IBM and Australian Open cut ties after two decades

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IBM and Australian Open cut ties after two decades

IBM's technology partnership with the Australian Open has been terminated after more than two decades.

Big Blue has had a long and rich relationship with the sport of tennis that spans all four grand slams. The IBM logo – which no longer appears on the 2018 Australian Open website – has been a fixture at major tennis tournaments, in particular on the courtside service speed display.

An spokesperson told CRN the arrangement will come to an end in 2017.

"IBM is proud of the two-decade technology partnership held with the Australian Open as part of the tennis grand slam program," they said.

"IBM continually looks at future marketing initiatives to ensure they align with its business direction. IBM will continue to find compelling ways to connect fans with global sports events through breakthrough digital technology and services."

The IT giant provides a range of technology services to Tennis Australia, including web hosting and IT services as well as functionality for fans, such as iOS and Android mobile apps.

It is unclear how IBM and Tennis Australia will unpick deep integrations established over a 24-year relationship now that the sponsorship has come to an end.

IBM would not be drawn on details. Tennis Australia would only say it would "be releasing more information as part of our promotional plan for the Australian Open". 

Neither confirmed which party pulled the deal, though a number of well-placed sources suggested IBM made a strategic decision to withdraw from the Australian Open, which cost millions of dollars each year in sponsorship fees as well as "value in kind" services.

It is understood that IBM typically sent dozens of IT engineers to Melbourne each year to support the tournament. Big Blue also provided a footprint in its North Carolina data centre, as well as a redundant facility.

It is unclear whether this change in direction will also affect IBM's global deals with Wimbledon, the US Open and the French Open.

Breaking up the IBM deal could open up more opportunities for Tennis Australia to attract lucrative sponsorship revenue from digital assets.

The Australian Financial Review reported that sponsorship income for the Australian Open has risen from $35 million to $86 million in the past three years. The organisation's recently renewed sponsorship agreement with Rolex, for instance, is understood to be worth $100 million over 10 years.

IBM first partnered with the Australian Open in 1993, and over the years has brought a series of innovations to the Melbourne event, from the launch of the 'speed serve system' in 1993 to more modern technology such as data analytics and social media sentiment analysis.

The partnership includes the highly trafficked website, which surges during the two-week tournament. The site provides players, officials, media and fans with updates, scoring, the ability to watch videos, check timetables and engage with the tournament.

IBM also provides cloud provisioning technology to scale and manage the computing capacity for the site, which received more than 17 million unique visitors in 2015.

The SlamTracker data visualisation feature provides fans with insights ranging from the speed of a Serena Williams server to the number of forehand winners hit by Roger Federer, while the Keys to the Match function analyses more than 40 million data points from eight years of grand slam data to identify performance objectives for each player.

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