Wimbledon set to show off new roof, sponsors
This year’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships showcases a raft of changes, including an $88 million retractable roof, landmark sponsors, new food and beverage options and increased stadium capacity.
The new roof on Wimbledon’s second biggest court, No. 1 Court, is the showpiece addition at this year’s tournament, which begins July 1. The 80,000-square-foot fabric roof is identical to the one covering Wimbledon’s biggest court, Centre Court, and sits atop a stadium that has increased capacity by nearly 1,000 to 12,345.
“The retractable roof is the biggest change taking place. It gives certainty to everybody on site that you are going to have 27,000 people housed in the two show courts if the weather turns to rain,” said Mick Desmond, commercial and media director for the All England Lawn Tennis Club. “The roof also gives certainty to our broadcast partners, so they know at any given time they are going to have two streams of matches coming out from Wimbledon.”
Wimbledon now matches the U.S. Open tennis tournament with two retractable roofs, behind the Australian Open’s three, while the French Open debuts its first roof next year.
In total, more than 40 projects have been completed on the Wimbledon estate for this year’s tournament, including the refurbishment of the members’ dressing rooms used by players; the construction of six clay courts and six indoor courts; and new food and beverage concessions.
This year’s championships will be the site of Wimbledon’s first Asian partner, with Chinese smartphone maker Oppo signed to a five-year deal.
“They are huge in China and India and they are extending that franchise in the European market,” Desmond said. “The attraction for us is how do we get Oppo to build our franchise, particularly in China and southeast Asia? In China, we are building our brand and because of Oppo’s scale and the majority of their customers being a much younger demographic, it allows us to communicate in a very different way.”
The Wimbledon deal adds to Oppo’s growing sports sponsorship portfolio, which also includes deals with the French Open, FC Barcelona, the Indian Premier League and the Cricket World Cup.
Wimbledon has 15 official partners, including Swiss watch brand Rolex (since 1978), Robinsons soft drinks (since 1935), IBM (since 1990) and American Express, which, like Oppo, begins its partnership this year.
The multi-year deal with American Express centers on the company’s new brand ambassador, Andy Murray, and includes an interactive tennis game allied to a big hospitality play.
Deborah Curtis, vice president of global brand partnerships and experiences for American Express, said: “The partnership is very much in line with our strategy. We know many of our customers in the U.K. and around the globe love tennis and attend or follow Wimbledon. We also know when our customers attend one of our experiences they are more loyal and engaged with the brand.”
On the television front, the BBC holds the domestic rights to Wimbledon until 2024 after agreeing to a new contract in 2016. But could Amazon or another digital player work its way into becoming a media partner in other markets, especially since Amazon has established itself by scooping up the U.K. broadcast rights to the U.S. Open and ATP Tour?
Alex Green, Amazon’s European managing director of Prime Video, said Amazon is committed to tennis “for the long haul,” despite viewers complaining about poor picture quality and the functionally of its coverage from the U.S. Open.
Still, Desmond is unconvinced Amazon, which bid for Wimbledon’s rights in Germany, is currently a good fit to be a Wimbledon broadcast partner in major markets, dubbing it a risk. “There was some teething issues. I think we are under no illusions, Amazon is going to be here for the long term. I think we have taken the view we are not going to be bleeding edge at Wimbledon. We are not going to risk our rights in a large market with what is still a newcomer.”
On the prospect of the BBC extending its deal, Desmond said “providing Wimbledon and the BBC continue to have a strong relationship then that relationship is likely to continue. But nobody is ever a shoo-in.”
Rupert Pratt, co-founder of digital fan engagement company Snack Media, said: “Wimbledon needs the BBC to ensure it makes a big bang to remain a jewel of the British summer. If it was to disappear behind an Amazon paywall, it would disappear from the British consciousness.”
But Pratt said the tournament should still be looking at Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google to complement existing distribution, particularly as the next generation of fans moves from linear television.
ESPN, which in 2012 began a 12-year, $500-million agreement to televise Wimbledon in the U.S., appears in a strong position to renew its deal. “They have been a great partner. Very respectful of our brand,” Desmond said.
The tennis club took full control of its TV cameras and broadcast output globally, meaning it can now do much more with growing digital platforms, in keeping with other rights holders looking to take greater control over their own content.
Through its partnership with IBM, the tennis club also is utilizing artificial intelligence to produce speedier highlights packages this year.
John Reynolds is a writer in London.