Wimbledon's recipe for online success: More tech - but not too much

The tennis championship wants to use more technology to engage with fans, but don't expect Wi-Fi if you visit.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

This year's Wimbledon tennis championships will use cutting-edge technology to connect with fans around the world, but organisers are also careful to ensure that gadgets don't distract from play.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which runs the tournament, has a long-standing deal with IBM through which it showcases new technologies each year.

For example, new for 2016 is an Apple TV app for Wimbledon that will allow users to check real-time scores, watch Wimbledon's TV show and listen to its live radio channels, and browse videos and photos. The responsive Wimbledon iOS and Android apps will offer personalized feeds for fans at home, plus new options for visitors at Wimbledon to help them plan their visit in advance.

Wimbledon is also using IBM's Watson cognitive computing service to analyse social media traffic across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram around other sports events happening at the same time as Wimbledon (cricket, motor racing and the European football championships), to spot opportunities for its social media team to promote related articles and images.

Wimbledon's web infrastructure also has to scale up rapidly for the few weeks of the championships: for the first time this year, the website is being hosted across IBM's hybrid cloud running in four locations -- San Jose, Toronto London and Melbourne -- plus two IBM private cloud data centers.


Wimbledon is upgrading its apps for the year's tournament.

Image: IBM

"When Novak Djokovic steps out onto center court we know there will be a huge spike in traffic and we need to be able to service that spike, but we don't know when the next spike is going to come and that's where the cloud capabilities come in," said Sam Seddon, IBM's Wimbledon programme executive.

Security is an issue too: between 2014 and 2015 IBM said there was a 500 percent increase in cybersecurity attacks and Seddon said there has already been a 1500 percent increase in "security events" this year.

Behind many of these innovations is data on the matches captured at the side of the court. This data feeds the system that provides real-time information to commentators, fuels analysis, statistics and context around the game, and also helps power the apps. But rather than use a computer-based system, this data is recorded by human experts.

During the two weeks of the championships, IBM typically captures 3.2 million data points from 19 courts across 13 days -- on serves, points and faults, for example -- with an accuracy target of 100 percent and a sub-second response time.

"The typical question I get asked is 'why do we use people?' and the answer to that is...when it comes to the speed we need, the accuracy we need, and understanding the subtleties and nuance between forced and unforced errors -- it takes a human being and a very good tennis player to be able to interpret that at the speed we need," said Seddon.

And while the AELTC is keen on some technology, it's less interested in others: for example, there will be no public wi-fi available. Part of the reason is that the tournament covers a large area, which makes it harder to get wi-fi set up than in an enclosed stadium, and also because the AELTC said it hasn't figured out what benefits it would bring.

But there's also a suggestion that the organizers would rather have vistors to the site paying attention to what's happening on court rather than looking at Twitter.

"People are there to watch tennis -- it's quite an intimate environment and there's a sense that part of our brand is protecting what's going on, on court," said said Mick Desmond, Commercial & Media Director at the AELTC.

Some players will be dabbling with the Internet of Things -- using connected rackets that record how they're performing -- but this data won't be available to IBM.

"That's not my data, that's their data about how they are performing -- incredibly useful to them", said Seddon. "Yes there could be an IoT opportunity in future, but we need to understand the business need."

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