fbpx
27 Jun

A Digital Wimbledon – Interview with Alexandra Willis

We caught up with Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content and Digital at England Lawn Tennis Club, to discuss how the digital has been disrupting the fan experience at Wimbledon over the past years. Moreover, Alexandra has achieved industry-wide recognition in her use of technology to transform the perceptions of a traditional brand in her role at Wimbledon. She has led Wimbledon to become one of the most well-respected digital brands in sport.

Alexandra you previously described the less valuable customers as the individuals who go quickly passed a piece of Wimbledon content and continued by saying, “it doesn’t mean they’re not not valuable, making it all relative and therefore giving the challenge of scalability.” So, how have you identified these types of customers, who are they and what measures and approaches have you taken to work on that scalability?

It’s essential to understand that every member of our foundation is important to us since everything that is quantifiable and qualifiable is valuable to us. We have been trying to do is prove some type of return on investment in cultivating these audiences. So when I use the word value, I mean monetary value as opposed to value importance.

 

My point that I reference at the panel session is that the traditional way of attributing some monetary value to people would be to look at where they are spending the longest time with us. For example, traditional TV viewer is spending the most amount of time with us. Therefore, it’s easy to say they are the most financially valuable because that directly contributes to our TV rights.

 

Moreover, the point I was making is that those individuals in certain territories who exist in a different generation, different territory, different consumption behavior, and how much time they are spending with us, it would, if you were to measure them in that way, it simply would not register on that value chain.

 

Nevertheless, my point is that they are actually incredibly valuable to us financially because they are in new territories, new demographics, new behavior patterns. So our perspective now focuses on what we are trying to achieve and not traditional valuation models which looks at TV rights first, and social media second. This challenging the industry to come up with ways that attribute monetary value across media platforms.

 

Moreover, you also talked about the learning experience from the 2012 Olympics and how these large events actually understood that customer experience begins once the customer has taken that initial decision of attending the event. Therefore, how have you tried pushing that experience the best it can be?

 

We learnt a lot from London 2012. We have recognized that the fans appreciate hearing from us from the minute that they have purchased their ticket. Therefore, we have enhanced our communications for pre-visits. Everyone receives a personalized commitment of issue from Wimbledon, in advance their visit at regular intervals.

 

The type of content that appears in these communications varies depending on the time. For example, three months out we are not going to necessarily be talking to people about the booking car parking because they’re just not thinking about booking car parking. But a week before when they’re actually thinking how they are going to get there, it is a great time to be communicating those options to the customers.

 

Have you been looking at new angles to capture footage within the tennis environments? I believe the 360 cameras in the middle of the tennis net was a great success.

 

Yes absolutely. We now look after the host broadcast of Wimbledon. On one of the things that it provides us is more control over where we can be capturing those images and which different aspects or angles on, not only the match, but generally on the whole ground are going to help enhance the storytelling of Wimbledon. We’re challenging ourselves to say which parts of this site should we be bringing to life and what’s the best way of doing that.

 

Moreover, have you seen a trend moving towards more audience focused footage during broadcasting?

 

As for the fans, they are a really important part of the Wimbledon story and the way that they react to what’s happening on the court. The way that the people support particular countries or particular players is very important for us to show the role that they play because of the atmosphere at Wimbledon is one of its most unique aspect.

 

Moving on to the emerging Chinese market which has had high contribution to general Wimbledon statistics. My first question would simply be, what approaches have been taken for the time difference with China?

For a number of years, we’ve recognized that we need to have a bespoke content strategy for China to speed channels to service that content strategy, so we’ve been on Weibo & WeChat for a number of years. We also have a partnership with a Chinese organization to basically be the digital home of Wimbledon in China.

 

Those teams are working to the Chinese time of day and time of engagement. So, when they begin the coverage of Wimbledon at the beginning of every day they’re not talking about what’s coming up today that all the Chinese fans are not going to be able to watch because you’re asleep. Therefore, they’re trying to talk about it more in the shape of “These are the interesting stories that developed overnight. We recognize you’re going to miss the initial part of these matches but when you wake up this is what you might likely wake up to. It’s really trying to put the content in the context to what they’re experiencing, rather than just saying Wimbledon is something very London centric in its approach.

 

You have been putting a lot of work within the Chinese market, what have been some of the challenges penetrating that market?

