Wimbledon: content monetization takes centre court

Wimbledon’s innovative approach to content distribution is changing the game, transforming the tournament’s relationship with it’s audience.

REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Chaymae Samir |  Aug 01, 2019

For the first time since the tournament’s inception, Wimbledon will use its archive footage to reach new fans and win over more sponsors. While rooted in tradition, the competition’s contemporary approach to content distribution can teach us so much more about monetizing video and transforming relationships with modern audiences. 

This year, Wimbledon scored 210 million video views during the Championships, more than 10 times the amount of views in 2016. Its formerly non-existent social media following has today surpassed the 11 million mark. 

In fact, and for the past year, the sports tournament has been undergoing a brand transformation in an effort to democratize the event and speak to a wider audience. The changes to its tone of voice and graphics has eliminated the perception that the event is only for the rich and famous, being more representative of the modern game and its diversity, both on and off of the court. 

But for sports publishers and rights owners, relying on an impressive fan count to increase attendance to events and subsequently inflate the value of sponsorship deals is no longer enough. This year, the target has been to stop audiences thinking of Wimbledon as a two-week event and consider it instead as part of a six-week season, by stretching the content activation period. Just after the French Open ended, content was published on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Tik Tok

These platforms are attractive in terms of marketing opportunities because they draw more fans to the event. But ultimately, the more content the AELTC (All England Lawn Tennis Club) can share over a longer period, the stronger the case for sponsorship and monetization beyond TV.

Match Point for archives

“Looking at it from our own marketing point of view, that means we’ve got people engaging with Wimbledon over a longer period, engaging with it more. But crucially, from a commercial perspective – which I obviously have to keep an eye on – what it means is that our partners and our broadcasters are buying richer rights.”

This year’s pilot project ‘Rematch’, recreated historical matches from 1980. More than 100+ pieces of content were distributed through Rematch and Wimbledon’s own channels building up to the final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. The archives published consisted of recaps of new newspaper clippings, live performance at Wembley, Instagram stories of the actual footage from those days and many other immersive events. 

The plan for next year is to repurpose and sell these archives to other markets, specifically broadcasters that already show the tournament: BeIN SPort in France and the Middle East, Telefonica in Spain and NHK in Japan.

“We want to try and take the event to other markets so that it has an international presence,” said Ralley, “Ideally, we’d be working with one of our global partners as an activation platform in a market where we’re able to take the event to a broadcaster.” 

Wimbledon’s behaviour is almost like a media owner rather than a rights owner. From tailored brand partnerships to creating a much more robust commercial model, the tournament has been able to build out its capabilities in content creation, distribution and monetization, ultimately bringing the Wimbledon experience to a more global, diverse and engaged audience.

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‘Grand Slam’ audience refinement

“Traditionally the interpretation of fandom is willingness to pay. Today, it’s willingness to have a relationship”

Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s Head of Digital and Content

Wimbledon still makes 50% of its £256.7 million ($286.3 million) turnover in the year to July 2018, through TV broadcasting rights (the BBC in the UK and ESPN in the US). But in most developed countries, traditional TV viewing is declining by 100–150 hours annually, while viewing on mobile devices is increasing by 200–300 hours annually. 

In the UK, over 50% of mobile devices viewing (as opposed to messaging) is sports-related, and 70% of this is short-form (less than five minutes’ long). In other words, TV audiences for sporting events are shrinking and brands like Wimbledon, need to adapt fast

According to Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s Head of Digital and Content, the foundations of their marketing strategy lie in its audience segmentation:

  • True tennis lovers: People who have a deep passion for the sport and watch Wimbledon for its quality and particular style of tennis. These are the people most likely to watch all Grand Slam championships and line up for days to get tickets.
  • Sporting fanatics: Those that tune in because they like watching elite sports of all varieties and believe that Wimbledon is the finest in its category.
  • Social fans: People that participate in the Wimbledon dialogue as they feel it’s culturally significant, akin to Royal weddings and other notable societal events.
  • Patriotic types: Those — especially English people — who enjoy Wimbledon as they are proud of the event and as such, enjoy being a part of the tournament in some way.
  • Two-weekers: People who aren’t typically tennis fans, but become immersed only in this specific tournament, much like those that become soccer fans during the World Cup.
  • Passive viewers: Those that don’t express a particular interest in the tournament but could potentially get caught up in the action, especially as the tournament progresses.

