Wimbledon explains how it is ‘future proofing’ its brand with Fortnite and Roblox
The iconic British tennis tournament has gone all in on digital experiences for the 2023 season as it looks to capture new demographics and reach TV’s lost audiences.
Race To Wimbledon on Fortnite / Wimbledon
Chris Clements, the digital products lead at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (the organization that owns Wimbledon) and the person heading up the tennis tournament’s new digital strategy, says media consumption habits have changed: ”People aren’t necessarily going to get exposed to Wimbledon in the same way they would have 20 or 30 years ago.
Those historic Wimbledon moments with everyone gathered around the TV are rarer these days, he says. ”Obviously, we want to be growing our brand, but there is also an element around future-proofing.
“Ultimately, we have the aim of driving deeper fandom and deeper engagement through our main digital platforms, website and mobile apps.”
The Race to Wimbledon experience in Fortnite takes gamers through landmarks such as Big Ben and the London Eye, then past Andy Murray’s golden letterbox where they have to navigate obstacles such as giant strawberries and tennis rackets to make it to Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Wimbledon will market the Fortnite activation primarily via influencer marketing as well as paid and organic social, then its partner American Express’s fan experience will amplify it during the tournament.
“Our entry into Fortnite is about reaching new audiences and introducing them to elements of the brand like the strawberries and cream,” says Clements. “A lot of what we’re trying to do through these activations is bring up awareness of our heritage in more interactive digital ways.”
Race to Wimbledon will sit alongside a new app called Wimbledon Smash and an extension of the 2022 Roblox experience WimbleWorld. “Gaming has always had an important role to play in building loyalty for sports brands,” he explains.
In terms of expanding its reach beyond the traditional Wimbledon fan, Clements says these games, specifically Fortnite, fit within the 18-30-year-old bracket the tournament would like to capture. Fortnite sits nicely alongside Roblox, he says, because it has a slightly older demographic.
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Lessons from Roblox
This is not Wimbledon’s first time in gaming – in 2022 the tournament entered Roblox. WimbleWorld has had more than 12m visits, with over 80% of its users under 24. The experience on Roblox taught Clements to be “flexible” with the Wimbledon brand when entered new platforms.
“We want to protect our brand, but we are not going to recreate an absolute replica of Centre Court in Roblox because it needs to be authentic to that platform,” he explains. For example, WimbleWorld has a feature where players can prepare the grass courts by mowing and painting lines. “We have heritage elements that we want to protect but we can deliver them in a different way to different audiences.”
Clements also learned that partnering with metaverse specialists like The Gang – especially ones who have built non-branded experiences – is crucial to understanding the audiences that are using the platforms. “We can work with our creative team with our marketing team on how we manage to take our brand elements and speak to them in an authentic way in that environment.”
IBM's cutting-edge AI commentary
IBM is Wimbledon's official tech partner, for the past five years IBM has used AI to create highlights reels that are created by detecting audience response levels and player's hand gestures. IBM has upped its AI game for 2023.
Kevin Farrar, IBM’s UK sports partnership leader tells The Drum: "There has been a lot of buzz in the media, of course about generative AI and large language models as well for the last six months." Responding to the buzz IBM has now rolled out AI-narrated commentary for the highlights reels making those clips more accessible.
It works, Farrar explains, by training the tech in the language of English, then the game of tennis, and then the language of Wimbledon. For example, it's the 'gentleman's' final not the 'men's' final. The AI commentary won't be used on key matches and for center court but it will be rolled out for matches that don't have commentators.
"It's key moments of the match and it's not intended to be radio-style commentary," Farrar says. "It's not in any way intended to replace the human commentators they've got their own charisma, charm, spontaneity, emotion - it's intended to complement or supplement the human element."