How Wimbledon is balancing tradition with the rise of digital

With its focus on traditional and quintessential British values, Wimbledon might not be the first brand you would expect to find on Snapchat or Instagram. But the tournament is looking to new marketing channels as it seeks to broaden its global fan base.

When Wimbledon starts on 27 June tennis fans will be able to find content from and engage with the tournament on more digital channels than ever before.

The aim, according to Alexandra Willis, head of comms, content and digital at the All English Lawn Tennis Club, is to bring the Championship to a much wider audience than ever before.

“Perhaps there was a complacency but the vision just wasn’t there to take the brand beyond the site before,” admits Alexandra Willis, head of comms, content and digital at the All English Lawn Tennis Club.

Read more: Wimbledon hints it could soon broadcast full matches on Facebook and Twitter

“We realised we didn’t want to get 10 years down the line and people don’t watch TV anymore and therefore nobody is interacting or watching Wimbledon. We have to bring in the younger demographic now so we don’t have a problem further down the line.”

With this in mind, Wimbledon is introducing a number of new elements to its marketing plans this year.

What’s new this year…

For this year’s tournament, Wimbledon is adding a Snapchat-inspired ‘Create your own story’ element to its app allowing users to share personalised photo-based videos of their experience to social media.

Much like last year’s tournament, Wimbledon will continue to share behind-the-scenes coverage on channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And with Wi-Fi still a challenge at the Wimbledon grounds, a new ‘Plan Your Visit’ feature on the app will identify first time visitors as opposed to regular ticket holders. This allows Wimbledon to serve up personalised content and tips, and to track the consumer journey regardless of whether a user is connected to the internet at the grounds.

It will also work with Apple TV for the first time – on an app that will encompass both live matches and radio (Wimbledon saw its radio listeners rise by 2 million to 16 million listeners in 2015) – and has announced a partnership with UEFA, as the two aim to mutually attract viewers to both Euro 2016 and Wimbledon 2016.

To increase contextual relevance on its social media channels and during matches, Wimbledon will also be using IBM’s Cognitive Command Centre for the first time. The technology utilises IBM’s Watson AI to understand global social media feeds to automatically understand, reason and learn the most relevant and emerging topics of conversation as they break and their relevance to tennis.

Balancing tradition with innovation

Last year, visits to the Wimbledon mobile website were up 125% to 5.6 million, while ‘likes’ on its Facebook page grew 55% to 3.3 million and ‘followers’ rose 74% to 2.2 million on Twitter. It has also benefited from the move towards airing live footage on social media, with its Facebook video views up 1,120% in 2015. It is subsequently adopting a “never say never” approach to broadcasting full matches directly to the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Wimbledon will double its Live Stories on Snapchat from two to four for this year’s tournament and will be broadcasting more behind-the-scenes footage on the likes of Periscope, having grown its followers to just under 500,000. There will also be a more responsive attitude to content creation, with a clip of David Beckham catching a ball in the royal box generating 10 million views at last year’s tournament.

“We haven’t jumped on the bandwagon on some things as quickly as others, sure. But it has all been about reminding ourselves of the uniqueness of individual channels and only using them to better tell our story,” adds Willis. “If it doesn’t feel authentic, then what’s the point? The public will fall out of love with the tradition of Wimbledon if we jump too quickly on the bandwagon, as other sports have done.”

Creating loyalty and expanding brand appeal

The Wimbledon app, which Willis says could encompass a chat bot for next year’s tournament, is most importantly creating loyalty. She explains: “While the digital audience is still dominated by dotcom usage, which represents about 70%, I’d say the other 30% using the app are more engaged and they are driving 65% of our total engagement and views. The shift to apps makes perfect sense for us to drive loyalty among the next generation.”

From strawberries to rules forbidding non-white player outfits, Willis admits that the quintessential British qualities of the tournament have hindered international appeal.

Subsequently, this year’s slogan ‘In The Pursuit of Greatness’ is intended to be both a corporate and global mission statement with more international appeal. Wimbledon will also aim to grow its global brand through a new WeChat game devised for Chinese audiences.

“There is still a long way to go and we are early into the journey but while we are a brand that is known globally, we are trying to improve understanding of that brand. Someone in China, they know what Wimbledon is but they do not necessarily know why it is special, different or unique.

“This year we are really focused on growing our brand appeal in the US but in the years to come we will focus on south east Asia and south America.”

Alexandra Willis, head of comms, content and digital at the All English Lawn Tennis Club

And Willis also thinks there’s an opportunity to entice fans from other sports too. The UEFA partnership, which will see the two events promoting one another during the overlapping Euro 2016 and Wimbledon tournaments, is just the start.

“In an age of changing consumer behaviour it isn’t about being a fan of one thing anymore. You can be die-hard football fan but also interested in the Super Bowl. We want to tap into those events and see if we can do something. UEFA is just the start as we’ve also talked to the NFL and NBA. Hopefully in the future we can do more with football and golf too.”

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