of people as a brand that is progressive," said Willis. "We think that the role of innovation is to keep Wimbledon relevant and preserve its traditions and make sure that the things that it is famous for: grass courts, white clothing and all of that kind of stuff are not going to become obsolete.

"It really is about getting Wimbledon in the hands of people in the way that they expect to be able to interact with it so that they continue to have a passion for it or develop a passion for it.

"And the second one is a more kind of classic commercial objective, which is to actually develop a direct relationship with all of those people engaging with the Wimbledon brand.

"And that doesn't just mean building CRM and building our databases. It means those things that are more ethereal, like what's the perception of the brand and what's the relationship with the brand, but also how are we delivering on what people expect of us.

"We know that for people to develop a relationship with Wimbledon they want it to be relevant to them. We're not talking about personalization based on other sports events necessarily. We are talking about it based on what people experience in their day-to-day lives."

To that aim, of proactively seeking out their audience and creating relevant experiences, Willis focuses on three key themes - Platform, Content and Technology.

She explained: "The first theme is very much the use of platforms and making sure that we are available to any and every audience, on essentially the platform of their choice.

"We feel it is very important that Wimbledon is accessible and that we go to our audiences rather than expect them to come to us."

SUCCESSFUL WIMBLEDON 2019 STRATEGY

Wimbledon 2019 saw them partner up with TikTok and Chinese sister site Douyin and also develop a version of their app for use in lower bandwidth territories like India and parts of Africa.

In terms of content, linear TV coverage is still "where people are spending the most amount of time with us and have the deepest level of knowledge and engagement."

While the short-form represented by content for Instagram story, snapchat and so on has "the biggest reach but arguably most of the passing interest."

Then, there is what Willis calls mid-form content, aimed at cable-free fans, like the self-produced interactive live show Coffee Mornings, podcasts, and 10-minute videos that sit on their own sites and platforms like Facebook Watch and YouTube.

Willis said: "We felt that we had a gap in the middle and what we described as mid-form content.

"So those different generations of fans who expect to consume in a different kind of way, ie don't necessarily own a TV, but also with different levels of knowledge or understanding about Wimbledon and probably wouldn't watch a five-hour tennis match but would watch a ten-minute documentary about their favourite player or about something that they're particularly interested in, whether it's the food of Wimbledon or the fashion of Wimbledon."

That brings us to Wimbledon's innovative use of technology.

Willis added: "This is where the work that we've done particularly with IBM comes into it.

"That has been very much focused around the use of AI to make some of our processes more efficient but also to explore ways to expand them and make them more personalised for the fan."

INNOVATIVE USE OF AI

Through IBM Watson, Wimbledon auto-generates highlights by rating the excitement value of each point through crowd and player reaction as well as the point of the match which can be turned around "within four minutes of a match finishing" but also allows Wimbledon's digital team to "slice and dice and cut it up in different ways" to cater for fans of certain players or put together packages of aces or winning shots.

AI is also helping Wimbledon to engage with their majority segment of sports fans who follow Wimbledon because it is a big sports event but have limited knowledge of tennis and its players beyond seasoned champions like Roger Federer and Serena Williams.

Willis added: "We are hoping to use AI to punch through the data and the opinions and everything that's being written about some of these players and provide a better tool for fans to understand who they should follow and why they should follow them and why they might be interesting."

IMPORTANCE OF SEGMENTATION

Wimbledon have done a lot of work in understanding its engaged and potential future audience, including segmenting their fanbase in key territories to understand the primary drivers behind why fans engage and how they consume content.

Some of those segments include:

1. Tennis lovers ? intimate tennis fans/players with deep knowledge of the sport.

2. Sports fans ? follow Wimbledon because it is a major sports event.

3. Socially motivated ? drawn by the traditions and the cultural significance of the tournament.

4. Patriotic ? national pride to support the event or players from their country.

5. Fortnighters ? follow the event as it fills a hole in their calendar.

6. Passive ? Drawn in by blanket media coverage by the likes of the BBC.

They have also looked at it through a more classic audience funnel which has the linear audience at the top followed by "an enormous earned audience" across external digital platforms covering Wimbledon and their own platforms.

There is also the important in-venue audience of around half a million people for any given tournament versus an already engaged fanbase of 20million across Wimbledon?s digital platforms and a potential fanbase in the 100s of millions in terms of the known interest in Wimbledon.

Willis added: "What we have started to do is see what are the relative values to us in each of those areas, because the more that we know about the audience, the more we can give them a better experience - again back to that idea that what people expect is something that is personal and relevant to them.

"It is understanding the audience, understanding what the priorities are for our partners and just making sure that we're trying to move with those trends rather than just having to react to them."