 

One challenge is definitely understanding the variances in what Chinese fans are interested in. We spent a lot of time trying to better understand our audience of what the motivating factors are for their interest in Wimbledon. For some fans, it’s tennis and for other fans it’s individual players, for others it’s the success of people from your country, for others it’s the celebrities and the more populist approach, for other fans it’s the broader Wimbledon experience. The challenge has been understanding that and testing the market to try and understand what it is that is most interest to them.

 

We also need to find the right ways of educating the Chinese audience at the same time. We are fully aware that if you grow up in the UK really understand why Wimbledon is different and why it is a special tournament. If you’ve grown up in other parts of the world you don’t necessarily have that same level of understanding. Why is it played on grass? Why do the players wear white? Why are strawberries and cream so important. It’s been trying to get that balance between the two, but I think sometimes we don’t necessarily get that balance right now.

 

The other challenge also is it is it is absolutely the language, and we rely on people to help us understand how the market is reacting to what we’re doing. We’re thankful that we have great partners that help us do very that.

 

Due to the location of Wimbledon, I understand it is a challenge to transmit certain Wimbledon values to the Chinese audience such as the white-clothing and strawberries, nevertheless what communication channels and methods have you been using to reach them?

 

Yeah. We’ve tried to understand the trends and content consumption. The ability to create rich interactive content with each HTML5. We created a chatbot ‘Spot the Ball Game’ two years ago for WeChat. We’ve tried to understand and reflect the not always beautifully clean imagery but try and reflect that in in a way that appeals to the Chinese audience. Also, we really try to leverage Chinese players. We’ve tried to get time and we have succeeded in getting time with the stars like Li Na, Zheng Jie, because we know that it’s a really important part of the narrative.

 

With these players in mind, how much potential do you see from the market in China? Is there anything that the Chinese people should do to improve and make the Chinese market more developed?

 

Positively we understand that there is an appetite for Wimbledon and audiences are growing slowly. We think that we are having success but we’re trying to understand how we extend the window beyond just two weeks at Wimbledon. So, taking advantage of some of the build-up and some of that narrative and similarly doing the same in the week of Wimbledon actually celebrating the successes of what’s been happening.

 

The other thing that we’re doing is trying to fold this into a broader strategy for grass court tennis. We have schools and we are also working with the Chinese Tennis Association. We also have some junior tournaments “Road to Wimbledon” in China for the last three years, trying to show the Chinese audience that the young generation of players growing up, that grass is the surface that they should aspire to play on and we want to try and help them become the best grass court tennis players that they can be so that they have success and that they dream of growing up having success at Wimbledon.

 

Relating to the previous question, are there any other activities primarily held in China?

 

We’ve worked quite closely with the British government in China around their campaign which is all about celebrating the best of British and why that’s valuable to the Chinese market. We’ve done a couple of events working with the British embassy in Beijing. We also recently took a stand at the ‘best of British exhibition’ event that was in Shanghai. Hence, it’s finding moments to bring to life the Wimbledon story where people are going to be interested in it.

 

Lastly, do you see any radical changes Wimbledon might go through in the next five years? Meanwhile do you think you think we will be seeing more upcoming technologies similar to AI, virtual reality and others in Wimbledon in the next few years

 

Don’t think there will be a major change. What we say about change at Wimbledon is that on the surface it looks like a flop on and underneath there is some ferocious paddling. The appearance of change will be subtle, but the actual pace and rate of change underneath will be quite significant. That is because Wimbledon recognizes that the world is changing and for it to not just remain relevant but exceed its relevance, we need to continue to adapt and recognize what our foundation expects from us.

 

We’ve have already used and done a lot with AI. In last two years we had chatbots, and AI generated highlights. Our hosting and security are also based on AI. We additionally did trials with virtual reality for the last two years. We are making use of it only where it makes sense to do so.

 

We would like to express our greatest appreciation to Alexandra Willis’s availability for sharing her knowledge whilst showing us how Wimbledon and her colleagues are pushing for innovation within fan engagement.

Quentin Patrouillard

Quentin P. is a master’s student at Loughborough University London, studying Sports Business and Innovation with a background in Marketing and Economics. He is supporting the F.I.S.T.

