Wimbledon targets China after Far East falls for Downton Abbey


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The Independent Online

In China, Downton Abbey is already a national obsession. So why can’t Wimbledon become the next great British export to the Far East?

The All English Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) is using this year’s tournament to launch a drive to lure China’s increasingly wealthy middle class to a sport which lags behind ping pong in national popularity.

The AELTC is using social media to sell the 137-year-old event to emerging markets. Wimbledon’s digital team has begun posting on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, in Chinese.

Michael Desmond, AELTC commercial director, said: “We’re looking to extend our brand geographically and the prospects in China are huge because of their large, growing middle class and our media partners out there.”

The AELTC will use Weibo to share video updates, such as David Beckham arriving in the Royal Box, as well as scores. Li Na, China’s most famous player, has recorded a video interview, introducing Wimbledon to new viewers in her country.

Desmond said: “We want the audience to understand the heritage of the brand - they may not be aware of the nuances such as why the players wear white and the work we do maintaining the beauty of the grounds. We’ll position Wimbledon as a luxury experience in association with Rolex, our official timekeeper.”

Badminton, basketball and table tennis have dominated in China, which has focused on the traditional Olympic disciplines. Whilst Na is the number two Ladies’ seed and a double Grand Slam champion, there are no Chinese men in the Wimbledon singles after Zhang Ze, the world 205, failed to qualify.

Chinese tennis faces a potential crisis without enough elite new talent emerging to replace the veterans, say observers.

The AELTC club is also targeting a new Japanese audience through Facebook and is working to extend its brand awareness in India and Brazil.

The success of Downton Abbey, said to enjoy 160 million viewers, has helped British film, television, music and digital firms gain a foothold in China.

BBC Worldwide, Pinewood Studios, Universal Music Group and EON, the James Bond producers, attended a major trade forum for media companies in Qingdao last month.

David Cameron presented Chinese premier Li Keqiang with a copy of the shooting script for the first episode of Downton Abbey, signed by the show's creator, during his visit to Britain last week. Li had expressed interest in visiting Highclere Castle where the drama is shot.