Many of Wimbledon’s traditions are linked to its 1877 founding, from its strict dress code for both players and attendees, the absence of sponsor branding around the court to its popular strawberries and cream concession item, which dates back to Tudor England.
But despite its historic roots, the All England Lawn Tennis Club is investing heavily in digital and social fan-facing initiatives, aiming to make sure its 142-year-old event is “future-proof.”
“Being accessible to the audiences of the future is at the heart of our strategy,” said Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital for the AELTC. “We want to balance tradition and innovation – making sure that we continue to innovate so that we can preserve our traditions for years to come.”
That blend of celebrating history while leaning into the future will come to life later this week through a new immersive experience called Wimbledon Rematch. Being held at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in north west London, the event aims to bring attendees back to one of Wimbledon’s most-storied match-ups and arguably one of the great tennis matches of all time – the 1980 men’s singles final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
Les Seddon-Brown, partner at Rematch, which is putting the event together in conjunction with the AELTC, said the concept was born out of the idea of highlighting sporting moments that transcend a sport, letting people who remember them celebrate them again as well as introduce them to new audiences.
“The question we asked ourselves when building the concept was, ‘if I could sell you a ticket to any sporting event in history, what would it be?’,” Seddon-Brown said. “We want to take a fan back in time and fully immerse them into that – not only providing them a dramatized look at the event, but letting them experience what the sights, smells, music, food and drink of that moment was like.”
For Wimbledon Rematch, that means a 70-minute stage show of that iconic Borg-McEnroe final that Seddon-Brown said will act as a “glorified highlight reel,” featuring 3D projection and classic footage, while actors interact with the footage all backed by an originally composed soundtrack.
On top of that, there is a two-hour experience before the match viewing begins where ticket holders will be immersed in a 1980s-themed landscape. That will feature music, movies and arcade games from the era, as well as a recreated London living-room from the time period. Fans will also be able to purchase food and drinks from the era, as well as sample classic Wimbledon concession items like the aforementioned strawberries and cream. More than 30 actors will also be playing different roles ranging from ball boys to reporters, helping to further immerse fans in the experience.
There will be four showings of Wimbledon Rematch, each of which has 700 tickets for sale with prices beginning at about $70. Seddon-Brown said the expectation is that all four showings will be sold out.
“When people think Wimbledon from the outside, they might think about how formal things are and the huge amount of tradition behind the brand,” Seddon-Brown said. “But if you actually are following what they are doing [with things like this], you’ll see that they’re quite forward thinking.”
For example, Wimbledon is rolling out a new multimedia marketing campaign this week titled #JoinTheStory, which ties historic moments in the tournament’s history with larger cultural moments happening at the same time, such as Steffi Graf winning the 1991 women’s title with the Berlin Wall falling in the same year. There will also be a mini-series as part of the campaign featuring players like Graf, Borg, McEnroe, Billie Jean King and Andy Murray that will shared across all of Wimbledon’s digital and social channels. Fans will also be able to create their own stories using that content. McCann London, Wimbledon’s creative agency, developed the campaign.
Wimbledon also recently expanded its long-standing partnership with IBM, which dates back 30 years, to further integrate technology into how the tournament operates. For example, IBM’s Watson will used enhanced AI to better auto-create highlights by using audio clues to recognize when the ball has been struck, allowing highlight clips to be cropped more tightly.
Willis said this is all part of Wimbledon’s push to connect with fans, especially those that may never have a ticket to a match. She said AELTC is viewing this iteration as Wimbledon Rematch as a “test case,” potentially becoming a traveling event that could be brought to China or South America to give those fans a “sense of the Wimbledon experience.”
Seddon-Brown said for Rematch, this Wimbledon-curated experience could be a jumping off point into doing additional immersive theatrical shows for other sporting events. He said there have been discussions with other properties and governing bodies about how this could be applied to their events and historical moments, declining to comment specifically on those discussions.
AELTC and Rematch are sharing the costs of the production of this event, with both sides declining to comment further. Willis said that AELTC views the Wimbledon Rematch event as a “pillar of our marketing activity this year, and it’s not only an investment of money but also of significant time and attention.”
“A few years ago, we knew we had to invest in the brand in order to future-proof it for years to come as those traditional views and perception of Wimbledon could have put us in danger of being left behind,” Willis said. “Being accessible to the audiences of the future by pushing the envelope on digital and social media is at the core of that strategy.”