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Wimbledon looks east with social grand slam

The Wimbledon tennis tournament is working on extending its digital reach into emerging markets as bosses behind the 137-year old sporting championship move to establishing it in the 21st century.

The digital team at the All English Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the body organising Wimbledon, have begun posting on Weibo – China's answer to Twitter- as well as writing in Japanese on Facebook in an attempt spread the brand into the Far East.

"Emerging markets are incredibly important if you look at where sheer numbers are and where the growing middle class is," Michael Desmond, commercial director at AELTC, told CNBC.

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"We want to grow those markets but you have to culturally respect the market and therefore simply providing an English language proposition into China would be madness. We want to make it as bespoke as we can without losing our brand assets."

China has a clear lack of tennis tradition, and the country's focus on Olympic sports meant the sport was largely sidelined in the country until it returned to the games in 1988 after a 64-year absence. Since then, the sport has been on the rise, with a major competition, the Shanghai Masters now being played there.

Julian Finney | Getty Images

Women's tennis is ahead in China with the world's number two, Li Na, at the fore. Li won her second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open earlier this year. But the men's game is struggling behind with a lack of big Chinese players.

"Tennis in China is all about Li Na. It is really off the back of that that people have been interested. But one of the problems they face is that the focus has been exclusively on Li Na, and they don't bother broadcasting other games from other Chinese stars," Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider told CNBC in a phone interview.

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Desmond also signalled the club's intent to target other emerging markets including India, which he said has a rich history of tennis.

Big data drive

The comments came as AELTC and IBM, the club's technology partner, announced the latest updates to the Wimbledon website and apps, including the ability to personalise the app and watch action from different courts.

IBM also said it had updated the SlamTracker software that provides real-time data on aspects of the game such as serve speed. AELTC also said it was using big data and analytics to engage with their fans through its new "Social Command Centre", a hub that allows Wimbledon's digital teams to see what people are talking about on social media.

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Through the use of cloud technology and big data, the Wimbledon organizers said they can give fans across the world an "immersive" experience as if they were at the famous ground.

"The reason we have been focussing on social with them (AELTC) so much is because the demographics engaging with Wimbledon through digital are changing," Wimbledon client and program executive for IBM, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"The people that can't come here are the people more important from the volume point of view, so giving them the most fantastic brand experience is what we are so focussed on. If you want to get the fantastic experience that is Wimbledon out there, you have to talk to people where they are talking."

- By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal