The perfect match
The relationship between IBM and Wimbledon has changed a lot over the last quarter of a century. What began as a simple sponsorship opportunity has evolved into a true partnership. IBM now powers the biggest fortnight in global tennis, tracking every ball served, every point scored and every tweet tweeted. It then distributes that data across the globe in near real-time, bringing fans closer to the action – wherever they are.
In advance of this year’s Wimbledon Fortnight, we worked with IBM to create a film that showcases exactly how integral the technology heavyweight has become to one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
The partnership between IBM and Wimbledon highlights that collaborating with a global sporting event isn’t just about slapping a logo on your marketing collateral. The role of the partner and its relationship with the event – or athlete – in question is becoming increasingly complex.
Sports sponsorships should be mutually rewarding. But some can be fraught with tension. There must be a real synergy between the sponsor and the event or athlete for the relationship to make sense. Take the recent tie-up between Andy Murray and Standard Life. Murray cites his desire to find a partner that shares the same values as a crucial factor in his selection.
If those values start to drift, one side must act. A great example is the ongoing allegations of corruption within FIFA relating to Qatar’s World Cup bid. The longer the accusations continue with no resolution, the more it becomes an issue for FIFA’s sponsors. Eventually, five of FIFA’s six core World Cup partners – Sony, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and Hyundai/Kia – were forced to comment on the issue. Again, the rhetoric of values and beliefs come into play, with Coca-Cola stating, “Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us.”
But which side holds the power? For each of FIFA’s main sponsors, there is a rival more than willing to slip into its shoes. MasterCard would happily replace Visa; Pepsi would jump at the chance to take Coca-Cola’s lucrative deal. It complicates the sports brand/partner relationship further, with the latter having to strike a careful balance between upholding its own values and maintaining its position as an important (and visible) partner.
Many partners have the power to drive positive change across the board. For example, Sony Ericsson used its position as the lead sponsor of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to convince the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) to give male and female competitors equal prize money for the first time in 2007 (it should have happened sooner, but still).
Wimbledon is a very special sporting competition; it focuses on heritage and keeps corporate sponsorship to a minimum. It partners with brands, with each of its 11 “suppliers” providing a specific solution; Slazenger supplies the tennis balls and Rolex provides the all-important time-keeping services.
IBM positions itself across all of its sports marketing activities as a partner that provides real value. It delivers services, solutions, state-of-the-art technology and IT to showcase what it can do. Crucially, all activities are aligned to its ultimate business objectives. And due to the sheer volume of data created during sporting events like Wimbledon, Roland Garros and the US Masters, they provide accessible platforms for IBM to demonstrate what it can do for businesses in other industries too.
At Wimbledon, for example, IBM uses its integrated solutions spanning cloud, analytics, mobile and social to record every shot, point and move during a game and to distribute that information globally. The solutions also enable the AELTC to analyse every social media conversation about Wimbledon through a centralised dashboard. In turn, the AELTC is able to deliver the most engaging digital experience possible for fans around the world. The full scale of the solution from IBM can be articulated in just four seconds.
In 2013, the AELTC website received 19 million unique visitors during The Championships – considerably more than it received for the remaining 50 weeks of the year. IBM manages the digital infrastructure that enables the website to adapt to and withstand the massive increase in traffic during the Wimbledon Fortnight. IBM also works with the AELTC to provide fan-centric services like its SlamTracker® predictive analytics platform – something it replicates in rugby, with its TryTracker™ for the RFU.
The wealth of solutions provided by IBM for Wimbledon demonstrate that sporting events aren’t just an opportunity for athletes to put in a top performance. They provide a great platform for brands to showcase their capabilities too. And IBM is clearly at the top of its game.