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IBM extends Wimbledon deal, creates integrated team with AELTC

An IBM technician at work with screens showing IBM's AI-generated highlights at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Global technology company IBM and the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the organisers of the Wimbledon Championships, have extended their 30-year relationship with a new long-term contract.

IBM has been working with Wimbledon since 1990, as it has with fellow ‘Grand Slam’ the US Open, which designates the role as ‘technology supplier and consultant’.

The AELTC declined to comment on the deal’s duration when contacted by SportBusiness. The current US Open deal runs for five years, from 2017 to 2021.

The 2020 Wimbledon Championships were cancelled by the AELTC in April because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In contrast, the US Open is still expected to go ahead behind closed doors in August, player concerns notwithstanding.

Despite the hiatus in live action at Wimbledon, IBM said the next phase of the sponsorship will centre on driving value from innovation, with IBM’s digital transformation, AI and cloud capabilities.

The new model will see the AELTC invest in IBM’s capabilities to deliver “the foundational elements of the digital backbone of The Championships” – and restructure the relationship so that IBM’s expertise is effectively brought in-house.

IBM said: “To continue to stay at the forefront of world sport, the AELTC understands the need to both grow overall audience size and attract a higher percentage to its owned digital properties.

“This means being able to move swiftly to the next phase of their digital evolution, delivering compelling digital experiences to all their guests (fans, players, media and more) at scale.

“When your platforms must scale 55,000 per cent during an event for a global audience of 20 million, you need to make sure they are delivered right first time.”

As part of the new model, IBM has established a dedicated workstream, staffed by both IBM and AELTC experts. This ‘one team’ approach will use the collective industry expertise of both parties, IBM said.

The integrated team will focus on the delivery of a “continuous stream of innovations” and ensure “the continued progression of Wimbledon’s digital transformation” while integrating IBM’s technology “in an assured, flexible and scalable” way.

This next-phase model has already been tested with the conception and delivery of a digital recreation of The Championships in eight weeks to fill the gap left by the cancellation of this year’s tournament.

This includes an enhanced digital experience for fans to explore unique content around ‘The Greatest Championships’ and tailor the way they watch these matches.

According to a recent YouGov survey of 2,000 UK adults commissioned by IBM, Wimbledon is the second most-watched live sports event on TV in the UK, with 60 per cent having watched live action, just behind the Olympics (62 per cent) and just ahead of the Fifa World Cup (59 per cent).