Wimbledon: The Strength of Brand Heritage
By Ntia Usukuma
Just a couple of weeks ago, the excitement of the 2022 Wimbledon came to its climax when No. 1 seed and world No. 3, Novak Djokovic earned his seventh Wimbledon title after defeating Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
The day before the men’s final, No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina defeated Ons Jabeur, in the women’s final, to win her first Grand Slam championship. Jabeur is the first Arab woman and African-born player to reach a Grand Slam final.
Although there were so many talking points at this year’s Wimbledon, one major highlight was the first-round exit of comeback queen, Serena Williams in her match against Harmony Tan.
Top sporting events like Wimbledon have that unique ability to collectively drive global attention to a fever-pitch level. Spectators will gather in parks to watch on huge screens, and squeeze into whichever bars showing the latest games. High points in major games would become the topic of most discussions, ultimately commanding the attention of millions of consumers thus creating a massive opportunity for brands to exploit.
Organisers of events of this magnitude are always eager to see dramatic face-offs that will add to their year-round devotees, while the athletes themselves — whether individuals or teams — also have a chance to earn many new fans.
While events like the Olympics and various world cups roam around the world, Wimbledon is a uniquely English affair — with a legacy and heritage concentrated in one destination and consolidated on yearly basis.
As a concept in marketing, brand heritage reveals that the historical status of older companies, brands, institutions and festivals are often explicitly linked to their brand identity and consumer appeal which is understandably unique.
In an era characterized by high dynamics, uncertainty and massive consumer disorientation, researchers have shown that consumers tend to prefer brands with heritage because these brands are perceived to be more credible, trustworthy and reliable.
The heritage aspect of a brand adds the association of depth, authenticity and credibility to the brand’s perceived value. With reference to consumers to whom heritage is meaningful, the heritage of a brand can result in intensified brand loyalty and the willingness to accept higher prices.
In this world of constant flux, brands that want to become evergreen must act as signposts in a busy marketplace, standing for something more than superficial product or service attributes.
A popular philosopher, Heraclitus, ages ago once exclaimed that “stability is an illusion because brands are no more stable than the very unstable world in which they exist and play”.
This means that a brand needs to have values that do not change over time, and which stand behind the superficial characteristics of the brand. The Philosophy of Branding not only provides a historical perspective of brands and branding but also presents a uniquely grounded basis for its points about reaching consumers and affecting the ways people experience modern life through brands.
Why Wimbledon Is A heritage brand
While in recent times the African Cup of Nations Soccer Championship, The World Cup holding in Qatar and a few other tournaments may be grabbing the headlines in different parts of the world, one event that has consistently held the world spellbound for over a hundred years is the grand slam tennis championships – the Wimbledon. This annual unique global event which started in 1877 – is one of the most enduring sports tournaments, and arguably, the most popular of all tennis tournaments in the world. By virtue of its 145-year-old history and heritage, it is the oldest tennis tournament and grand slam in the world, and is widely considered the most prestigious. The other three grand slams are the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open. It is the only major still played on grass following the shift to hardcourt by the Australian Open in 1988.
The beauty of Wimbledon is that it stands for something: tradition, heritage, prestige and an image of excellence. Over the years, brands have tried to test the tournament boundaries, but the “All England Club,” – a private club founded on 23 July 1868 which oversees the tournament – has refused to shift grounds to ensure brands and manufacturers adhere to the traditional “all white” rule and to ensure the values that the All England Club stands for remain.
Being associated with Wimbledon is something really special and unique and provides brands with an exclusive opportunity to immerse themselves within the traditions that have made the Championship so successful over the past century.
Official partnerships aren’t just handed out freely by the All England Club. While clinching one can be an extremely lucrative move that allows brands to draw from Wimbledon’s deep sense of heritage — a quick look at the official partners list suggests that brands must already require a particular heritage of their own if they’re going to grace the lawns of Centre Court.
Just consider some of Wimbledon’s partners — there’s Lanson (official champagne), Ralph Lauren (official outfitter), Jaguar (official car), Sipsmith (official Gin), and, Pimms (no official designation provided).
There’s also HSBC, Vodaphone, and Oppo to balance things out a little — the sponsors ultimately appear to be handpicked to help cultivate Wimbledon’s own heritage-driven, aspirational brand identity. There are broadcast sponsors as well as sponsors for different segments.
With its roots proudly steeped in aristocracy, tradition and heritage, it ensures it remains so with an “arrogant” stickler to rigid rules and regulations. While other sporting events of this scale and repute have turned into lucrative vehicles of advertising, brand endorsements and associations, Wimbledon chooses to be highly selective and minimalistic.
