From strawberries and cream to its all-white dress code, Wimbledon is a sporting event steeped in tradition. 

But while many of its famous traditions have remained the same since it began in 1877, Wimbledon has also been quietly innovating - particularly when it comes to technology and data. 

One of its biggest strides in this area has been the use of artificial intelligence, made possible by a long-standing partnership with IBM. 

So, what’s new at SW19 this year? Here’s a look at how Wimbledon is upping the ante when it comes to AI, and how the technology is enriching the fan experience.

(N.B. For more on AI, download Econsultancy's guide to AI for marketers, or check out the Festival of Marketing 2018 agenda)

Creating ‘must see’ moments

While big-name matches might still draw in TV audiences, ‘appointment viewing’ seems to be in decline for sporting events like Wimbledon. As a result, a significant challenge for the club has been to create and deliver content to align with modern viewing habits. This means taking into consideration people watching on different devices, at different times, and seeking out different types of content too.

For example, while some viewers might be serious fans (and therefore want in-depth commentary and analysis) others tend to be more transient, and interested in a behind-the-scenes look at Wimbledon as an event rather than the tennis itself. 

Another challenge is to also condense matches into short and easily accessible highlights, which is particularly difficult considering the often lengthy and action-packed nature of the sport. This year, Wimbledon is using IBM Watson to assist production teams in creating this type of content.

Instead of teams manually selecting highlights, Watson analyses player emotion, movement, and crowd noise in order to determine the most interesting and must-see moments to include. This means that, in theory, highlights packages will be much more condensed but entirely unmissable.  

More importantly perhaps, the tech enables Wimbledon to produce content faster and at scale, meaning there’ll be more matches turned into highlights overall. 

Due to the AI’s ability to recognise ‘action’ in this way, it also means that fans’ attention will be drawn to matches they might not necessarily have watched, but that turn out to be just as thrilling (or even more so) than the most high-profile ones. In this sense, the technology enables coverage to be fairer, with matches shown based on how exciting they are rather than who is playing. 

Chatbot

This year, Wimbledon has launched a new Facebook Messenger chatbot in order to align to an increasingly mobile audience - as well as in an attempt to better personalise the social content it produces. The idea is that fans can access news and updates on what they’re most interested in, such as specific players or match scores.

Interestingly, the bot also uses Watson to integrate NLP (natural language processing), allowing it to answer questions (from natural language) rather than merely ask users to select from a basic decision-tree format. 

It has to be said, the bot is still fairly uninspiring in spite of this, merely providing links to the external Wimbledon website rather than information within Messenger. A quick Google would arguably offer the same result. However, I do think the bot has value as an update tool - i.e. alerting users on important scores, much like push notifications might.

This certainly adds convenience. So, instead of actively seeking out content, fans can engage with a stream of tailored news and updates delivered directly to them - without having to think about it or follow the order of play.

Wimbledon chatbot

The aim of the bot is also continued engagement in social channels, which is something Wimbledon has successfully increased over the past few years. Reports suggest that social media videos were viewed 106 million times in 2016 compared to 85 million in 2015, perhaps proving just how eager fans are to consume Wimbledon-related content in these channels.

This, coupled with the potential of AI-powered bots to ramp up personalisation – making users feel like they’re getting something a bit more special than mainstream coverage - has undoubtedly contributed to its development.

Real-time experiences and AR

TV and online audiences aren’t the only priority for Wimbledon of course. With die-hard fans typically sleeping overnight to get tickets – and many settling for grounds entry and access to lower courts – the experience within AELTC as a whole is just as important as in Centre Court. 

As a result, Wimbledon has a added a few extra features to ensure visitors feel as much as a part of the action as possible.

Last year, it introduced ‘Fred’ into its app – a smart assistant designed to help guide visitors around the ground, as well as offer information about facilities and ticketing.

Unlike the Facebook Messenger bot, which is more about entertainment, Fred is designed to make the Wimbledon experience more streamlined and immersive in person. 

Fred Wimbledon smart assistant

This year, the app has also been updated to include new augmented reality features. One in particular was born out of previous feedback from spectators that it is hard to identify players on the practice courts. So now, app users will be able to view overlayed graphics detailing key player stats when they point their camera at AR-enabled hotspots.

There’s also said to be other AR installations scattered around the ground, helping to enrich the experience even when people are walking to and from different areas.

When it comes to match action, Wimbledon’s Slam Tracker – which provides real-time scores and insights about matches in progress – has also been updated to include a preview state. This means that spectators can check out where so-called ‘pressure points’ might occur during a match, and information about how a player might react in certain situations.

With fans able to access a whole new level of insight into the nuances of the game, it is this type of technology that sets Wimbledon apart from other championships (and even other sports).

Celebrating tradition

Finally, Wimbledon’s use of AI also has a celebratory purpose this year, with IBM Watson being enlisted to help mark the championship’s 150th anniversary.

The AI pulled together thousands of images to create a mosaic style poster depicting an over-arching design of centre court. 

It’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but the poster is perhaps more of a symbol of Wimbledon's evolution than anything else.

By using AI to celebrate its long and rich history, it’s an example of how the championship fuses together tradition and cutting edge technology, creating a spectactle for both new and long-standing fans of the sport.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 12 July, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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