In 2011, Wimbledon began to rethink its approach to China and in particular how it engaged with Chinese fans. Historically, promotion was pretty much limited to what its Chinese broadcast partners did to promote their coverage.
“There was a big gap in its global digital strategy at a time when interest in tennis was at an all-time high on the back of Li Na’s success,” says Lewis Hannam, founder of digital marketing agency Red Lantern Digital Media.
Red Lantern opened accounts for Wimbledon on Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. In the years since, it has moved focus away from Tencent Weibo and towards WeChat, as the former declined and the latter became the number one social platform.
“Year one was an exercise in learning about what content worked, what time of day worked and what experience fans were having from the broadcast of games,” says Hannam. “Social was a good monitoring tool for learning about common questions from Chinese fans like ‘Where can I watch a match?’”
Working within Wimbledon’s media centre and courtside, Red Lantern has a team of ten social media operators contributing live score updates, infographics and a social video diary to Weibo and WeChat. It developed a ‘spot the ball’ game for mobile via social media. About half of the content produced is now video or animated GIFs.
Content initially centred on Chinese star Li Na, but Chinese interest in tennis includes the top international players like Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.
Wimbledon’s history and British culture, which Chinese tourists are deeply interested in, are strongly referenced in the content.
Celebrities are also brought to the fore. A Weibo tweet about actor Tom Hiddleston making an appearance on centre court in 2015 was retweeted 2,000 times in 10 minutes.
As of October 2015, Wimbledon’s official Sina Weibo account had 50,000 followers, and it had 10,000 on WeChat.
After each tournament, the agency mines the accounts to provide the client with segmented fan data, showing where fans are geographically, their engagement patterns, what time of day they log on, what other interests they have, and more. This insight helped Wimbledon in its negotiation of a media rights deal this year with LeTV, reportedly the tournament’s most lucrative Chinese media rights deal to date.
“With this digital strategy, Wimbledon were able to demonstrate how popular the property is in China and showcase themselves as savvy to the Chinese market,” says Hannam.
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