According to Wimbledon, “The Club has always sought to retain the unique image and character of The Championships and has successfully achieved this over many years by developing long-term mutually beneficial Official Supplier agreements with a range of blue-chip brands, as well as specifically not commercialising the Grounds overtly.”
The Wimbledon Championships have strong roots in tradition, which means they forgo conventional sponsorship and advertising models in favour of genuine brand partnerships that add value to the event, and for consumers. Official sponsors must be genuinely consumer-centric, use a spot of creativity, and get into the spirit of the tournament in order to win marketing moments at the event.”
The Importance of Colours and Uniforms
As a heritage brand, colours are an integral part of Wimbledon. Dark green and purple are the traditional colours. However, the players, the best of tennis, are to this day required to sport an all-white tennis uniform – breaking away from the brand-leaden uniforms of the other sports. Other colours are allowed to be worn beneath the all-white uniform.
Sponsorship messages are low-key and strictly product-driven, while in-stadium branding is almost non-existent. This exclusivity however puts the very brands that do share the Wimbledon name enjoy a certain place of pride as a brand.
The ‘White Clothing and Equipment Rule’ specifies clothing and shoes, including the soles, must be “almost entirely white,” with large manufacturers’ logos “not encouraged.” Any undergarments or accessories that either are or can be seen during play must also be completely white, except for a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre.
Obtaining Entry Tickets
Obtaining tickets for matches is also unique. The tickets sold to the general public have since 1924 been made available by a public ballot that “The Club” holds at the start of the year. The ballot has always been substantially oversubscribed. Successful applicants are selected at random by a computer. A 2011 figure suggested there were four applicants to every ballot ticket. Applications must be posted to the club by mid-December, the year prior to the tournament.
Seats and days are allocated randomly and ballot tickets are not transferrable.
The Club, through its subsidiary, The All England Lawn Tennis Ground plc, also issues Debentures to tennis fans every five years to raise funds for capital expenditure. Fans who invest thus in the club receive a pair of tickets for every day of the Wimbledon Championships for the five years the investment lasts.
Only debenture holders are permitted to sell their tickets to third parties and demand for debentures has increased in recent years, to such an extent that they are even traded on the London Stock Exchange.
How Does Wimbledon retain its Identity and Unique Appeal?
Wimbledon is an exceptional example of a well-conceived and managed brand identity. With a unique appearance and character, the Wimbledon brand achieves stand-out with clarity in the world of sport.
Probably because of this, Wimbledon’s brand capital has become ever more valuable, whilst commercial partners queue up to secure an association. This in turn allows the club to secure revenues to help fund The Championships and support British tennis.
Contrast this with other Grand Slam tennis tournaments in Paris, New York and Melbourne where brand clutter bombards the viewer and distracts from the sporting spectacle. No wonder Wimbledon is widely regarded by the players as the pre-eminent tournament and the one they would all love to win. Tennis itself remains the main focus.
Wimbledon is instantly recognisable, partly down to the inherent features of grass-court tennis and a strong visual identity led by their roundel logo and colour scheme of white, purple and green. This is supported in a very practical way by the Club’s rule of white-only attire for players.
Typography and imagery are also clearly defined and applied. The brand standards are expertly managed, aided by comprehensive guideline documents to ensure the brand identity is implemented correctly and consistently. Their values and personality inform all expressions of the brand earning its global recognition.
Commercial Strategy and Branding.
In the words of Agbo Agbo, a prolific brand analyst, ” Because of its ‘clean courts’, for brands, Wimbledon is to tennis what The Masters is to golf”. At Wimbledon, the commercial strategy adopted is that brand exposure is kept to a minimum. This means that even when a brand is seen, there is much more clear air for the tournament to achieve greater penetration because the brand- Wimbledon- enjoys a much bigger share of voice during the tournament.
Brands are struggling to be part of the Wimbledon heritage. One area they benefit from is TV viewership. Wimbledon generates high levels of interest across the globe. For instance, about seven years ago, 17.3m Britons tuned in to watch Andy Murray overcome Novak Djokovic and became the first British male Wimbledon Champion in 77 years.
In a survey, globally, 52% of the world sports-loving population claim to be interested in tennis whilst 64% of Europeans are interested in The Championship, Wimbledon itself.
Today, social media is increasingly affording more creative opportunities for brands to engage with fans, particularly if they can leverage players who actively engage with their followers socially in unique and authentic ways. Even in 2013, there were 6.6 million Wimbledon-related tweets during the two weeks of the tournament, and Murray’s Wimbledon victory was the UK’s third most tweeted-about-moment of the year. You can just imagine the mileage this 2022 whenever the data is released!