Rachael Church manages sportandtechnology.com
Major strides have been made in recent years to grow the number of people playing tennis in the UK. In 2004, there was an amazing 58% growth. However, an even tougher nut to crack has been how to encourage a sufficient number of those players to play in tournaments and thus provide a competitive playing base that is large enough to ensure the production of the world-class stars.
Since April 2005 the tide has turned, with web technology being at the heart of the solution. Welcome to the LTA’s new National Rankings system, incorporating many of the principles of fantasy league football games, only this time it is based on real-life competition and endeavour.
In total, 98,000 unique visitors have navigated the ‘Get On Court’ section of www.LTA.org.uk since April 2005, already accounting for over 45% of all LTA web traffic. They have used the searchable database to plan their next tournament entry, to update their personal details, to view the past performances of their next opponent, and most importantly to see where they are ranked in the country, their county or their particular age group. Updated every 14 days, this new ranking system is fast delivering the sense of anticipation, inspiration and competition that many players said was missing from the game. It also hopefully provides them with a reason to gloat and lay down challenges to others, the frequent stuff of fantasy football leagues!
Since launch, the LTA has seen a 46% increase in the number of active ranked players, and the rate of growth is continuing at 8% per fortnight. When the project is extended in a couple of months to include adult and junior doubles match results, the aim will be to encourage many more of the 450,000 adults who play competitive doubles matches to engage with the system.
Players earn rankings points in the same way as players do in the ATP Champions Race, for example. If you win a top Grade 1 event, you get lots of points; if you lose in the early rounds of a lowly Grade 7 event, you don’t!
The revolution has also been felt in a positive way by tournament officials and administrators. After extensive research internationally, the LTA sourced ‘Tennis Tournament Planner’ software from the Netherlands where the system has been successfully operating for a few years. Six hundred trained officials are now experiencing dramatic reductions in the time it takes them to accept entries, produce draw sheets and input results. They also now have access to much better management information that allows them, and the LTA centrally, to better adjust the types of tournament run in response to player demand.
As the system grows, so will the commercial opportunities. The title rights to the rankings system are currently being marketed and experience in other countries and sports shows that the sponsor’s name becomes the generic term used by players. Plans for E-mail and SMS alerts to players are also at a progressive stage and this will feature partner messages or acknowledgements. Of paramount appeal to tennis equipment suppliers will be the fact that the system will generate an unrivalled database of committed tennis players with the ability to segment sales messages and offers based on a range of criteria, including their playing ability. The provision of rewards and prizes to players who progress their ranking significantly is also playing a big part in enabling brands to make a lasting connection with their target customer base.
The Wimbledon Tennis Championship is an established event in the UK sporting season. The tournament is an unique, quintessentially English occasion that conjures up images of good humoured spectators, strawberries and cream, interruptions of the British weather, as well as world-class tennis played on immaculate grass courts.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club stages the Championships and is very proud of its unique reputation. For two weeks every year, this small Club’s infrastructure scales up exponentially to accommodate the demands of the world’s sporting media, half a million spectators onsite, over half a billion TV viewers and around four million unique users of the official Wimbledon website.
The Club plays an important role in funding the LTA, which coaches young UK players of the future. To continue this it must build revenue by increasing the attention it attracts globally and holding on to its audience in a world with growing choices and distractions. By creating new multimedia ‘touch points’ where people can connect and interact with the Championship, the Club engages its audience, cultivates stronger relationships and builds revenue streams.
The challenge is to enhance and enrich people’s experience without detracting from the unique nature of the Championship. Whilst dedicated to continuous improvement for players, spectators and the media, the Club’s mission is to maintain the look and feel of lawn tennis in an English country garden.
IBM has worked with the Club since 1990, helping to meet the increasing demands it faces. “IBM has a deep understanding of our culture, brand and values,” says Rob McCowen, marketing director of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. “The innovations it brings are always in tune with our on-going mission.”
Throughout the year, IBM works with Club executives and the IT department to drive the business and IT strategy that supports the Club's aims. “The involvement of IBM Business Consulting Services has been integral to enhancing the Wimbledon experience,” says McCowen. "And by handing the hosting and management of our solutions to IBM, we benefit from a scalable infrastructure, with the latest technologies, without a massive upfront capital investment."
IBM not only takes care of integrating many disparate systems into one seamless solution that flexes to meet business demands, it also manages numerous third parties on the Club’s behalf. The Club therefore only has one business and technology partner to deal with.
IBM helps the Club ensure continual improvements to the responsive service it offers its stakeholders. The introduction of a wireless network to the Wimbledon site offers better service to the media. Sports reporters can gain Internet access from their wireless laptops to mail copy back to the office and international press photographers can send pictures straight from their digital cameras to their editors, greatly speeding up the time to publish.
The area covered by the wireless network is increasing this year to support the rollout of a badge scanning system piloted last year. Staff working onsite are issued with accreditation badges which are scanned as they enter and leave, improving security.
IBM Business Consulting Services led a data strategy consultation examining the Club's main information sources for key individuals. Following this, a management solution was introduced which was used in the 2004 Championship to support player accreditation, manage players' guests and co-ordinate other player facilities such as the provision of limousines. At the 2005 event, press, radio broadcasters and photographers were managed through the solution. Eventually it will cover everyone on site at Wimbledon who is not a paying ticket holder. Administration overheads will reduce as records are no longer prepared manually and there will be less duplication of effort. Managers will also gain access to better reporting facilities, improving security, decision-making and efficiency.
The solution will integrate the different systems and departments that currently hold information about everyone involved in the Championship, ranging from temporary cleaners and ball boys to star players. IBM helped the Club select the solution and provided overall consulting and enterprise architecture guidance.
Real-time information is important in attracting and retaining new players and audiences. Players use it to improve their game and the information provided on the spot to international television and broadcaster graphics systems gives colour and depth to viewers' experience. Broadcasters can access the Commentator Information System to enrich their commentaries with statistical analysis and comparative performance data.
Tennis fans around the world take a ‘virtual seat’ at www.wimbledon.org and feel part of the action. The On Demand Scoreboard delivers live point-by-point scores directly to the desktop and the new ‘Stroke Tracker’ ball-tracking system was online for the first time this year enabling users to compare players' games shot-by-shot. The Wimbledon website is vital to stimulating interest in the event and IBM Business Consulting Services works with the Club to ensure the site generates year-round business. The online shop is particularly popular in the US, China and Japan. McCowen says: "Previously, we developed business opportunities based on awareness created through our TV coverage. Increasingly, new business opportunities arise through interest generated by our website. This is particularly relevant in the US and Asia. Companies in Japan for example are learning more about Wimbledon, leading to new revenue streams."
Players, tennis fans and the LTA all benefit from innovations that reach out to global audiences through new content channels, optimise revenue streams through e-Commerce or awareness raising, and increase the efficiency with which Wimbledon is organised and run.
"IBM's involvement started with the integration of broadcast systems and continues to offer potentially the richest set of statistics, analysis and extra features provided by a Grand Slam tournament. It allows commentators to deliver first rate insight and brings viewers closer to the action," concludes Chris Gorringe, chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, retiring after 33 years. "IBM enables us to offer an unparalleled level of service to the players, enhanced further by the personalised service provided by the new management solution. It is IBM's insight that has helped us reach new audiences using channels that were not feasible just a few years ago. I look forward to enjoying tennis as a spectator in my retirement years and expect to see this level of innovation continue long into the future."