The Championships at Wimbledon is the world’s oldest tennis tournament, first played in 1877. Wimbledon is also one of sport’s most instantly recognisable brands. Tradition is at the heart of that brand – the lush green lawns, the all-white dress code for players, the strawberries and cream, patronage by the members of the Royal Family, and the rain, are elements of the quintessential English summer.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) has also become one of the most innovative and forward-thinking sports event organisers, including in its digital and social media strategy.
Wimbledon puts out content on most major social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Vine, Weibo and WeChat. Between 2015 and 2016, Wimbledon’s followers across all social platforms grew from about 8m to about 10.5m.
In 2016, the AELTC won Best Digital Platform and Best Use of Social Media at UK industry event the BT Sport Industry Awards. Since March 2016, the strategy has been overseen by Alex Willis, the AELTC’s head of communications, content and digital.
Below, Willis provides an overview of a digital media strategy designed to ensure “the quality and image of the Club, the Championships and the Wimbledon brand are maintained, while growing reach, exposure and value through quality communication, storytelling and engagement.”
“We build up experience over the years in understanding which types of content work best on which platform and for our audience. We know, for example, that 10 minutes of highlights from one match during the middle of another really crucial match is not going to work. You have to really focus on the live event situation.
“We produce lots of types of content, including text, stats, animation, illustration and video.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 8, 2016
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 11, 2016
“It is about setting up the tools in advance and having this arsenal of stuff we can use and then empowering the team to think, in the moment, what is going to reflect that moment the best possible way. When Serena Williams wins, what do we want to do to celebrate that in the best possible way, and in a way most appropriate to the channel we are using?
“You have the preparation, the tools, the experience of what has worked well before and then it is down to natural gut instinct and intelligence of people in the team.
“It is about the creativity of thinking of ways to bring moments to life: the stuff we did with illustration, with animation, going beyond image, text and straight video, really proved its worth. It helped to bring in different people to the content and tell a really nice story of what we are trying to do with our brand.”
“We think of our content in three ‘buckets’. These are:
(i) Pre-planned – For example the ‘In Pursuit of Greatness’ content, which secured 25m views across all platforms. We made five films. The main launch film was shown two weeks before the start of the tournament and the other four released on specific days over the next two weeks.
(ii) Planned – This is for key events, where we know something is going to happen at some point. For example, we know that the defending champion is going to win at some point but you cannot schedule it to go out at a certain time on a certain day.
“It’s about holding the trophy”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2016
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2016
(iii) Reactive – Reacting to events which cannot be foreseen.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2016
Fastest serves in #Wimbledon history…
148mph – Taylor Dent
147mph – Milos Raonic, Sam Groth
146mph – Andy Roddick pic.twitter.com/JZkNxUIqPC
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2016
“Content has to be created for all three buckets and to provide a spread across all the social media platforms. We don’t want one platform to be just planned content, and another just reactive. There has to be an equal balance across all platforms. We also think about the time of day and the way people are receiving content (live, shared, catch-up etc).”
US public service broadcaster the BBC is the host broadcaster of the Championships. The IMG agency takes the host signal and produces a world broadcast feed for other broadcasters. The AELTC has six staff on the ground producing content for social media and one overseas creating content during the night, UK time.
“Video content for social media is about 30:70 or 40:60 in terms of the relationship between content adapted from the host feed and our original content. The content we create ourselves accounts for the majority, and clips taken from the host feed the minority.
“Digital video platform Grabyo is heavily involved in the production and delivery of the live content. It’s about how we turn around video as quickly as we can and get it out there in a live environment to celebrate and reflect what is going on in the moment. They are playing a greater role in the shared space. For example, this year we have integrated some content from them into the Live Stories on Snapchat. Those are highly shareable.
“Grabyo are not involved in the catch-up content. That is more us putting out long-form content later in the day. For highlights and clips we use online video provider Brightcove. We started to treat them as our default video library. Whether it is the highlights being created by IMG at Stockley Park [a production facility] or a video created by one of our videographers here on site, or by Grabyo, it all goes into Brightcove. It is the central repository that we distribute from.”
