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New extension of long relationship puts IBM at heart of Wimbledon’s expansion

(Photo by Chris Gorman/Getty Images)

The 30-year relationship between Wimbledon and tech company IBM will become even closer under a new deal announced this month.

The ‘Official Supplier of Information Technology and Consultancy’ deal with the All England Club (AELTC), the rights-holder for the grand slam event, is believed to be of a similar duration to the previous deal, which ran over five years from 2015 to 2019.

It was negotiated for the club by AELTC commercial and media director Mick Desmond, head of commercial and brand James Ralley and head of digital Alexandra Willis. Noah Syken, IBM vice-president, sports and entertainment partnerships (global sponsorships) and Sam Seddon, the IBM Sports and Entertainment Sponsorship lead for the UK, represented the brand. No agency was involved.

The structure of the deal took months to negotiate and was “not signed because it was the easy thing to do” between two well-established partners, Ralley told SportBusiness.

It follows an agreement that showcased IBM Watson machine learning and artificial intelligence tools in the curation of highlights from multiple matches, among other services.

According to Ralley the new deal is “broader but more focused”, giving IBM the opportunity to work with on-site developments at the club, along with its role in the design and management of the Wimbledon website, app and digital content production.

The shape of the new contract relates, in particular, to increased connectivity across the existing site and stadium infrastructure, along with the development of an area of land – a former golf course – purchased by the club in December 2018, which forms the basis for the club’s next major investment project.

The site will increase the venue’s footprint to accommodate players, spectators, broadcasters and media.

“From a venue perspective, we’re elevating the guest experience and IBM’s technology and innovation will play a key role in that, acting as a bridge between the virtual and physical experience,” said Ralley.

“We will get access to the IBM talent pool working on the whole experience, not just the website, but the on-site experience too. It gives IBM something to focus on…and ownership of an area of The Championships. From a partnership perspective the relationship is so strong.”

In order to fulfil the club’s wider ambitions, there will be more “collaboration and co-funding” between the two partners, with an IBM team integrated with the AELTC teams on a permanent basis.

Under the previous contract, IBM staff worked on-site and remotely to design and manage the website, with numbers scaling up around the tournament. The new arrangement will see IBM and Wimbledon identify opportunities for innovation all-year round.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but it is understood to be an uplift on the previous deal, put by industry experts at between €5m ($5.6m) and €7m per year in cash and services.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The agreement, said Ralley, is important to Wimbledon because of the continuity of expertise it delivers to the club. Across the previous two deals, the IBM relationship has moved from one of “services provider with nice branding” to one of greater ambition, involving access to the company’s top talent in Atlanta, the southeastern headquarters for IBM in the US.

For IBM, Wimbledon’s global footprint is thought to be greater than any other grand slam, including the US Open, where IBM also operates as the official IT supplier and consultant in a five-year deal from 2017 to 2021.