IBM is no stranger to SXSW, showing up frequently over the years as thought leaders and experts in the tech and innovation space. More recently, though, the brand decided to take a break given the event’s primarily B2C audience.

However, for 2023-2024 the iconic Austin festival announced a brand new feature track: Artificial Intelligence. Given IBM’s expertise and investment in AI, there seemed like no better time to return to SX.

Each year, it’s a new challenge to capture the time and mindshare of the thousands of attendees who flock to Austin for the conference. With an aggressive timeline and a minimal footprint to activate, IBM leaned on trusted experiential partner GPJ to ensure that their presence hit the mark. 

For IBM, success meant showcasing their AI capabilities in tandem with their tennis and golf partnerships, and the space and tools to dive deeper with those who wanted to know more. 

The result? The IBM AI Sports Club, a sports-themed lounge highlighting IBM’s AI solutions (watsonx) that support the US Open, Wimbledon and Master’s golf tournaments, providing real-time insights and data for fans. 

GPJ worked with the IBM communications team and IBM Blue Studio to design a playful environment for SXSW attendees that featured content, graphics, materials, decor and installations that all took cues from the world of sport.

At the heart of the lounge was a brand new, GPJ-designed activation called “Calling the Shots” – a shot-tracking table tennis experience that featured custom paddles embedded with motion-tracking sensors, outputting real-time gameplay data for players and guests alike. Developed in partnership with SCPS Unlimited and IBM, this custom-designed experience generated tennis-relevant data and stats including shot paths, average ball speed, average swing speed and total numbers of forehands/backhands. The experience illustrated IBM’s ability to deliver data-based match insights and AI commentary for fans of the US Open and Wimbledon. And at SXSW, it provided bragging rights for the winners.

Subject matter experts were available for anyone interested in a deeper dive on watsonx, providing a view into both the US Open and Master’s apps using player/game data from the most recent tournaments.

With visits by tech influencer and content creator Jenna Ezarik, a happy hour featuring watsonx-inspired cocktails, and onsite interviews with IBM executives like SVP and Director of IBM Research, Dario Gil, the experience drove considerable buzz even with its limited footprint – with SXSW attendees lining up around the corner to access the space.