It’s the biggest tennis tournament in the world. The one today’s champions all grew up dreaming of winning and the only Grand Slam played on grass. Back in 1877 the first final was, unsurprisingly, delayed by rain, but was eventually won by Spencer Gore, who exploited the fact that while the volley was not a shot played be a gentleman, it was one played by match winners.
Twenty-two players competed for that first prize, and 200 spectators each paid a shilling to watch the final. They wouldn’t recognize it today. The global audience is close to 380 million people in 198 territories – last year, total attendance at the grounds was 486,898. Big business. And whether players, spectators or sponsors, what’s most interesting to me are the myriad ways they engage with the tournament both on and off the court.
A decade ago, your choices were fairly simple. Aside from being there in person, you could choose from TV, radio or the next day’s newspapers. Now people instantly share via Twitter and Instagram – photos, films and comments from Centre Court and their living rooms; they surreptitiously watch the live stream at their desks while brands compete for their attention, hoping to win the prize for most powerful marketing at a tournament with no billboards.
On and off the court, the breadth of data gathered is impressive. It’s not just a question of where the ball lands, but how often, how fast – even how it makes people feel. IBM provides real time updates on match statistics that allow commentators to see tactics, strategies, strengths and weaknesses of players from match to match that are in turn picked up and visualized by others, while Wimbledon microsite Social Hill, funnels social media, sentiment and polls. There’s even a live stream just of spectators watching the live tennis.
The second screen is finally starting to really deliver on its possibilities, enhancing our experience at events in ways we never thought possible. For spectators at the Sony Open in Miami, SAP uses real time computing and cloud technology to add exclusive content via its smartphone app. As well as expert insight into key matches, cutting edge SAP and Hawk-Eye match analytics and virtual replays, it can even be used to order food and merchandise straight to your seats.
But tournaments aren’t just about games, they’re about competition, about winning. It has yet to be approved, but the WTA is considering a move to allow players to use real-time data during matches. It’s a predictably touchy subject. Purists say that coaches should be kept in the car park, but it could make dramatic changes to a player’s dynamic. Imagine if, a set down, you realised that your opponent was suddenly making more unforced errors that you, or that their backhand was noticeably weakening. Would it be gentlemanly to exploit that sort of an insight? Maybe you just have to ask yourself What Would Spencer Gore Do?
Interested in tennis? Why not following my Instagram account?