Sumit Virmani, executive vice president and global chief marketing officer of Infosys
IT bellwether Infosys has been the tech backbone of the ATP (the men’s tennis circuit), Grand Slams Australian and French Opens, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The company’s eight-year journey providing data and analytics support to marquee tennis tournaments recently culminated with roping in icons Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek as its brand ambassadors. In an episode of Sports UnLtd, Sumit Virmani, executive vice president and global chief marketing officer of Infosys, speaks to Forbes India about how the company is shaping the tennis ecosystem, and how it plans to keep the sport at the cutting edge of technology. Edited excerpts:
Q. Infosys has recently roped in Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek as brand ambassadors. What are the objectives of this partnership and what do the two tennis icons bring to the table?
Any brand has to keep evolving to serve the needs of its stakeholders. And it's no different for brand Infosys. We are on a journey to position Infosys as a digital-first, cloud-first, and AI (artificial intelligence)-first brand. The promise of Brand Infosys is all about navigating your next. And essentially this is just another step in that journey. I'm sure you're aware that Infosys had a partnership with the tennis ecosystem for the last eight years now.
It started way back in 2015 with the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), and subsequently we became the digital innovation partners for the Australian Open, the Roland Garros, and more recently, the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Through these years, it's a great platform to showcase brand Infosys, but what's been exciting for us is how Infosys tech, specifically AI and analytics, have been at the heart of reimagining the game for the billion fans the world over. It’s been very fulfilling to ensure that tennis stays on the cutting edge of experience using Infosys technology.
And we felt that with the strong association Infosys has with tennis, it's just a natural evolution of our commitment to the sport to also onboard some of the most famous ambassadors of the sport to also become the face of the Infosys brand. It's just a natural evolution for us towards showcasing what Infosys tech is doing to the world of tennis. Q. Can you give us a sense of the conversations you’ve had with the two, what got them excited about this collaboration?
Those are possibly the questions best answered by Rafa and Iga, but I can tell you what went into the thought process when we looked at the two as potential brand ambassadors. This possibly goes back to the whole idea of brand ambassadors itself. Any brand that's looking for brand ambassadors, in addition to the strategic clarity on why they want to do it, the core element is values alignment. The Infosys brand has been carefully nurtured over the last four decades by our founders with a unique culture and value system. To us, that was a fundamental dimension while looking for brand ambassadors.
If you look at someone like Rafa, who over the last two decades, in addition to being an incredible champion, is known to be a great humanitarian. He's also the perfect embodiment of what evolution means year after year. The value alignment was seamless for us. Iga, on the other hand, has won her first Grand Slam at 19, been number one for 72 weeks in a row, and, now at 22, has four Grand Slams. In a short span of time, she's become the face of possibilities for young women and youngsters around the world. The combination of Rafa and Iga brings to all the reality of what brand Infosys is all about. Also read: How Infosys Became The World's Fastest-growing IT Brand
Q. How did your association with the ATP start?
I often get asked this question that if you had all the choices of sport in the world, why tennis? It was pretty straightforward to us, because we were looking for a sport that appealed to our diverse stakeholder groups—from youngsters who join Infosys to decision-makers who buy from Infosys. This is one sport that cuts across generations quite seamlessly. Second, we were looking for a sport that has an active following in all the key markets that we operate in. And as you know, tennis is truly a global sport, possibly the most followed individual sport in the world. Third, we were looking for a partnership with a sport that gave us visibility through the year—the tennis calendar runs all the way from January to November. Last, and possibly most important, we were clear that we were not looking to slap the Infosys brand just to get visibility. We were looking for a credible and meaningful association where Infosys tech can be at the heart of driving transformation. It so happened that, at that point of time, tennis was at that juncture where it was looking for help with technology to bring the game alive for such a huge fan base, for players, for coaches, for tournament organisers and other stakeholders. And it so happened that we had the solution to some of the aspirations they had for the sport.
Q. What does the Infosys-ATP platform actually do?
The biggest thing that Infosys tech does for tennis is to bring the power of technology to enhance the experience and insights for all the stakeholders of the game. Let me bring home the point with some examples. Few tennis fans around the world get the opportunity to step into a Grand Slam court and experience the game in an immersive manner. Many of them, on the move, don't have access to live streams. Eight years ago, all you had was possibly the scoring input. You had no idea how long the rally was, what was the winning shot, was it in the deuce or the ad court, what was the spin on the ball, what were the unforced errors. If you were to just look at Infosys’ product Match Beats, which is today live across all the platforms, it gives fans an immersive access to every point in the game as if they were witnessing it live on the court.