“We think video first, rather than just mobile first. Mobile is a really important channel but if you concentrate too much on mobile first you will limit the way you think about the content you are creating. We have always had, and continue to have, a creation-per-channel strategy. The evolution of video on these platforms has exacerbated the need for us to do that.
Live@Wimbledon on YouTube. A continuous live stream which allows users to dip in and out:
“When selecting the content for each platform, the choice is not just about the demographics of the platform audience but about the way the platform works. We create a piece of content and then ask, how do we adapt this for Facebook? As you know when you are going through Facebook a piece of video plays and you need to get people to stop and watch it. If you have got content which does not engage the person quickly, you will not get that person to stop and watch it.”
Clips on Facebook:
“We produced a video with [US technology company GoPro. It is tennis as you’ve never seen it before, with multiple angles, players wearing cameras, cameras in the net, and so on. The YouTube edit was a classic edit with introductory slate with slow start to the content, a build in the middle and then peaking at the end. It was designed to keep people and watching and engaged over a period of time. It was about four minutes long.”
GoPro video – YouTube versions:
“For Facebook, we re-edited it. We cut it in half, removed the intro slate and the journey to the piece of content, and started with a very visual piece of action. The way people scroll through their news feeds on Facebook means that you need something in your video that is going to make them stop. If there is an intro slate or anything that is not very emotional or engaging they will keep scrolling past it. We also put subtitles and captions on Facebook, acknowledging the fact that people will not necessarily have the sound on when they are browsing for stuff on mobile. Video is shorter. On Facebook people very rarely watch till the end. So we wanted to make the content peak at the beginning, as opposed to the middle or end.
GoPro video – Facebook version:
“If you put a bit of content on YouTube it is more likely people have actively searched for it and clicked on it. The way in which people use the platform is taken into consideration: are they just scrolling through a news feed, have they been sent a link etc? And this varies across the platforms.”
“Snapchat came on board in 2015, and was expanded and enhanced in 2016,” Willis says. “Serena Williams did a Snapchat takeover. This not only helped create exposure for a new platform we were using but helped create a nice relationship between us and the player. Unlike football teams or leagues, we have absolutely no hold over the players. We have to ask them if we want to do things with them.”
Snapchat signed a three-year partnership with the AELTC, from 2016 to 2018, under which the tournament will be showcased in the Snapchat Live section of the platform in the UK during the qualifying rounds and the main event itself. ‘Takeover’ days follow tennis stars at the tournament. On the opening and closing days of Wimbledon 2016, Snapchat provided exposure for the event as a Live Story on a global basis.
Twitter began a live streaming service during Wimbledon as part of its preparation for coverage of NFL American football. Wimbledon’s official Twitter account tweeted the live feed with the ‘Live@Wimbledon’ page offering a video stream pinned to the top of the page, with a rolling list of tournament-related tweets running alongside. It did not show live match footage. Twitter said: “This livestream is an extremely early and incomplete test experience, and we’ll be making lots of improvements before we launch it in its final form.”
“Twitter live streaming was new in 2016,” Willis says. “Being selected to be the first event to do that was a coup; it was early on in their development of that side of things.”
Commercial: costs v revenues
“Wimbledon’s main costs around its social media output are staff, production, platform and licence costs. With Grabyo, we work on a licence just for the month of the Championships. We have an annual licence with Brightcove, because video content lives year round.
“Revenues come from sharing advertising revenues and improved sponsorship deals. In terms of advertising, we brought two of our partners [Stella Artois and Häagen-Dazs] to the Snapchat Live stories. We did a small Twitter Amplify campaign with branding from Stella Artois. There is a strip of Rolex-branded content on our YouTube page.
“On our video content on YouTube there is no overt advertising, no pre-rolls, no sponsorship. It is absolutely critical that social is authentic to Wimbledon. We are trying to stretch the boundaries of this event, to innovate, take it beyond what people might think of it, but also keep it true to what it is.
