Spotlight: Wimbledon/IBM

[img_assist|nid=26060|title=Mobile-friendly: the mobile-optimised Wimbledon site|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=90|height=150]I was at Wimbledon yesterday. Not for the tennis, that’s a week and a half away, but instead, to hear what the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and its technology partner IBM will be offering by way of mobile, social and other digital engagement during this year’s tournament.

The place was a hotbed of activity, with electricians, carpenters and other assorted handymen and women glueing, screwing, sprucing and cleaning. At the risk of stating the obvious, the two weeks starting 24 June are the most important in the club’s calendar, and no stone is left unturned to make sure the venue looks as smart as it possibly can.

On the mobile front, we heard from Mick Desmond, commercial director at the AELTC, and a host of IBM people, led by Sam Seddon, who, as the IBM Wimbledon client and programme executive, probably feels as much a part of Wimbledon as he does IBM. 

Desmond explained how the AELTC attempts to extend the Wimbledon experience to a digital audience, creating bespoke content for each platform. In the course of his presentation, he revealed that the Wimbledon website clocked up 16.9m unique visitors over the two weeks of last year’s tournament. Of these, an incredible 40 per cent were from mobile phones. That’s just phones; we have asked about tablets, no answer as yet. The AELTC thinks, but has not confirmed, that the figure for 2011 was 30 per cent.


Mobile properties

As for mobile properties, the tournament has a dedicated mobile site, which went live on Tuesday evening this week. There are also iPhone and Android apps, which are currently going through the approvals process and will be ready, Desmond assured us, in time for the tournament.

Both apps have had a makeover this year. Wimbledon launched its first app for the iPhone in 2009; the Android version had its first airing last year. The big push this year is Wimbledon’s iPad app, which from yesterday’s preview looked like a tennis lover’s dream, especially if you like your tennis with added stats.

It looks like a beautiful piece of work, very much on brand, lots of green and purple. The only sad thing was that when the lady presenting it referred to ‘pins’ to help users find interesting live content, I thought she’d said ‘Pimms’, which would arguably have been even more on brand.

Social media
In addition to all the player and match stats, the result of a relationship with IBM which stretches back 24 years, there’s also heavy social media integration, plus Wimbledon’s own TV channel, ‘Live at Wimbledon’, which shows live footage from matches around the various courts when one of them is reaching a point of excitement.

I asked why there wasn’t full integration on the app with the BBC’s own coverage. Desmond replied that there are rights issues, and in any event, what’s the point of replicating what one of the event’s 200 broadcast partners puts out?

I’m looking forward to seeing the iPad app in the wild, but sadly this year, there’s no place for the ‘SEER’ Augmented Reality app which enabled a user to fetch live scores from any of the event’s 19 courts simply by holding your phone up and pointing it towards the court you were interested in. The app launched in 2009, and was enhanced in 2010 with the addition of live video feeds from selected courts. It no longer figures in Wimbledon’s mobile portfolio, IBM’s Seddon explained, due to: “things we could not control around the quality of the network experience”. A pity.

The AELTC is a terrific venue, but it is a little off the beaten track, so when I got to the front gate, I found myself facing either a long walk or a long wait for a taxi. If a great app is one that solves a pressing or recurring problem, then this was taxi app Hailo’s chance to prove its worth. I downloaded it from Google Play, registered, and five minutes later was sitting in a black cab on my way back to the train station. It’s a simple idea that solves a real problem, and is clearly supported by good tech. Game set and match.

David Murphy