For 50 weeks of the year tennis is a sport virtually ignored by the media and whilst we have not had a British singles champion at Wimbledon since 1977 the organisers of the world’s oldest tennis tournament tend to be far more prolific, consistently laying on a very successful display when it comes to marketing and branding the event.
I was fortunate enough to finally visit the championships last Saturday and thought I’d share my thoughts and observations around the power of brand Wimbledon and my customer experiences from the day with you.
Embracing its iconic traditions
When you hear the word Wimbledon what images are immediately conjured in your mind? SW19 as it is affectionately known by fans is a place rich in history and its brand personality is synonymous with quality, tradition and heritage. During Saturday’s visit it became clear to me that the event’s unique quirkiness: from the fans queuing outside in their thousands, to the smartly dressed line judges and immaculately kept water features is something the organisers are very mindful of and keen to preserve. Fulfilling that English summer idyll with the sight of freshly cut grass on a hot summer’s day accompanied by a jug of Pimms and strawberries with cream there really was something so quintessentially British about the place wherever I looked.
Building a sense of anticipation
As we joined the river of people queuing on Saturday morning to get into the championships I felt truly part of the Wimbledon experience. Having spent an hour or so queuing and with only slight progress towards the hallowed entrance gates I reflected that had I simply turned up with pre-purchased court tickets some of the anticipation that I was experiencing in the queue would have gone. That anticipation, along with the associated authenticity that I felt - ‘earning’ the right to go through the gates - definitely kept me going. Undoubtedly the organisers realise this, and, by printing and handing out a glossy 40-page booklet to those joining the queue titled “A Guide to Queuing for the Championships” and releasing tickets in strict daily quotas they create a sense of anticipation and drama for the fans waiting (will we or won’t we get in?). Would this daily anticipation exist if the tickets were available online? (as is the case with other major sporting events). As the media remind us on a daily basis throughout the fortnight it wouldn’t be Wimbledon without the queues and tents would it?!
All the magic of the theatre
After finally getting into the grounds and checking out some of the action on the outdoor courts we managed to get our hands on some coveted Centre Court tickets after yet more queuing. It seems on Saturday I had a real penchant for waiting around in queues! It was worth the wait i'm pleased to say. The atmosphere of Centre Court in the midst of a gripping match such as Saturday’s really was something special. For me this has as much to do with the nature of the game (as the cliché goes it is not over until the final point) as well as the tradition. Holding a seat on Centre Court I felt privileged due to the sense of occasion, proximity to the players and ability to witness at first-hand the sheer intensity of the dual whilst the whole spectacle was broadcast outside the arena to millions. I really felt part of the action and theatrical it most certainly was.
A subtle mix of advertising and branding
Having previously been to the US Open and watched the other majors on television I soon observed that Wimbledon was unlike the other big tennis tournaments commercially. Wimbledon’s marketers have clearly put a lot of hard work into finding its audience. There is very little advertising on display (the boards around Centre Court for example are free of advertising) and only a few sponsors enjoy any significant visual presence at the tournament allowing the event to retain a sense of subtly and class. I also noticed that the tournament doesn’t have any individual player branded products at all in its gift shop – not even brand Federer. This sense of balance and protection from obvious commercialisation really preserves a sense of class and prestige about the place (and of course allows the tournament to sell its own branded products without any direct competition).
Selective adoption of new media and technology
As a big fan of new media I also noticed many examples of how the organisers had selectively embraced innovation; the presence of Hawk Eye on the show courts, an interactive and regularly updated website and Wimbledon Live TV. All decisions it seems are made in line with the brand personality, and, very much serve to retain the sense of mystery and magic that make the tournament what it is. Whilst the organisers have embraced technology and new media in parts it remains in balance with the rest of the event.
Of course hope, expectation and the predictable British act of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory all play their part in Wimbledon and its ability to capture the imagination. However it’s clear to me that the organisers and branding experts have taken a number of deliberate steps to enhance the customer experience, reinforce the famous brand and ensure that the event is truly memorable and retains its magic year on year.