It’s that time of year again when tennis rackets get dusted off, fans crack open the Pimms and tuck into strawberries and cream and Wimbledon occupies a significant chunk of the television schedules.  Faced with competing with Euro 2016 for the attention of sports fans (although perhaps less so following England’s defeat), Wimbledon has once again raised its game in the way it engages fans, both in person and virtually.  Despite its reputation for tradition and rules about predominantly white clothing, I believe Wimbledon has become a trailblazer in its use of social media to bring the SW19 experience to life for fans all over the world.

Wimbledon is providing fans with access to real-time, interesting and relevant content across a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.  Today’s fans expect to be able to consume content about their favourite teams, players and events, anywhere and anytime and social media is the go-to vehicle for this.  Rather than letting fans access their tennis-related content via mainstream media channels, Wimbledon has become a content provider, meaning that it is both creating and sharing content through its app, website and social media channels.  By providing fans with access to content, including behind-the-scenes videos, live streaming of matches via YouTube, player interviews and emojis, Wimbledon is able to engage fans with the tournament and its brand, building interest and stimulating online buzz, all of which, the tournament, hopes will translate into improved performance, whether in terms of visitor numbers, viewing figures or merchandise sales.  Sports fans are motivated to use social media for not only information, but also entertainment purposes, such as passing time, relaxation and diversion from everyday life.  Therefore, through its mix of informative and entertaining content, Wimbledon is tapping into these motivations for consuming social media content and providing fans with what they want through social media.

Alongside Wimbledon itself, the official suppliers (Wimbledon doesn’t have sponsors) are also active on social media, although to a varying degree.  Evian and Robinsons are both active on Twitter and Facebook, making good use of hashtags (e.g. #TasteofWimbledon for Robinsons), video content and competitions to engage fans and stimulate positive word-of-mouth through shareable content.  Away from social media, Robinsons is activating its sponsorship through traditional linked advertising, but many of the other sponsors seem to me to be more low-key than in previous years.  Perhaps, they are failing to cut through the noise of the Euro 2016-themed sponsorship activations or, more likely, they have become more bespoke in how they are activating their partnership with Wimbledon, focusing on activations which will have maximum impact among their target market.

Many Wimbledon official suppliers are high-end brands, such as Lanson and Polo Ralph Lauren.  Therefore, high-profile mass media advertising campaigns and publicity stunts don’t fit with their brand images.  By focusing on activations which will engage their current and prospective customers, these high end brands are able borrow the imagery of the Wimbledon Championships.  For example, Lanson have created Wimbledon-themed jackets to keep their bottles of champagne cool and Ralph Lauren continue to update their Wimbledon collection of clothing and accessories.  Both brands are also using Wimbledon to showcase their products, with Ralph Lauren providing uniforms for umpires and ball boys and girls and Lanson having sole rights as the champagne sold in all bars at the event.

What all of this shows is that sponsorship is not a one-size-fits-all marketing tool and if it is to be done well, brands must not only select the right property with which to partner but must activate in a way which is both authentic and relevant to their target market.  Faced with growing sponsorship clutter, consumers are quick to spot a fake, by which I mean a brand trying to be something which it is not.  The success and longevity of Wimbledon’s official suppliers is testament to sponsorship working well and many other events, large and small, could learn from this model.


About Author

Leah is a Lecturer in Marketing at Alliance Manchester Business School. Her areas of expertise include: sports marketing, sponsorship, sports brands, stadium naming and football marketing. She has appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake up to Money discussing football sponsorship issues. Her interests also include ambush marketing, along with topics marketing to sports fans and branding in sport.

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