Jiahui Yin

Jiahui Yin is a master’s student at Loughboro

We caught up with Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content and Digital at England Lawn Tennis Club, to discuss how the digital has been disrupting the fan experience at Wimbledon over the past years. Moreover, Alexandra has achieved industry-wide recognition in her use of technology to transform the perceptions of a traditional brand in her role at Wimbledon. She has led Wimbledon to become one of the most well-respected digital brands in sport.

 

Alexandra you previously described the less valuable customers as the individuals who go quickly passed a piece of Wimbledon content and continued by saying, “it doesn’t mean they’re not not valuable, making it all relative and therefore giving the challenge of scalability.” So, how have you identified these types of customers, who are they and what measures and approaches have you taken to work on that scalability?

It’s essential to understand that every member of our foundation is important to us since everything that is quantifiable and qualifiable is valuable to us. We have been trying to do is prove some type of return on investment in cultivating these audiences. So when I use the word value, I mean monetary value as opposed to value importance.

 

My point that I reference at the panel session is that the traditional way of attributing some monetary value to people would be to look at where they are spending the longest time with us. For example, traditional TV viewer is spending the most amount of time with us. Therefore, it’s easy to say they are the most financially valuable because that directly contributes to our TV rights.

 

Moreover, the point I was making is that those individuals in certain territories who exist in a different generation, different territory, different consumption behavior, and how much time they are spending with us, it would, if you were to measure them in that way, it simply would not register on that value chain.

 

Nevertheless, my point is that they are actually incredibly valuable to us financially because they are in new territories, new demographics, new behavior patterns. So our perspective now focuses on what we are trying to achieve and not traditional valuation models which looks at TV rights first, and social media second. This challenging the industry to come up with ways that attribute monetary value across media platforms.

 

Moreover, you also talked about the learning experience from the 2012 Olympics and how these large events actually understood that customer experience begins once the customer has taken that initial decision of attending the event. Therefore, how have you tried pushing that experience the best it can be?

 

We learnt a lot from London 2012. We have recognized that the fans appreciate hearing from us from the minute that they have purchased their ticket. Therefore, we have enhanced our communications for pre-visits. Everyone receives a personalized commitment of issue from Wimbledon, in advance their visit at regular intervals.

 

The type of content that appears in these communications varies depending on the time. For example, three months out we are not going to necessarily be talking to people about the booking car parking because they’re just not thinking about booking car parking. But a week before when they’re actually thinking how they are going to get there, it is a great time to be communicating those options to the customers.

 

Have you been looking at new angles to capture footage within the tennis environments? I believe the 360 cameras in the middle of the tennis net was a great success.

 

Yes absolutely. We now look after the host broadcast of Wimbledon. On one of the things that it provides us is more control over where we can be capturing those images and which different aspects or angles on, not only the match, but generally on the whole ground are going to help enhance the storytelling of Wimbledon. We’re challenging ourselves to say which parts of this site should we be bringing to life and what’s the best way of doing that.

 

Moreover, have you seen a trend moving towards more audience focused footage during broadcasting?

 

As for the fans, they are a really important part of the Wimbledon story and the way that they react to what’s happening on the court. The way that the people support particular countries or particular players is very important for us to show the role that they play because of the atmosphere at Wimbledon is one of its most unique aspect.

 

Moving on to the emerging Chinese market which has had high contribution to general Wimbledon statistics. My first question would simply be, what approaches have been taken for the time difference with China?

For a number of years, we’ve recognized that we need to have a bespoke content strategy for China to speed channels to service that content strategy, so we’ve been on Weibo & WeChat for a number of years. We also have a partnership with a Chinese organization to basically be the digital home of Wimbledon in China.

 

Those teams are working to the Chinese time of day and time of engagement. So, when they begin the coverage of Wimbledon at the beginning of every day they’re not talking about what’s coming up today that all the Chinese fans are not going to be able to watch because you’re asleep. Therefore, they’re trying to talk about it more in the shape of “These are the interesting stories that developed overnight. We recognize you’re going to miss the initial part of these matches but when you wake up this is what you might likely wake up to. It’s really trying to put the content in the context to what they’re experiencing, rather than just saying Wimbledon is something very London centric in its approach.

 

You have been putting a lot of work within the Chinese market, what have been some of the challenges penetrating that market?

