Wimbledon on social media: are sponsors being talked about?

Andy Murray RADOWhat do you think of when someone says Wimbledon? Top quality tennis played at one of the most iconic sporting venues in the world, classic moments such as McEnroe’s ‘you cannot be serious’ outburst in the 80s, or perhaps the traditional strawberries and cream dessert spring to mind? For us, a big part of Wimbledon is linked with Robinsons. The iconic drinks brand that has been part of the sponsorship of Wimbledon for as long as we care to remember (roughly 78 years … and no we’re not that old).

And those of you who have been glued to their seats/screens for the past two weeks are well aware, Robinsons is only one of a long list of brands who use their sponsorship of Wimbledon and its associated players to build awareness and capture a share of the audience conversation both on and offline. But in an increasingly crowded space, the question often asked by those in the marketing profession is: are these brands getting value from their investment?

Keen for any excuse to keep an eye on the tennis, we have spent the last month monitoring the online conversations around Wimbledon focusing specifically on sponsorship mentions. By examining the tactics used by the sponsors to hijack the tournament buzz and comparing the results for both player and tournament sponsors, we hoped to gain some insight – at least from a social media perspective – into whether all this sponsorship is worth it. Is Wimbledon a straight-sets victory when it comes to brand involvement?

At first glance the business case doesn’t look all that strong for the brands. Our research found that of all the conversations monitored over the time period in question (approximately 450,000 instances) less than 1% (0.66%) mentioned any of the official sponsors. And even within that sole percentage point the brand mentions were by no means evenly distributed, cutting some brands’ chatter to the smallest of slices.

The hands-down most popular official tournament sponsor was Evian, amassing a huge 70% of the brand mentions. Known for many years as ‘the water of Wimbledon’ and with Maria Sharapova as a brand ambassador, Evian is already well set up for success. Rather than just rely upon these associations however, the brand has used clever tactics, such as the creation of the Evian Live Young suite – a brand engagement area, opened by well-known celebrities, including Tess Daily and Tom Hiddlestone, and used by guest clients and staff during Wimbledon – serve to further encourage engagement with their followers. This, in combination with other tactics such as allowing punters to jump the line and asking fans to submit their best ‘#wiggle’ ensured that the brand was the most frequently mentioned – if not always with the official handle.

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Way down in the rankings, the next most talked about Wimbledon sponsor brands were Slazenger 9%, HSBC 9%, Rolex 8% and Robinsons, which despite our associations only managed a surprisingly low 4% of the mentions. Perhaps Slazenger, HSBC and Robinsons can take some comfort in the fact that they did not receive a single negative mention – in fact much of Robinsons chatter was very lighthearted, focusing on a joke about the brand sponsoring squash rather than tennis. Do you see what they did there?!

In a repeat of a trend we noticed during last year’s Olympics, where big names managed to find a way around the barrier of not officially sponsoring the games to grab a share of the conversation, the top brand mentioned throughout the whole monitoring process was neither a sponsor of Wimbledon nor any of the players. It was in fact eBay, spurred on by a competition it ran, as well as plenty of mentions auctioning tickets and memorabilia around the tournament.

Turning our attention to the few remaining top seeds in the tournament, we found similarly low levels of mentions for the players’ sponsor brands. Of all the mentions of Andy Murray (pictured), for example, less than 0.3% included a sponsor name. In fact, during Murray’s nail biting quarter final against Fernando Verdasco, just 14% of the brands mentioned in online conversation were his sponsors (RBS, RADO or Adidas). This suggests that player sponsorship is only around half as successful at provoking conversation as tournament sponsorship is, in buzz terms at least.

Wimbledon talked about sponsors

When the new champions are crowned and the gates close at Wimbledon on Sunday it will be time for the brands to take stock of their efforts and judge their success. Have they done enough? Have they put their money on the right ‘horse’, as it were? Have they just rested on their laurels? With so much room for improvement when it comes to capturing their share of the conversation, perhaps next year other key sponsors such as Robinsons and Slazenger, will take a leaf out of Evian’s book and there will be more than one suite to relax in.

Joel Windels is Lead Community Manager at Brandwatch.