By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon, the world's oldest tennis championship, is embracing new technology with an iPad app to appeal to a younger audience.
The app allows users to navigate around the grounds via a photographic map, zooming in on specific courts to get updates on the state of play. They can also get alerts telling them how their favorite players are faring.
The All England Club (AELTC), which stages the tournament on the grass courts of suburban London, is in the position of knowing that demand for tickets far outstrips supply.
But with so many people unable to get tickets, the tournament's online presence has brought it closer to fans around the world, AELTC Commercial Director Mick Desmond said.
"If you can't come to Wimbledon, we want to try to make it the next best experience," he told Reuters.
"We try to position Wimbledon as tennis in an English garden but at the same time we want to be at the cutting edge of innovation," he added, speaking before the start of the tournament on Monday.
"It's allowing us to reach a younger audience."
Desmond, a former television executive who joined the AELTC three years ago, said making Wimbledon more accessible online helped to increase its appeal to sponsors and broadcasters.
The launch of the free iPad app follows a push into mobile in 2011 and an overhaul last year of the main Wimbledon website (http://www.wimbledon.com). The site attracted 17 million users in 2012.
Online features include Live@Wimbledon TV, fronted by former players Annabel Croft and Mats Wilander, which offers seven hours a day of video coverage.
The channel shows individual games but does not provide live streaming of whole matches to avoid undercutting the value of rights sold to broadcasters like the BBC in Britain and ESPN in the United States. It redirects users to the relevant broadcaster if they want full coverage of a particular match.
IBM also offers predictive software to help online fans to gauge the momentum of a match, point by point. For Wimbledon this will be complemented by a monitor of social media sentiment to show who is seen to be gaining the upper hand.
Drones were deployed before the tournament to take videos giving faraway tennis fans a bird's eye-view of the green lawns of Wimbledon, which first staged the tournament in 1877.
Increased revenues have helped Wimbledon to increase prize money this year by 40 percent to 22.6 million pounds ($35 million), with losers in the first round walking away with 23,000 pounds.
Despite the generous prize money, Wimbledon makes a healthy profit. It generated a pre-tax surplus of almost 38 million pounds last year, funds which are reinvested in British tennis. ($1 = 0.6466 British pounds)
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Angus MacSwan)