For years now, technology has been on a quest to revolutionise sport, and tennis is no exception. With technology in tennis equipment providing instant user feedback for performance analysis, the likes of Hawkeye ever-present during match play, and endless broadcasting opportunities, players have the tools, the quality, and the encouragement, to be at the pinnacle of their game.
But as we enter grass court season and the world’s best players descend onto SW19, can Wimbledon do more to encapsulate us? Can our homegrown Grand Slam be even more content-rich, and more appetising, for an ever-changing tech-savvy audience?
Already, Wimbledon’s super-computers can deliver up-to-the-second match analysis (and even detect your favourite players simply by recording your facial emotions). Broadcasters are already queuing up to have matches streamed on their service to over one billion spectators this fortnight. In-house, Wimbledon’s social team will increase from three to nearer three dozen to best manage the huge influx in social activity.
Stating they’re “known for tradition, yet rocking social”, Wimbledon certainly already have their eye on the technology ball and are making great innovative steps across all media year on year. But could the UK’s greatest tennis tournament do even more to whet the appetite in a world where tech is king?
The Operations Bunker
Since 1990 Wimbledon took note of a meteoric new cognitive technology, IBM Watson, setting up a partnership to put fan experience first via real-time data-driven content delivery. With 100% accuracy and sub-second response rates (ideal groundwork for a Jeopardy winner), approximately 3.2m pieces of data will be captured during Wimbledon fortnight and interpreted by a team of promising tennis players-turned-analysts.
Within seconds, IBM’s “operations bunker” translates that data into newsworthy snippets of insight for commentators, media and fans worldwide to serve up endless pieces of gold dust. With the All England Club in the past positioned as visionaries of using digital as a gateway for fan access, Wimbledon’s partnership with IBM Watson is no small digital feat, and the partnership will only continue to grow – provided its external partners and respective platforms do, too.
Whilst content is king new technologies do not, for now, lead the way at Wimbledon. As the centre of media consumption in many households, the TV set still remains top seed to use these stats and position itself as the champion source for news during the tournament.
BBC’s coverage alone is expansive this year, with over 150 hours of coverage on BBC One and BBC Two over the fortnight, alongside 100 hours of radio coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, too. Where Wimbledon goes one step further still is its selection of live streams; with 15 live HD, mobile-friendly streams to choose from – that’s almost one continuous stream from each of the 19 courts all tournament long, with bonus analysis in the mix too. Whether there’s a token Brit, a serial underdog or a wildcard playing the game of their life that takes your pick, you can now tune in almost anywhere, anytime.
From a social perspective, and building upon the successes of last year, live moments from Wimbledon will be uploaded onto Snapchat from this year’s tournament. Yes, that means we can expect even more Snapchat exclusives, insights, and takeovers from the likes of Serena Williams. Reaching over 100 million active users on the most popular social network among teens, this allows Wimbledon to tap into a much younger, tech-embracing audience – much like its Twitter live match streams and introduction of tennis emojis of former years have done.
However, there is still room for growth. Other than Hawkeye, broadcasting in tennis hasn’t changed hugely compared to other sports. Wicket microphones, POV cameras, and 360 degree replays have all been trialled in cricket, to a warm reception. But how can tennis and, more to the point, Wimbledon apply change?
For experience hunters, if sitting atop Murray Mound or witness a pre-recorded virtual court tour doesn’t tick the box, virtual reality (VR) is still a largely untapped source. VR was given its on-court debut in the form of a highlights tool during last year’s US Open, but in its infancy it’s yet to breakthrough in a live tennis scenario.
In making the tournament more accessible, experience-rich and wholly immersive, could Wimbledon break new ground in a relatively new space? If you can immerse yourself in a Salvador Dali painting, can you get inside a locker room huddle before the Men’s Singles final at Wimbledon?
Over time, we can also expect to see multiple screen consumption become commonplace for sports broadcasting, tennis included. From matches being mobile streamed in 2017, could augmented reality (AR) be introduced at Wimbledon, enabling fans to track matches, and match statistics, one step ahead of broadcasters themselves? A longer way off perhaps, but in an experience economy, we’d certainly engage.
Wimbledon already shows huge promise with a wave of social media integration and standout traditional broadcasting options, and fans are certainly getting closer to the sport year-on-year. With a plethora of new technologies in development too, we’re excited to see what the next chapter holds. Until then, we’ll see you courtside.
James Hartnett is an account manager at The Playbook.