Strawberries, cream, scones and Pimm’s. They are all synonymous with The Championships and technology should be added to that list.
If the food and drink consumed courtside are part of the unique experience of the half million or so fans that will attend The Championships 2017 at the beginning of July, it is technology that has helped the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) take the SW19 experience global.
For the AELTC, tradition must be balanced with innovation, and technology has been central in the pursuit to make Wimbledon the number one tennis tournament for players, spectators and an increasing world-wide audience.
The AELTC and its 28-year long technology partner IBM have, year-on year, sought to increase the tennis enthusiast’s experience both at the ground and world-wide. Some of this has been done by generating real time match statistics for commentators and fans , some by delivering broadcast and social media platforms and some by delivering detailed analytics to competitors on their performance and that of their opposition.
Last year’s Wimbledon, for example, faced significant competition for fans’ attention. It fell on one of the busiest ever periods in the sporting calendar. The Gentlemen’s Singles Final coincided with the British Grand Prix and the final of Euro 2016 football competition, while the Wimbledon Fortnight was up against three international cricket matches, two Formula One Grand Prix, nine stages of the Tour de France, and the Euro 2016 football championship.
This prompted Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Digital and Content at AELTC to challenge IBM to help turn the risk of losing viewers into an opportunity to create new fans for the game and The Championships.
“In normal circumstances, you might expect to see a 10 or 20 percent dip in digital audience as a result of this kind of scheduling clash” says Willis. “We were determined not to let that happen—we wanted to build on our record-breaking year in 2015, and ensure that the 2016 tournament kept tennis at the top of the sporting agenda.”
Most fans aren’t just devoted to one sport, contends Willis, “What they enjoy is the spectacle, skill, passion and athleticism of elite sport in general. We saw that if we could engage with these fans and show them what Wimbledon and tennis has to offer, we could bring a new generation of viewers to the game.”
IBM used its Cognitive system Watson, to do just that. “We were able to draw in our audience despite the competition, not to mention the challenging weather and turbulent political circumstances—wimbledon.com had nearly 70 million visits and 395 million page views from over 20 million unique devices,” says Willis.
Social media was a major success with AELTC growing its total audience by 24 percent compared to 2015. IBM analysed 17 million pieces of social media commentary across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to help the Wimbledon media teams deliver relevant content on trending themes and discussions.
For Willis, the partnership with IBM “continues to find new ways to engage with fans and bring new audiences to the world of tennis,” and this year fans at SW19 and round the world can look forward to more technology-driven innovation to enhance their experience.
The latest innovations are set to be announced on 27 June at Wimbledon, but Willis has already hinted that they will use artificial intelligence and Cognitive to expand personalisation services.
“With IBM Watson, we're adding the ability to ask questions when you're in the planning your day stage so … that will allow people to ask it what else they could do on the day. It should personalise and streamline all of the content rather than having a blanket one size fits all approach," Willis told The Drum's Future of Marketing event in May.
The technologies underpinning The Championships apply across a range of industries, from food and drink processing to manufacturing, financial services and health care.
The same basic technologies used by the sports and entertainment industry at Wimbledon, for example, will be used by health care professionals at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to significantly improve the experience of patients using the hospital and clinical outcomes.
The initial phase of the work at Alder Hey has involved using Watson to analyse any feedback that is voluntarily and securely provided by the patients. Using Watson with appropriate consent as needed, it is anticipated that Alder Hey will be able to greatly enhance patient experience by; identifying patient anxieties and providing information and reassurance on-demand; reminding young patients and their parents about appointments and about aftercare; and providing insightful feedback to clinicians based on the tone and sentiment of these interactions. Just as significant, the system can provide insight and feedback to clinicians based on tone and sentiment analysis. The aim is to provide children with a less intimidating, more personalised hospital service while also being able to identify clinical trends more quickly.
Mr Iain Hennessey, a paediatric surgeon and Director of Innovation at Alder Hey says: “Helping our patients and their families prepare properly for coming into hospital will really reduce their anxiety and could mean we can get them better and home faster.”
As the platform Alder Hey develops further, it could be used to drive vital research by matching suitable patients to clinical studies, monitoring admission patterns to help with bed planning or to help management of chronic illnesses, through applications which alert patients and their doctors when their symptoms reach the point at which they should seek medical help.
Whether it is enhancing enjoyment at a sporting event or helping to improve people's health, IBM is showing that Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that lets organisations of all shapes and sizes enhance the services they offer to customers, to employees, to the community and the public.