Wimbledon is thus dedicated to connecting with its audience in a way that matters, based on the understanding that everything has a shelf life, and that its content exists beyond the play showcased in actual matches. The most-viewed clip of 2017 illustrates this point; This 2:10 clip shows Kim Clijsters inviting a noisy spectator to join her on court and dressing the man in her Wimbledon white kit, that includes a skirt.  

While tennis still takes centre stage, the shift in how audiences consume content pushed Wimbledon to stream highlights and short-form packages. This year, they even partnered with short-form video platform Tik Tok for the first time. 

“TikTok provides a brilliant opportunity for sports properties to showcase some of the character, personality, and humour of sport beyond the match action.“

Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s Head of Digital and Content

TikTok and the AELTC encouraged creators on the platform to put their spin on Wimbledon throughout the tournament and post it under hashtag #JoinTheStory, to tie in with Wimbledon’s broader marketing campaign. Best-performing content to date includes a mash-up of Nick Kyrgios to Dreadlock Holiday, and Mariah Carey’s ‘Through the Rain’ to the clip of the exploding sprinkler.

Playing doubles with content marketing

“Clickbait isn’t consistent with the Wimbledon way. Often, the first point of contact people have is with a piece of content. This is the foundation of our commercial model: it’s based on our audience. We need to nurture and grow that audience year after year.’’ 

Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s Head of Digital and Content

Wimbledon reaches its segments through a blend of digital, social media and broadcast. This ecosystem isn’t a novelty for many publishers, but the distinction is made when comparing Wimbledon with other sports events, providing a case study of a content marketing versus a clickbait strategy.

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Jed Leicester/Pool via Reuters

Most sports related events and publishers focus on a ‘clickbait’ approach, maximising eyeballs on ads and extending their platform for the athletes’ kits, the stadium, the streaming platforms. and more. By contrast, Wimbledon controls exposure of other brands because it believes in the primacy of its own content: of its 13 sponsors, only four are visible on court. “Only great content will command attention” says Willis.  

Wimbledon’s content strategy ensures they not only cover the live event but also tap into the brand’s DNA, serving up storytelling and experiential marketing. The interest in working with brands lies in more than the financial reward but rather, which partners can take the Wimbledon brand to a global audience 

“The fee is always going to be important. We’re not going to pretend that it isn’t. But more and more now, when we’re taking these partnerships to our board, they’re equally interested in how these brands are going to activate and take Wimbledon to a broader audience in key markets as they are in the financial side, really.” 

James Ralley, Wimbledon’s Head of Marketing and Commercial

As more people continue to value experiences over material items, the opportunity for brands to connect more deeply with consumers through engaging content is far better suited to the digital age, in which attention is a scarce resource. Monetising it is another challenging set. Wills admits that measuring a return on the investment of Wimbledon’s digital content is no easy task as ‘’there is no consistent metric for engagement.’’

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) is demonstrating that, despite its image of tradition, it is becoming a publisher in their own right, properly profiting from their digital assets and adapting their commercial strategy. While TV represents the biggest source of income for Wimbledon, notably the UK and USA provide the majority of that income, the AELTC is looking for new ways to grow interest, awareness, and revenues, outside their current Anglo-centric heartlands. 

Wimbledon is hoping that these changes will help raise the value of its broadcasting contracts and open new markets, covering Colombia, India, Turkey and some smaller European countries. By investing in its audience and taking control of its content, the tennis tournament aims to be more appealing to broadcasters, potential sponsors and fans because the financial reward will only come if Wimbledon is able to show that it can deliver a large and diverse customer base for its partners. 

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