 

One challenge is definitely understanding the variances in what Chinese fans are interested in. We spent a lot of time trying to better understand our audience of what the motivating factors are for their interest in Wimbledon. For some fans, it’s tennis and for other fans it’s individual players, for others it’s the success of people from your country, for others it’s the celebrities and the more populist approach, for other fans it’s the broader Wimbledon experience. The challenge has been understanding that and testing the market to try and understand what it is that is most interest to them.

 

We also need to find the right ways of educating the Chinese audience at the same time. We are fully aware that if you grow up in the UK really understand why Wimbledon is different and why it is a special tournament. If you’ve grown up in other parts of the world you don’t necessarily have that same level of understanding. Why is it played on grass? Why do the players wear white? Why are strawberries and cream so important. It’s been trying to get that balance between the two, but I think sometimes we don’t necessarily get that balance right now.

 

The other challenge also is it is it is absolutely the language, and we rely on people to help us understand how the market is reacting to what we’re doing. We’re thankful that we have great partners that help us do very that.

 

Due to the location of Wimbledon, I understand it is a challenge to transmit certain Wimbledon values to the Chinese audience such as the white-clothing and strawberries, nevertheless what communication channels and methods have you been using to reach them?

 

Yeah. We’ve tried to understand the trends and content consumption. The ability to create rich interactive content with each HTML5. We created a chatbot ‘Spot the Ball Game’ two years ago for WeChat. We’ve tried to understand and reflect the not always beautifully clean imagery but try and reflect that in in a way that appeals to the Chinese audience. Also, we really try to leverage Chinese players. We’ve tried to get time and we have succeeded in getting time with the stars like Li Na, Zheng Jie, because we know that it’s a really important part of the narrative.

 

With these players in mind, how much potential do you see from the market in China? Is there anything that the Chinese people should do to improve and make the Chinese market more developed?

 

Positively we understand that there is an appetite for Wimbledon and audiences are growing slowly. We think that we are having success but we’re trying to understand how we extend the window beyond just two weeks at Wimbledon. So, taking advantage of some of the build-up and some of that narrative and similarly doing the same in the week of Wimbledon actually celebrating the successes of what’s been happening.

 

The other thing that we’re doing is trying to fold this into a broader strategy for grass court tennis. We have schools and we are also working with the Chinese Tennis Association. We also have some junior tournaments “Road to Wimbledon” in China for the last three years, trying to show the Chinese audience that the young generation of players growing up, that grass is the surface that they should aspire to play on and we want to try and help them become the best grass court tennis players that they can be so that they have success and that they dream of growing up having success at Wimbledon.

 

Relating to the previous question, are there any other activities primarily held in China?

 

We’ve worked quite closely with the British government in China around their campaign which is all about celebrating the best of British and why that’s valuable to the Chinese market. We’ve done a couple of events working with the British embassy in Beijing. We also recently took a stand at the ‘best of British exhibition’ event that was in Shanghai. Hence, it’s finding moments to bring to life the Wimbledon story where people are going to be interested in it.

 

Lastly, do you see any radical changes Wimbledon might go through in the next five years? Meanwhile do you think you think we will be seeing more upcoming technologies similar to AI, virtual reality and others in Wimbledon in the next few years

 

Don’t think there will be a major change. What we say about change at Wimbledon is that on the surface it looks like a flop on and underneath there is some ferocious paddling. The appearance of change will be subtle, but the actual pace and rate of change underneath will be quite significant. That is because Wimbledon recognizes that the world is changing and for it to not just remain relevant but exceed its relevance, we need to continue to adapt and recognize what our foundation expects from us.

 

We’ve have already used and done a lot with AI. In last two years we had chatbots, and AI generated highlights. Our hosting and security are also based on AI. We additionally did trials with virtual reality for the last two years. We are making use of it only where it makes sense to do so.

 

We would like to express our greatest appreciation to Alexandra Willis’s availability for sharing her knowledge whilst showing us how Wimbledon and her colleagues are pushing for innovation within fan engagement.

 

Quentin Patrouillard

 

Quentin P. is a master’s student at Loughborough University London, studying Sports Business and Innovation with a background in Marketing and Economics. He is supporting the F.I.S.T.

 

Jiahui Yin

Jiahui Yin is a master’s student at Loughborough University London, studying Sports Business and Innovation with a background in Editing and Publishing New Media. Loughborough University London, studying Sports Business and Innovation with a background in Editing and Publishing New Media.