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The most powerful brand in sport?

It may be quintessentially British with its strawberries and cream and English garden setting, but Wimbledon is a truly global brand.

“Outside of the Olympic Games and the World Cup, Wimbledon is the most powerful sports property,” media mogul Sir Martin Sorrell said last year.

Andy Murray’s victory this summer may have provided a timely boost for British tennis, but the sport has an international reach and The Championships attracted a worldwide television audience in excess of one billion in 2013.

One of the biggest annual sporting events in the world, and certainly the most distinguished, Wimbledon is a British institution with global appeal. Indeed, more Americans tune in to watch Wimbledon than they do to watch the US Open.

With half a million fans attending the event and television figures hitting the ten-figure mark this year, the All England Club remain committed to retaining the unique character of The Championships, and believe in quality over quantity when it comes to commercial partnerships.

The club’s relationship with Slazenger is the most enduring in sport, stretching back over a century when the company first supplied balls for the tournament in 1902.  Likewise they remain committed to maximising the potential of existing partners such as Rolex and Robinsons.

You won’t find any advertising banners on the Wimbledon website, which attracted 19.6 million unique visitors to the site this year, nor will you see sponsors’ logos plastered around the court.

“It’s not about sponsorship but about partners providing a service to The Championships. You won’t find any ad banners or big logos, it’s much more subtle than that,” Mick Desmond, All England Club Commercial Director, told members of the Tennis Industry Association UK at its forum on October 8.

“Everything we do is to protect the brand. We fail to protect our brand at our peril.

“That’s what makes this place special and what really brought this home was during the Olympic Games when there were sponsor logos around the place. It was the best advert we could have had how not to do it how – our partners want subtlety and sophistication at Wimbledon.”

With demand far outstripping supply for tickets and hospitality, the All England Club have no need for an overt domestic marketing budget, instead offering supplier partners exclusive promotional opportunities through external advertising and merchandising.

But where not so long ago the biggest source of income for Wimbledon would have been from ticket sales and sponsorship income, long-term broadcasting deals – the BBC are committed until 2017 and ESPN recently signed until 2023 – give the club the confidence to continue to invest.

“We’re trying to blend tradition with innovation in the grounds,” Desmond explained. “Every new committee sets a long-term plan to move The Championships forward. Under John Curry’s stewardship they had the vision to buy the land to the north end of Centre Court to extend the grounds physically.

“Under Tim Philips the masterplan was the roof on Centre Court and the building Court Two and Court Three as proper viewing bowls. Our new chairman Philip Brook is taking the next ten-year plan into play, and work started immediately after this year’s Championships, digging huge basements to create more underground space.”

Desmond, a former managing director at ITV, knows the value of staying ahead of the game and insists the All England Club cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

“We are in great shape, but we certainly don’t take it for granted. It’s something we continuously want to build and raise the bar,” he said. “Long term deals give us the confidence to invest. The club will take a leap of faith on something it believes in.”

Wimbledon may be synonymous with heritage and prestige, but preserving traditional values does not prevent the club moving forward.

The history of is a large part of The Championships’ worldwide appeal, but the All England Club has also embraced its future. Thanks to long-term partnerships, a shrewd long-term strategy and vision, Wimbledon is ensuring it will remain at the summit of world sport for many years to come.

Wimbledon by numbers
19.6 million visitors to the Wimbledon website in 2013
1.5m facebook fans
5 million radio listeners
6.5 million audience for Live @ Wimbledon
1.7 million downloaded the Wimbledon app for smartphone
1 billion worldwide TV audience in 2013
17.3m Britons tuned in to watch men’s final – bigger than Strictly Come Dancing or X-Factor!