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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK

Net calls from Wimbledon

The Wimbledon draw was live on the Internet for the first time

Wimbledon is serving as many web pages as the players will serve balls over the next fortnight, with its Internet site providing a virtual experience of what it is really like to visit the famous All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Chris Nuttall reports on Wimbledon on the Web
Improvements to a site that took sixty million hits last year include an interactive camera, panoramic views of the grounds and an upgraded e-store selling everything from shoulder bags to videos and souvenir programmes.

Last Tuesday, the draw at the club was broadcast live over the Internet for the first time and, when the real action starts, a netcam will be showing the scene on Centre Court.

Progress can also be followed with a live desktop scoreboard and there is Radio Wimbledon, restricted to broadcasting over a five-mile radius in South London but available worldwide over the Net.

A break point with the past

The club, synonymous with hide-bound tradition for much of its history, is now on the cutting edge of Internet technology because of a partnership with IBM. Along with providing media information systems and networking, the computer company is also showcasing its Internet products and skills, and demonstrating the value of e-business.

[ image: E-business now has Centre Court importance]
E-business now has Centre Court importance
"Over the last four years, the Wimbledon website has developed from a one-dimensional online brochure into an interactive site complete with live results, online shop and full match commentary," says John Taylor, IBM's Wimbledon Tennis Projects Director.

"It's a perfect example of how IBM's e-business solutions are helping the club meet the needs of everyone who's interested in Wimbledon, but unable to attend in person."

The club insists the Wimbledon online store is aimed less at making big profits than providing a service to fans around the world who are unable to get the goods any other way.

"Our merchandising offering is larger than in previous years and we are expecting that because of the way we set it up and the way people are becoming much more used to using their credit cards on the Internet," says Jeff Lucas, the club's IT director. "We think it's a much easier process this year and we hope to improve on what we've done in the past."

Eye-opening camera

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the site is the i-CAM. Anyone can click on a live picture of the grounds or the Centre Court to focus on a particular area. The zoom allows you to get as close as picking out a face in the crowd.

[ image: The website's control centre]
The website's control centre
The site is also packed with statistics and has taken on a newspaper-style format to bring the latest news from the tournament to tennis fans. There is a live audio feed from the player interview room and a link-up with BBC Radio 5Live for commentary.

"We are trying to make the service more interactive and are moving towards more live audio, interviews with players, live Radio Wimbledon and our new interactive camera," says Shelley Galbraith, Wimbledon's Online Services Manager.

And the site will extend far beyond the final game, set and match of the traditional Wimbledon fortnight, with the decision taken from April to maintain it all year round. Even the Centre Court grass does not get that much attention.

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