Wimbledon says complacency is its ‘biggest threat’ as it looks to build a global brand

Honouring more than a century of history, while adjusting to the rise of social media and its growing youth audience, is the balancing act as Wimbledon looks to build on the “golden era” of tennis.

Rich in history, style and tradition, most will associate The Wimbledon Championships with exclusivity, white playing kits, strawberries and cream, and linesmen donning outfits that look like they’ve been frozen in time.

It’s 116-year partnership with Slazenger is the longest in sporting history and unlike other Grand Slams you won’t see numerous sponsors’ boards surrounding the courts as the tournament has strict branding rules.

However, with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, alongside 50 years of Open tennis, Wimbledon acknowledges it must experiment with how it champions history and tradition in order to engage both its “older, core audience” and the rising number of younger viewers walking through its gates each year.

But when the tournament kicks off on 2 July, Wimbledon’s says its biggest challenge isn’t competing for attention with the FIFA World Cup or whether home-grown heavy hitter Andy Murray will return from injury, but avoiding becoming “complacent” in what it has labelled “the golden age of tennis”.

#TakeOnHistory

Wimbledon’s new animated campaign, titled #TakeOnHistory and part of the wider ‘In Pursuit of Greatness’ series, looks to both maintain Wimbledon’s “exclusive image” while appealing to the broader UK population that represents the tournament’s viewership.

The 60-second animated video takes the viewer on a historical journey through the decades by carefully reflecting each era. It starts in black and white before transitioning to colour, showing the evolution of Wimbledon from its beginnings in 1877 up to the present day.

Created with McCann London, the video also follows a continuous illustrated tennis rally that starts with Spencer Gore and ends with modern day greats Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Speaking to Marketing Week, head of marketing and commercial at the AELTC James Ralley says the campaign aims to illustrate Wimbledon’s brand essence.

“It’s really important we get that message across because it’s something that runs through the DNA of the club. The element that we think lands the message is the use of different animations which are reflective of different decades,” he explains.

“But what we didn’t want to do was to beat history in any way, because history is so important here. We want to celebrate it and we need to continue to innovate in a way that’s appropriate to Wimbledon.”

A series of films that will feature across social media focus in greater depth on three key areas of Wimbledon: the gardens, the ticket resale scheme and the famous queue. They will run throughout the duration of the tournament,

Ralley admits that the campaign is skewed at a younger demographic (between 18 and 35 years old) but the animation ensures the brand hasn’t alienated its older core audience.

“We felt the animation needed to have a broad focus so people of all generations can identify with it,” he says.

“I think there’s a perception that Wimbledon’s demographic is very exclusive. While that’s somewhat true and we want to have an exclusive image, its audience is very reflective of the UK population. And the audience that we see coming through the gate is getting younger and younger, so we need to experiment with how we present history and tradition in different ways.”

Driving loyalty and engagement

Wimbledon’s digital platforms “will be the next best thing to being here” according to Ralley, who says the AELTC is always investing in digital and social with the tournament lending itself to the visual power of Instagram in particular.

He says when looking at it from a campaign perspective, this year is different because rather than just delivering a trailer Wimbledon will be producing content networks for all platforms.

“We’re focused on making content work in all different environments,” Ralley explains. “Through our digital and social channels we will try to give a sense if what the event is all about and what the experience is like. This is where we’re really able to bring traditional experiences to life through digital vehicles.”

Wimbledon only runs for two weeks of the sporting calendar each year, so keeping consumers engaged year-round and creating loyalty is an ongoing challenge.

To help combat this, those working behind the scenes ensure Wimbledon is active on social media all year and create content around other major tennis events by collaborating with the other three Grand Slam tournaments in Australia, France and the US.

We recognise that the ‘golden age’ can’t last forever. Our biggest threat is complacency and we’re determined not to be complacent.

James Ralley, AELTC

Ralley says they also attempt to “make the shoulder slightly larger” in order to create a five-to-six week championship that incorporates the grass court season, which feeds off the French Open as soon as it finishes in June.

Moving forward Wimbledon is also exploring the potential of working with its partners at other times of the year.

“Obviously traffic is more likely to come to Wimbledon during the grand slam and from a commercial perspective that’s a huge challenge. But just because Wimbledon is a tennis event and obviously tennis is the most important thing, we have to remember there are other stories we can bring to life, like food and drink,” he says.

“We have a partnership with Ralph Lauren so we need to consider things like, ‘could we work with Fashion Week? Or with IBM on a cool installation?’ We want to become a platform that people are more aware of but at the moment we’re just scratching the surface.”

The challenges

The FIFA World Cup, with its likely worldwide audience of 3.2 billion viewers, has previously been seen as an “inconvenience” to Wimbledon, with the tournament’s organisers trying to ignore the football and “pretend it isn’t happening”. However, they now see it as an opportunity to exploit “the huge amount of momentum behind it” by making football stories come to life at Wimbledon.

“We now work in collaboration with FIFA because we acknowledge a large percentage of our players will be huge football fans. So we will try to tell stories about what’s happening in Russia and somehow make them work with what’s happening here,” Ralley says

“It’s about collaboration really and we’ve got great relationships with rights holders and we see a value in working with them and they see a value in working with Wimbledon as well, which is a testament to the event.”

When asked about the impact Andy Murray’s potential absence could have, Ralley was quick to say it wouldn’t affect the brand but it would be a huge blow from Britain’s perspective.

“It’s undeniable that if Andy is in the event then its better news for us from a British perspective but we hope – and we have a long history in proving this – that the event can stand on its own two feet. Of course, we want the best players in the world playing here but I don’t think we’re in a position where we are reliant on one player or another,” he says.

Ralley describes the last 15 years of the game as the “golden era” of tennis with the likes of Serena Williams dominating the ladies game and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the men’s competition. However, he acknowledges they are all coming to the end of their careers and that it cannot always rely on having such superstar players.

“We know the ‘golden age’ can’t last forever and while we’re sure new superstars will come through the ranks, we’re investing in our content now. Our biggest threat is complacency and we’re determined not to be complacent,” he says.

Moving forward, Ralley says Wimbledon’s main aim is to continue strengthening its audience, to grow recognition and to maintain its position at the top of the table for world sport. He adds the tournament also plans to invest in its audience more, and take more control of its content so it becomes more appealing to broadcasters, potential sponsors and fans.

“We genuinely believe we are now behaving as a global brand and we want to be recognised as a global brand. That’s what success ultimately looks like,” Ralley says.

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