I'll give you another example. We have lots of fans who visit various Grand Slams to experience the game. For them, we've created something called virtual reality (VR) tennis—you can put on VR glasses and we'll transport you into the Rod Laver Arena or court Philippe Chatrier, where you can play the game with a chosen opponent, including a celebrity opponent, and try your serve. And Infosys analytics will give you instant analysis of your serve speed or spin etc. There was once a physically-challenged tennis fan who walked into the Infosys booth at one of the Grand Slams, and later told our team: “I’ve been a tennis fan all my life, but this is the first time in 20 years I'm getting to actually experience the game”.
Q. What were some of its capabilities initially? And today, what are the different sophisticated components of the platform?
We started the journey keeping the fan in mind. But as the product evolved, we created a player and coaches app. We brought in the power of AI and analytics to give 3,000 players through the year instant access to video analytics before and after the match. In fact, if tennis were to bring in-game coaching, and that's the conversation that’s currently going on, this will become a fantastic tool on the go for players and coaches to instantly get insights into how they are performing against a specific competitor on that day. And that's high-quality video analytics available on demand.
Similarly, for tournament organisers or even the media, the game is moving rapidly, right? AI today has the ability to scan the entire game, look at parameters like player rank, crowd noise, distance between the player and the ball, the spin, the winners versus the unforced errors and instantly feed you with appropriate images, graphics, video bytes, within seconds. The fact that automated highlight packages along with automated commentary can be made available with zero human intervention is how it's possibly changed and increased the possibilities for broadcasters, media as well for tournaments.
We have a good example of what we're doing for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, whose whole philosophy is about preserving the legacy of tennis. Just recently, we've unveiled the Infosys Tennis Hall of Fame Museum, where the entire museum, which is in Rhode Island, Newport, can now be made available and accessible to fans anywhere in the world in an immersive metaverse environment. If I'm not wrong, over the last seven or eight years, 30 specific, distinct innovations have been brought to the game to enhance the experience for the variety of its stakeholders. Also read: The ODI format is under threat and bilaterals have become sterile: Gary Kirsten Q. The tennis circuit is working quite a bit with technology. The ATP, for instance, has announced that by 2025, all the line umpires would go electronic. Could you give us a sense of how far this can go?
The possibilities are endless. From when we started eight years ago, when tennis was behind the tech curve, to today when tennis is at the cutting-edge of tech. You think of a dimension of tech, whether it's metaverse, NFTs, virtual reality, mixed reality, AI, all of that is being experimented in tennis at scale. In fact, recently, tennis became one of the first sports where, through the app that we’ve built for them, ATP is now letting the players track their carbon emissions. As technologies evolve, the possibilities and the excitement that we have for the sport will keep on growing. Q. Any plans to expand the platform to other sports, or the WTA for that matter?
I'm not sure if you're familiar with the partnership that we have with the Madison Square Gardens, the New York Knicks, and the New York Rangers. In fact, as we speak, there are capabilities that we've built for tennis that are being rolled out for basketball. Certainly, there are foundational elements of the platform that will be relevant across sports, and then there are specific elements which are customised to a specific game, whether it's tennis, basketball or ice hockey. Q. Have you been able to measure the impact of the Infosys tennis platform on the revenues of the tennis associations?
For most tournaments, the parameters are driven by the unique aspirations they have. Some of them look at fan stickiness, some of them look at increase in the fan base. For example, one of the organisers has a desire to have a deep engagement in the Asia-Pacific market and how access to tech or an immersive experience has been able to increase that for them. So, they are all driven by their unique goals. Q. Can you talk about your association with Tennis Australia and the efforts to increase awareness for STEM programmes?
The way we think of our tennis partnership is that it has to be a manifestation of our purpose. And our purpose is about creating the next opportunity for people, businesses and communities. And one of the parameters of our focus on community impact has been STEM education. As you know, even as part of our ESG goal, we have taken the target of skilling 10 million people by 2030. So tennis, with its popularity, with its reach, is something which is so integral to being used as a vehicle to promote the larger community cause. And with Tennis Australia, we had announced a programme—in its second cohort now—where we are looking at their reach into the communities and using our platforms, primarily Infosys Springboard, to help kids accelerate their STEM learning journey. In fact, one of the initiatives we intend driving with our ambassadors Rafa and Iga is to further leverage their stardom and their aspiration to serve the community and further the STEM cause.