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Volume 6 No. 217
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Wimbledon Seeks Two New Sponsors For Tight-Knit Commercial Roster

Wimbledon is looking to add two new sponsors to its selective roster of commercial partners, and said it could ditch its 77-year broadcast deal with the BBC. The All England Club, the organizers of Wimbledon, currently has 12 sponsors -- a mix of long-standing sponsors such as Slazenger, the ball sponsor since 1902, Robinsons, official soft drink since '34, and new sponsors like official coffee Lavazza ('11) and Jacob’s Creek, official wine ('11). During this year’s championships, which begin Monday, Stella Artois is making its debut as official beer provider and was handpicked by the All England Club, as the premium beer represents a good fit with the tournament, according to All England Club Commercial Dir Mick Desmond. Desmond said that less premium beer brands such as Carling or Carlsberg “wouldn’t be in keeping with the [Wimbledon] brand, and I don’t think they would see our brand in keeping with their’s.”

AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB: Wimbledon has around half the sponsors of rival Grand Slam the French Open and unlike other Grand Slams, it does not allow billboard branding. Instead, only subtle branding, such as the IBM logo appearing on the scoreboard and the Rolex brand appearing on the Wimbledon clock, is permitted. Desmond said the relative smallness of its sponsorship portfolio is partly because Wimbledon is primarily funded through broadcast revenues, so it can afford to be choosy about sponsors, a strategy which is also beneficial to sponsors as they get exclusivity. Desmond said, “Our partners know we are not committed to having a long list of partners. They pay us handsomely [because of the exclusivity]. And I think if we had a lot more partners, we would get less from our existing partners.”

GLOBAL REACH: While Desmond would not divulge which two categories the club was looking to bring in as new sponsors, he said that it was pursuing a strategy to showcase Wimbledon now as a global brand. For instance, Wimbledon has worked with sponsor HSBC in building its brand in the U.S. by creating a tennis-themed event in N.Y. to chime with the start of Wimbledon. Desmond said he was keen for Wimbledon partners to be "as global as they can be." Desmond added, "And we encourage them to activate our brand on a global basis. We work with them on the assets and approve the creative work.”

BROADCAST BOUNTY: Wimbledon has broadcast deals in countries all over the world, including the BBC in the U.K. and ESPN in the U.S. The BBC has broadcast Wimbledon since '37, but Desmond said it would not be certain it would renew again in '17, when the existing contract ends. Desmond said they would wait until the renewal of BBC Royal Charter, which determines the size of the license fee, which is due in '16. There has been a suggestion that commercial broadcasters could be allowed to compete for license fee money to screen major sporting events such as Wimbledon. Desmond said, “The BBC are a very good partner, but I think it will be interesting to see where they are post charter renewal. Let’s see what their vision and strategy is going forward.”

KEEPING A BALANCE: Commenting on Wimbledon’s sponsorship strategy, brandRapport Managing Dir Andy Kenny said, “They are looking to find a fine balance between keeping the heritage and tradition of Wimbledon and being more commercially savvy to increase revenues and to help market the Wimbledon brand.” Kenny pointed to new consumer-facing brands being lured in such as Evian and Stella Artois, as proof of a more commercially focused approach. Generate Managing Partner Rupert Pratt said Wimbledon’s sponsorship strategy was an enviable one. He said, “If you can get sponsors paying more for less, that’s ultimately the Holy Grail of sponsorship. As a rights holder you are charging a high premium for something that is not costing the business a lot of time and resource." Pratt compared Wimbledon to the Queen’s tennis championships, which he argued had completely diluted its brand equity by selling its naming rights first to Stella Artois and now to current headline sponsor Aegon. Wimbledon, he said, is always known as Wimbledon.
John Reynolds is a writer in London.

Wimbledon Sponsors
Slazenger Official Ball
Official Still Soft Drink
Rolex Official Timekeeper
IBM Official Supplier of Information Technology
Official Car
Lanson Official Champagne
Ralph Lauren
Official Outfitter
HSBC Official Banking Partner
Official Bottled Water
Jacob's Creek
Official Wine 2011
Lavazza Official Coffee