As the governing body of tennis in Great Britain, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has been around since 1888, and that long history is a big part of its strength. Now the LTA is looking for ways to pair that tradition with cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality (AR) to drive higher levels of engagement with the sport of tennis across Great Britain.
The organization has introduced online booking systems, digital portals, training programs, and many more technology tools—all designed to help the LTA deliver on its vision of “tennis opened up” and make the sport more relevant, welcoming, accessible, and enjoyable for everyone. The LTA recently rolled out a promotion in which it printed QR codes on cans of tennis balls, sending them to diverse audiences within the tennis community across the country, including schoolchildren, tennis coaches, clubs, volunteers, and businesses.1
When users scan this code with their phones, they receive an AR message from a tennis player or other prominent figure in the tennis community. Critically, the message is tailored to the user. For example, cans shared with schoolchildren urge them to continue to engage with the sport and include an invitation to attend the LTA’s global tennis tournament held at the Queen’s Club in London (the Cinch Championships) to see professional players in action. On cans sent to tennis coaches, clubs, and volunteers, the message is a heartfelt thank you in helping to develop the sport, and one that emphasizes that everyone and anyone is included and welcomed to the sport.
Chris Pollard, director of digital and major events at the LTA, says the goals are to create an exciting, modern experience to drive engagement, and to present a different dimension of the sport to a younger generation.
“It’s about trying to create that wow factor,” Pollard says. “You can see the faces of the kids light up when they get a message, and the experience was quite unique.”2
The LTA’s digital experience efforts go beyond AR-equipped cans of tennis balls. It is also rolling out a suite of programs that aim to use emerging technologies to help engage a new generation of tennis players.
For example, the LTA is currently working on a mobile app for booking tennis courts across Great Britain that also incorporates another innovation, the World Tennis Number, a kind of handicapping system that allows people to find other players who are a match for their skill level.3
Historically, many courts in Britain have an employee sitting at the court with a piece of paper recording reservations. Once a person reserves a court time, they still need to find someone to play with. It’s a system that people find archaic and inconvenient, Pollard says.
“In this day and age, the ease with which you can call up a cab or order a pizza is tremendous, but it’s still too difficult to find and book a tennis court,” Pollard says. “A big drive for us is to make getting on a court easier. Everything has to be customer-centric.”
The LTA has also recently completed a partnership with a digital ball-tracking app for smartphones. The app uses the phone’s camera to track ball movements, taking measurements such as serve speed, depth, and accuracy, and match stats such as win percentage and errors. It then analyzes technique and strategy with video filters to help show players how they can improve.
As the LTA rolls out more digital experiences for tennis players, keeping that customer-centricity is going to be key across all new initiatives. The old adage “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” definitely applies here. Pollard says emerging digital tools give the LTA virtually unlimited options for reaching out to fans and players, but anything it puts out needs to address real needs.
“There are so many opportunities that exist, but we have to focus on the utility of it,” Pollard says. “The sky’s the limit, and it’s very easy to get carried away by some of the cool stuff you can do. It has to be about finding the best use for it.”
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