“It would be inauthentic for us to be filling our digital and social content with a huge amount of advertising. If you gave our case to any business school, they would say that we could be making a lot more money off it. But that is not really the point. The point is to grow the presence of the brand, the understanding and appreciation of it. And to do so without desperately needing to commercialise every single piece of content.
“The incremental value generated by social media has made Wimbledon a more valuable commercial product, both for our official suppliers (sponsors) and broadcast partners.
“It absolutely makes a difference if you can say you have an audience of 10m on social media as opposed to 1m when you are trying to sell your brand to a sponsor. It can push the needle in those commercial discussions.”
The AELTC earned about $175m in global media rights revenue in 2015, according to research by TV Sports Markets. The championships have 13 official sponsors and suppliers, only four of whom – IBM, Rolex, Robinsons and Slazenger – have an on-court presence. The deals have different values according to the level of visibility and inventory available. According to research by Sports Sponsorship Insider, for example, beer brand Stella Artois and water brand Evian each pay $4m per season, while car maker Jaguar pays about $2.6m per season.
Informing content and scheduling with analytics
From the period immediately after Championships 2015 to after Championships 2016, the total number of social media followers for Wimbledon rose from 8m to 10.5m. These include: Facebook 3.6m; Twitter 2.4m; Instagram 898,000; Google+ 2.13m; and YouTube channel 148,041.
“All of us are dancing around the question: what is the value of the fan in social media? Not just in terms of what they go on and do – buying a piece of merchandise or a ticket; but what is the value of having that person engaged in you and your content?
“An area we are conscious of is trying to place a value on people’s time. Someone who is watching TV has made a conscious decision to give up their time and engage with your brand. There is a similar decision on social media but slightly less committed. Down the line we will probably have a much better understanding of what that is worth.
“Because we are an annual event the social media platforms do make the effort to provide us with reports. From Twitter, we got that there were 8bn impressions about Wimbledon last year, which was the fourth highest during that year, ahead of Rugby World Cup and ahead of the Super Bowl. That is obviously a fantastic thing for us to be able to go out and say.
“We have been looking actively for the last four years to see what the data actually means. We have used it a lot when trying to profile our growth in different markets, but also the growth in levels of engagement.
“We need to see what types of content perform well on each platform. The more you get back from the platform, the more you can do that. We are desperately in need of analytics from Instagram, for example. For Snapchat too.
“It is not just that social is reaching young people. Within that, it brackets down to different demographics. Snapchat and Instagram – U21s to U25s, people on Facebook and Twitter a little older. YouTube is used by everybody, but they are brought into it at different ages.
“We think a lot about time of day – in the morning make sure we are covering Australians and Asians, in the evenings Americans. We produce content overnight to cater for this.”
How Wimbledon targeted India with tailored digital content
India provides a good example of how social media activity can help build audiences for Wimbledon in specific territories.
“A couple of years ago we noticed we were getting a lot of pick-up on Facebook in India. A year or so later, that translated into India rising up on our digital platforms. You can join the dots a little: people were being brought into Wimbledon via Facebook and then we were able to convert them into becoming a bit more engaged and going into our digital platforms.
“In India, the triggers for the growth on social were:
1. We were going to India with our grassroots programme the Road to Wimbledon. So we were actively putting out content that was specific to India.
2. The success of Indian players during the Championships in 2015 [In 2015, Leander Paes won the mixed doubles title with Martina Hingis; Sania Mirza won the women’s doubles title, also with Hingis; Sumit Nagal won the boys’ doubles title with Nam Hoang Ly].
“Fans of those players are drawn into the Wimbledon social media environment. Last year, India became the number one audience on Facebook and in the top five on Twitter.
“They then want to continue to follow the tournament. And find ways to find out more. So this pushes them into our digital environment. We saw India go from outside the top 10 on social into the top 10, and a year later follow up by moving into the top 10 on digital (visiting our official website and app).
Examples of content relevant to an Indian audience: