The Pursuit of Greatness: How Wimbledon sets the pace for Global Sports Events

Whilst many rightsholders continue to hunt high and low for new partners in this soft UK marketplace, Wimbledon will have celebrated their continued success on and off the court once the last point of 2018 was played. Here are four reasons why I think The AELTC continues to go from strength to strength:

1/ The strength of the Wimbledon brand

As Wimbledon celebrates its 150th year anniversary, you really get the sense that the AELTC understands where it has come from, but equally as importantly, knows where it is going. Heritage is an easy play for lots of ‘traditional’ brands and Wimbledon recognise that the beautifully kept grass courts, all-white dress code and manicured grounds all play to its quintessentially British image. But they also know that to survive in this ever-competitive sporting landscape they must continually adapt, evolve and innovate to remain one of the leading events in not just tennis, but in world sport. Their ‘Pursuit of Greatness’ positioning shows a humble and relentless hunger to improve and also respects their distinguished history and crucially, Wimbledon are able to back this up. No wonder plenty of brands want to align themselves with this enviable status.

2/ The focus on improving the Wimbledon experience

Wimbledon is committed to reinvesting their profits to improve the overall fan experience and once the impressive £70m roof for Court One is in place for next year’s Championship, then their Debenture and Hospitality proposition will be even stronger (as all-day play is guaranteed on two show courts). It might therefore be tempting for the AELTC to sell out the tournament without the need to release tickets each day for fans who have joined ‘The Queue’ but this lovely tradition is part of the essence of the tournament. The Queue gives the most committed of fans the chance to see the best players in the world and helps negate a potentially sterile atmosphere. Here at Synergy, we talk a lot about the rise of the ‘experience economy’ and the ongoing status of The Queue gives many fans a spontaneous and memorable experience (before the tennis has even started) that they want to share with their friends and followers. It also has the added bonus of providing a captive audience that Wimbledon partners such as HSBC, Lavazza and Robinson’s can engage with.

Reports also suggest that Wimbledon is planning to treble in size if they can acquire a neighbouring golf course, which would allow them to bring their qualifying tournament on-site and welcome more than the current allocation of 40,000 fans each day – so clearly no resting on their laurels here.

3/ The desire to innovate with purpose

This year’s event also marked the debut of Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS) making the AELTC the new host broadcaster for multi-camera coverage on all 18 courts. This move will allow Wimbledon to take greater control over their own content and continue to grow their owned channels and also tailor their coverage to each market, particularly for those broadcasters without production capabilities. Speaking of their content, working closely with trusted partner IBM, this year Wimbledon have offered fans AI-powered highlights of the action. This AI engine recognised player emotions and movements with crowd reactions to curate instant reels of best bits across the hundreds of matches taking place. These innovations ultimately make Wimbledon more accessible to fans around the world and therefore benefit both the tournament and as importantly, the commercial family.

4/ The desire to create genuine partnerships with their sponsors

Wimbledon only take on partners who can provide mutually beneficial value back to the Championships and this stance forces partners to make a meaningful contribution to the overall event though VIK and activations. Sponsors recognise that there is a limited period around the two week Championship to make an impact and therefore closely work with the rightsholder (with a long planning window) to ensure their activity cuts through and adds value. These two factors go some way to explaining the stability of the commercial roster over an extended period. The addition of American Express will likely contribute to Wimbledon’s digital and innovation credentials as they inevitably move towards a cashless tournament (as well as offering high value rewards to their customers) and will therefore be a welcome fit.

It will be interesting to see how Wimbledon stays ahead of the competition in future years, but whilst they relentlessly pursue greatness with a long-term view then their future looks brighter than Roger Federer’s new Uniqlo whites.

Federer’s $300m Uniqlo deal shows that tennis sponsors are missing a trick

On the eve of Wimbledon, mainstream men’s tennis news was once again dominated by the same old names: Murray’s late withdrawal from the competition, Djokovic’s re-built serving action, Nadal’s lack of grass court preparation and, of course, Federer’s new bumper kit deal with Japanese brand Uniqlo.

This is no surprise to the casual tennis fan, for the Big Four in men’s tennis (regardless of Murray and Djokovic’s current rankings) are so entrenched in the tennis psyche that serious consideration to whom may one day replace them has yet to take place – but the times they are a changin’.

Federer’s deal with Uniqlo, a reported $300 million dollars over 10 years, may prove to good business, but even for the greatest tennis player of all time, securing a 10-year deal at the age of 36 is some coup. However, what’s undoubtedly a huge win for Federer should cause concern for the men and women in charge of developing the game, because it points to a lack of younger contenders whom would be worthy of receiving a much smaller pay cheque, with the promise of greater things to come.

In a surprising show of self-awareness, the ATP Tour has shown a clear willingness (and not an inconsiderable amount of time and money) in trying to address these concerns and allay fears that the sport is danger of a fallow period of talent.

This willingness has manifested itself into the #NextGenATP, a programme that aims to shine a light on the Tour’s best players aged 21 and under. Culminating in a season-ending tournament that mirrors the senior players’ ATP Tour Finals but with a combination of courtside innovations and dramatic rule changes all designed to grab the attention of a younger audience.

It’s fair to say the approach has had mixed results thus far, garnering huge criticism for the shockingly sexist NextGen Finals draw last season, and also receiving damning assessment from tour veteran Fabio Fognini, who slammed the perceived favouritism shown towards NextGen athletes at this year’s French Open.

To its critics then, the #NextGenATP is a false attempt to build up players who simply don’t carry the required skill to match or replace the old guard. Yet the numbers don’t lie, and a simple look at the stats should cause enough concern to understand why they’ve taken this action.

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th on the all-time list of career prize money, and if sport is built on rivalry and competition, the recent period of unequalled consistency in men’s tennis is hard to beat. Nadal and Djokovic have played each other 51 times alone, victories split 26-25 in the Serbs favour, with the players regularly producing the kind of matches that fans, broadcasters and sponsors dream of.

Yet despite their individual brilliance and collective pulling power, the Big Four can’t go on forever. Names such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, aged 19, ATP ranking 35, Frances Tiafoe, aged 20, ATP ranking 52 and Felix Auger Aliassime, aged just 17 with an ATP ranking of 152, may lack of current media profile of the current crop, but possess the game, looks and attitude to flourish both on and off the court.

Time will eventually defeat even Federer but with the ATP Tour announcing record attendance levels at the most recent Tour Finals in London and Amazon outbidding Sky for the exclusive Tour TV rights, they are rightly keen to keep the momentum going and supporting the next generation of players is the only way to go.

There is then unrealised potential in the market for a forward-thinking sponsor. Next generation athletes who are social media savvy alongside a helping hand from a governing body in need of new stars points to a clear opportunity at a far lower investment level.

So, although the old guard won’t go down without a fight, it’s a matter of when, not if, the Big Four finally depart and when they do the fight for supremacy will be played out as fiercely by competing sponsors as the young guns on the court.