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Volume 23 No. 14
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Wimbledon seeks big-event buzz with new ads

Wimbledon for the first time is aggressively marketing in the United States this year, featuring its first original slogan and a push to create a Super Bowl-like buzz around celebrating the tournament’s finals weekend.

The tournament this week will start releasing a series of vignette ads (see below) across a variety of mediums, including Pandora Radio, Facebook and Mode Lifestyle Magazine. It is paying select celebrities to tweet about the campaign, as well.

ESPN, the Grand Slam event’s American broadcaster, will also carry some of the ads, which Wimbledon sponsors may promote, too.

“This is the first time we have done anything like this,” said James Ralley, head of commercial and marketing at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, which owns and operates the annual grass-court spectacle that starts this week with qualifying rounds. “[We] see the U.S. as a market where there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. Wimbledon is very well-established there, but we feel both tennis and Wimbledon have a huge amount of potential to grow in the U.S. ESPN has done an unbelievable job for us, and this is about working with ESPN to create content they can push out for us.”

Wimbledon’s ad campaign includes vignettes around its “In Pursuit of Greatness” slogan.

Wimbledon, through its creative agency, McCann Erickson, created its first slogan this year: “In Pursuit of Greatness.” That concept is incorporated into the ads, which feature among them the head groundskeeper for the tournament and a ballboy. Another vignette shows how technology is hidden to keep the appearance of “tennis in an English garden,” while another focuses on the list of needed improvements the All England Club assembles after every tournament. The idea is that the event annually strives to get better in every facet.

While it has a reputation as a stodgy, stuck-in-its ways event, Wimbledon is actually out ahead of others in tennis in adoption of technology and social media (see Plugged In). So while it’s perhaps surprising an event that prides itself on muted commercialization adopted a slogan, organizers saw it as a necessary step to stay current.

TV ratings for the event on ESPN have been sluggish, as they are in general for tennis in the United States. For example, ESPN drew 2.02 million viewers for last year men’s final, the network’s lowest men’s final audience since the event moved to ESPN in 2012.

Ralley blamed the lack of men’s American players at the top of the game, a common analysis for what ails the sport on TV. The last American man to make the quarterfinals at Wimbledon was Mardy Fish in 2011.

“Ourselves and ESPN need to work really hard to ensure Wimbledon remains relevant,” Ralley said, noting that the mediums chosen to advertise on in the United States track well among millennials and women. “What we are trying to say is Wimbledon is about so much more than just tennis. It is about lifestyle, it is about food, the drinks we serve here, it is about fashion, and all the other aspects of the celebrities that come here.”

Ralley would not identify the celebrities who’ll be tweeting but he called them “influencers” who can reach a younger audience. (The tweets will be geotargeted, so they will appear only in the United States.) If successful, Wimbledon plans to roll out the campaign in other countries in future years.

Bob Basche, a longtime U.S. sports marketing consultant, in 1979 coined the most famous slogan tied to the event, “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” when he worked for NBC. (The network trademarked the phrase in 1989 and retained it until the All England Club acquired the mark in 1993. ESPN now uses it.) He laughed when told his phrase is no longer an only child in terms of slogans, but he said it is a good idea to add new slogans because “Breakfast at Wimbledon” connected only to the early morning U.S. broadcast window.

“I like the fact that it is not just the players, but the groundkeepers, the ballboys,” he said of the “Greatness” concept.

In fact, there are now three tournament taglines: Basche’s creation, “In Pursuit of Greatness,” and also “Wimbledon Weekend.” The last of the trio is the brand the event is affixing to the effort to create a Super Bowl-like buzz around celebrating the men’s and women’s finals. Ads for this push will appear in the same media as the “Greatness” ads and will instruct on how to throw parties around those final-weekend matches, including what food to eat and what clothes to wear.