With average tennis fan in their 60s, how can Wimbledon court a younger audience?
As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, tennis expert Clifford Bloxham of athlete representation and brand marketing agency Octagon asks whether the introduction of Wimbledon to the metaverse and tennis stars in Snapchat AR is enough to grow and captivate a younger crowd.
Roblox’s Wimbleworld / Wimbledon
The BBC reported an all-time high viewership for Wimbledon this year, with over 53.8m streams, leaving little doubt as to the appeal of this global tournament. With the age of tennis audiences averaging 61, however, interest in the game risks a downward trajectory unless attention from younger generations can pivot a turnaround in this aging sport.
Appealing to a younger generation is not as simple as introducing the sport to the metaverse or implementing social media campaigns (Roblox’s Wimbleworld and video calls with Emma Raducanu in Snapchat AR). To captivate Gen Z, we must ignite enthusiasm for the sport as a whole. And the Wimbledon Championships is the ultimate catalyst to do this. Its status has the potential to not only inspire live attendance and remote viewing of the sport, but also encourage excitement around participating in the sport too. And both must play in tandem to be successful in recruiting young tennis fans and players alike.
This is a key factor both Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) recognize. Both entities understand the need to appeal to the younger generation and are working collectively and independently to achieve the same objective. For example, we’ve seen the LTA utilize a large proportion of the £44m surplus from the 2021 Wimbledon Championships for the development of youth and community tennis throughout Great Britain. And Wimbledon itself is fortunate to have commercial partners that also recognize the importance of reaching the next generation, making it a key pillar of activation strategies. Examples of these initiatives include:
Vodafone has introduced the ‘Play your way to Wimbledon’ competition. This will see junior tennis players from across Great Britain taking part in a national grassroots tournament culminating in the opportunity to actually play at Wimbledon.
Oppo, in line with its ‘inspiration ahead’ campaign theme, developed a highly motivational activation featuring Britain’s Francesca Jones in a truly inspiring digital advertising film that was used across multiple platforms to support the brand’s partnership with Wimbledon.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has launched an inspiring new program called Youth Start, helping children aged 4 to 11 learn new life skills along with the basics of tennis. It’s the LTA’s most innovative program to date and includes the opportunity for a school to nominate a teacher to take an online basic tennis development course in return for £250 of free tennis equipment or free tennis coaching for their school.
Wimbledon’s current activation, ‘The Stage Awaits’, was developed to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Centre Court. It champions an animated film aimed at appealing to younger audiences alongside more traditional print and billboard advertising.
The presence of leading global brands such as Vodafone and Oppo putting their advertising spend behind campaigns to encourage a younger audience to both watch and play tennis will drastically help amplify Wimbledon’s and the LTA’s own initiatives. Timing is crucial and tennis in the UK and at Wimbledon has never had such a good opportunity to embrace and capture the attention of future generations.
Up-and-coming younger players are also opening the doors of interest. Just look at Emma Raducanu. Her spellbinding success in winning the US Open at just 18 years old (after receiving her A-level results just a few weeks prior) was viewed by a live UK TV audience of 9.2 million viewers on Channel 4. It paved the way for the LTA to persuade the government to contribute an additional £22m to its already £8.4m commitment to refurbish 4,500 park tennis courts throughout the UK, with a particular focus on deprived areas.
Raducanu, as a pioneer of Gen Z success, has also attracted heavyweight corporate partners that believe in her future, such as Nike, Wilson, Dior, Tiffany, Evian, British Airways, Porsche, Vodafone and HSBC. All of them will be spending a proportion of their marketing and advertising budget building Raducanu’s profile and reaching that next generation.
The new defending Wimbledon Women’s Champion Elena Rybakina is also highly relatable to a younger audience. At just 23 years of age, she is the youngest Wimbledon winner since 2011. Adidas, Rybakina’s principal partner, alongside Yonex, focused on this key youth market segment in the important hour after she was crowned Wimbledon Champion, with a podcast show and answering fans’ Instagram questions.
Wimbledon and the LTA are not alone in recognizing the need to broaden the reach of the game. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tours both recognize the need to spark an interest in tennis within the youth culture. As with Wimbledon, these tours are spending a significant proportion of their promotional budget on digital content and securing broadcast deals with the likes of Amazon Prime to attract that younger crowd.
Most excitingly, filming has already begun on a new documentary series with Netflix following the top men’s and women’s tennis players through a series of tournaments. For the first time, fans will be able to share a year in the life of some of the world’s best tennis players as they journey around the world seeking to win on the sport’s biggest stages. If F1’s Drive to Survive success is any indication, this could be a game changer for enticing Gen Z involvement.
But this is just the beginning, and a lot more needs to be done to keep the momentum going and build on Wimbledon’s seasonal interest. Wimbledon could look to attract new younger audiences by introducing an after-school grounds pass for example, starting with a relatively small number of allocations but increasing as Wimbledon’s planned new courts come to fruition.
Wimbledon could also look to further develop ‘The Hill in New York’ concept, which was launched this year as a three-day event. It saw iconic ‘Henman Hill’ introduced into New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, allowing for 1,000 spectators a day to experience Wimbledon from one of its most famous vantage points. This initiative would be great to develop across major cities throughout the UK, alongside the opportunity for children to pick up a racket in the form of coaching or interactive play for example.
The great news for Wimbledon and tennis in the UK is that currently planned programs and activations are at the forefront of the next generation’s sporting interests. Both in active play initiatives as well as embracing immersive new technologies, the game of tennis is on track to tap into that much-needed younger crowd.
Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay at the top of their game.