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Wimbledon deploys smartphone app to engage fans

The Wimbledon tennis championships previously used digital tech to engage fans unable to attend matches – but has switched focus to fans in the grounds for 2016

Wimbledon has launched a digital smartphone app to engage tennis fans visiting the grounds.

When users download the IBM developed application, they will be asked whether or not they will be attending one of the events during the championship. The content they receive varies according to how they answer.

Previously Wimbledon’s digital push had focused on keeping absent fans up to date with the latest news, but the All England Lawn Tennis Club is now using digital technology to enhance the experience of visitors to the grounds in West London.

Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital at Wimbleon, said: “What we’ve done is try to make these apps your absolute companion to Wimbledon.”

As part of the on-the-day experience of the application, it sends relevant push notifications to users planning to visit, to “build anticipation” and remind them to prepare for the event.

These continue when the visitor reaches the grounds, to inform them of activities they can participate in during the visit.

“By encouraging people to let us know if they’re attending when they download the app, that allows us to message them if they don’t have their location on,” Willis explained.

Read more about IBM and Wimbledon

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Strawberries and cream and test serves

Visitors are encouraged to visit various parts of the Wimbledon grounds to take part in activities – such as eating strawberries and cream or measuring their test serve – and taking a photo during each activity.

These photos are collated into a video of the fan’s visit, which can be shared on social media platforms.

Willis said: “It’s also about encouraging people to create their own content and share their story.”

Despite the work that has gone into the app and the existing beacons on the site designed to push messages, the grounds are still not equipped with Wi-Fi.

“What would it be for and what would Wi-Fi do to actually improve people’s experience on site?” Willis asked.

“The intention of the app doesn’t rely on the connectivity, it isn’t just to get around the connectivity hurdles.”

Focus on worlwide audience

But Wimbledon still wants to appeal to those outside the grounds, and this year will focus on engaging its global audience.

“We want to reflect how you feel when you walk into the gates here,” Willis said.

“No matter where you are, which country you’re living in, what age you are.”

Wimbledon wants to provide content that either reacts to what has happened at the event; is pre-emptive, based on analytics; or planned.

Willis said: “It’s thinking about how we deliver for the different vast range of fans we have across these different buckets.”

TV: A different way to view

As part of the different ways Wimbledon has tried to push content to users, the team at IBM Interactive Experience has developed Wimbledon an Apple TV application designed to keep users up to date with the scores and match highlights.

Taking into account the change in the way users are consuming content, the Apple TV channel will use a radio style format. This already has high yield for Wimbledon, with dynamic content displayed alongside the commentary, so users can leave the channel on in the background.

“We’re thinking how we keep in step with evolving tech – but how we make sure it has a real purpose and make sure we’re not doing something for the sake of doing something,” Willis said.

“It’s taking the TV screen away from being something you need to sit and watch, thinking of the TV in a slightly different way and how we can offer content there.”

Labelling TV and radio as two of the most significant technological shifts in sporting history, Ed Smith, writer, broadcaster and academic, called television “the most important aspect of shared culture anywhere in the world”.

As smartphones become the most commonly owned and used devices worldwide, Smith admitted this disruptive technology will play a huge part in the future of sport and fan engagement.

 “Whether we like it or not, people live attached to smartphones,” Smith said.

“Digital tech is changing sport at every level. Social media has also brought sport intellectual cutting edge to a much wider audience.”

The millennial market

The Wimbledon brand wants to engage people who may not watch tennis at other times of year, and who may not be aware of British culture and the importance of this with the Wimbledon experience.

Social media has played a large part in engaging a younger audience, due to their level of engagement on social media applications and the way they consume content.

Mick Desmond, commercial and media director at AELTC, explained the need for “poking fun” at its old-fashioned approach while also keeping true to the traditional Wimbledon brand.

“We want to make sure that digital is our gateway to a younger audience,” Desmond said.

“Having high quality content across our channels is so important to us to tell our story.”

By using social media, Wimbledon hopes to push its content to regions such as south-east Asia, the US and China over the next few years.

Wimbledon is using IBM’s cognitive Watson computer to compare social channels and optimise content pushed out on the basis of what conversations are taking place.

Sam Seddon, Wimbledon programme executive for IBM, explained this will especially help to engage the millennial generation.

He said: “You have to have that content there that people want to see at the time of that moment.”

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