Wimbledon hoping big data will improve fan experience after pandemic | Wimbledon

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Wimbledon is turning to big data to help improve fans’ tennis knowledge, after discovering even ticket holders at the Championships were not aware of most of the players in the game.

Crowds at this year’s tournament – set to return to sold-out levels after the coronavirus pandemic – are to be exposed to more facts and figures which organisers hope will help get them “closer to the sport”. AI-powered stats will seek to better explain the strengths and weaknesses in players’ games but also predict upsets and rising stars, with data built in part from trawling newspaper headlines.

Alexandra Willis, the All England Club’s director of communications and marketing, said the idea had come about before Covid. “We found that most fans didn’t watch tennis the rest of the year,” she said. “They also hadn’t heard of most of the players [and] this was a specific barrier to engagement.”

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Now spectators at Wimbledon fortnight, as well as television viewers and app users, will have access to Win Factor, a tool that will aggregate data from a number of sources to better predict a player’s chances of victory in a given match. Fans will be able to input their own match predictions too, while being encouraged to scour more information on some of the game’s lesser known players.

“Leveraging technology to help fans become more informed, engaged and involved throughout the Wimbledon fortnight is at the core of our strategy to ensure we … keep Wimbledon relevant,” Willis said, admitting the tournament needs to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. “We can’t just celebrate the past, we need to look forward,” she said.

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Wimbledon will be leaning on IBM, its technology partner of 33 years, to provide the information. While the technology company boasts of its artificial intelligence capabilities it also has staff physically recording stats courtside on every Wimbledon match and says it has 9.2m tennis datapoints now on record. Another data tool uses AI to scour media sources to gauge “sentiment” on players, leaving open the possibility that a tabloid scandal could have an unwelcome effect on a player’s Win Factor chances.

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The new features are part of Wimbledon’s response to a challenge faced by many sports, that of trying to court a modern audience. Following Formula One’s successful rejuvenation, the All England Club – alongside other tennis bodies – have secured a deal with Netflix to produce a Drive to Survive-style series that will chronicle events at the sports’ grand slam events, while also drawing out some of the game’s personalities.

A refresh of Centre Court, 100 years old this summer, is also just about complete. There will be a restoration of old architectural details and an increase in the number of accessible seats, but one small detail could prove significant too: the screen covering the players’ tunnel is to be removed, providing a better shot for the cameras as stars come on to court.

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