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2017-07-09 20:45:03
On Advertising: Wimbledon in Style for Marketers, Bringing a Reverent Hush to Their Ads

WIMBLEDON, England — As the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament grows, a degree of quaintness remains essential.

While Wimbledon keeps up with technological and commercial demands, its commitment to maintaining the atmosphere of “tennis in an English garden” directs all decision making. That includes not just the meticulous cultivation of the purple and white flowers that line the lanes of the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, but also how the tournament is wired for the wider world and how its commercial partners advertise themselves.

Sam Seddon, the IBM client executive for Wimbledon, said such considerations were at the foundation of all the company’s work at the tournament, where it has been the technology partner since 1990.

“The aesthetic environment here is not an afterthought: It’s right at the start of the design process,” Mr. Seddon said. “That is a sort of an ongoing challenge with many, many things: How do you have tennis in an English garden when you need all this technology around it? How do you go about hiding it all?”

Alexandra Willis, the head of communications, content and digital for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, said even some decisions that affect the competition have been made with aesthetic considerations in mind.

Only six of the tournament’s 19 courts are equipped with Hawk-Eye review systems for players to challenge line calls, in large part to make sure the mounted cameras needed wouldn’t obstruct pristine sightlines and ruin the garden ambience.

“There’s definitely a blending: What is the technology really going to enable versus what is the negative that you have to get over?” Ms. Willis said.

Methods of concealment vary. The Hawk-Eye cameras that are on the courts are cloaked in green. Other electronic equipment, including microphones, is also dark green whenever possible.

“We’re very conscious that there is a site walk-around that is done, and if things don’t look right, they will be moved irrespective of what they’re there for,” Mr. Seddon said. “So there is that pressure, that natural tension in the technology department, who knows that if you want all this technology to be enabled, it’s got to be above ground, it’s got to be visible, but no one can see it and it’s got to be green.”

Wimbledon, which stops play when darkness falls, does not have the light posts that many other tournaments use for mounting and concealing various technologies. So it has to get creative. IBM is experimenting this year with burying Wi-Fi access points underground and covering them with fake grass.

Even wireless connectivity is seen as a potential disrupter, and is limited only to a few select areas of the grounds so that it doesn’t become an enticing distraction for spectators — whom Wimbledon wants paying undivided attention to tennis.

“Public Wi-Fi is an interesting challenge,” Mr. Seddon said. “How can you put it in but have it not overwhelm the experience of actually coming to Wimbledon for tennis in an English garden?”

Advertising by Wimbledon’s various commercial partners must be similarly unobtrusive. Compared with that of the United States Open, where the names several brands can quickly be identified in almost any frame of a television broadcast, Wimbledon’s approach is almost clandestine.

Slazenger, the British sporting goods manufacturer that has provided the balls for Wimbledon since 1902, has its logo visible on the balls as well as the backdrops of the courts. On most courts, the logos are black, and barely visible against the dark green background. In the two largest stadiums, Centre Court and No. 1 Court, the logos are white, but smaller.

Evian, a sponsor visible only through its bottles and a logo on a small refrigerator beneath the umpire’s chair, said fealty to Wimbledon’s tastes was paramount.

“It is always our priority to respect and celebrate the famous traditions of Wimbledon in everything we do,” said Bryan Martins, the marketing director at Danone Waters UK & Ireland.

IBM has its logo on court only above a small LED screen that displays the speed of serves and other statistics. A Rolex logo is next to a digital clock on the scoreboard.

“Everything is only ever in context,” Mr. Seddon said.

Ms. Willis praised tournament sponsors for their compliance with Wimbledon’s expectations.

“The thing that I would credit them with the most is that they respect that Wimbledon is the hero brand, and that their role is to help them tell the Wimbledon story,” she said.

Wimbledon installed digital scoreboards on all courts by 2010, but still maintains some Luddite touches for their charms. Outside Centre Court, display boards with the draws and the day’s order of play are manually updated with printed yellow tiles.

“The players love seeing their names printed on these things,” Ms. Willis said. “And also for the fans attending, they love seeing the guys going up and changing them. So it is part of the event.”

Recreating that Wimbledon aura for a global audience is also a priority for Ms. Willis, who cites the disparity between visits in person to the tournament during its two-week run (half a million) and visits to the Wimbledon website in that same span (20 million).

Ms. Willis has led a reimagining of Wimbledon’s digital properties — including its website and app, on which IBM is a close collaborator — to reflect the tournament’s gentility. In its initial redesign, the Wimbledon app began with a launch screen which read “Quiet, Please,” echoing the instructions of a chair umpire calling for the reverent hush for which Wimbledon’s crowds are known.

“The technology is a story in itself, but also the way that we apply it has become the story,” Ms. Willis said. “I think you can build brilliant websites, but you can also build them in a way as we’ve tried to do that reflects the beauty of Wimbledon.”