Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From New York to London: Why TCS loves marathons

In an exclusive conversation as part of Storyboard18's Month In Focus - Just Sports, TCS' chief marketing officer, Rajashree R, shares the brand's approach to global and local sponsorships of sports and events

Published: May 18, 2022 05:21:23 PM IST
Updated: May 18, 2022 05:49:06 PM IST

From New York to London: Why TCS loves marathonsRajashree R, CMO, TCS.

Over the past two years, lockdowns and restrictions continued to disrupt our lives. But tough times couldn’t deter us from exercise and sports. More than ever, we found time for activities like yoga and weight training at home and as soon as the world unlocked, running, cycling, walking, and other fitness activities became a routine and much-needed break from virtual meets. After two years, many sporting events have returned with spectators and participative events flagging off as per schedule, with participants returning with revenge. For runners, the highlight of the year is the return of major running events. One such event was the TCS World 10K that took place recently.

The event saw close to 20,000 runners take to the streets of Bengaluru. Participants came from across the country and some international runners as well. Many came to catch up with their running buddies after a gap of two years, while others came with a determination to race, compete, and achieve their personal running goals that had been postponed. The excitement was palpable at the start line, during the race, and post the event. A part of all this action were many brands present on the ground.

Being the title sponsor of this event, which is also one of the biggest 10K events in the world, TCS’s logo was splashed across the city of Bengaluru. Ahead of the event, Storyboard18 caught up with Rajashree R, chief marketing officer of TCS, to gauge the excitement around the event. She spoke about how, when it comes to running, there is no other brand that has dominated a sport like TCS.

In the year 2021 itself, the brand added the TCS London Marathon and the Waterfront Marathon to its roster of 11 running sponsorships, including the highly popular TCS New York City Marathon. In the year gone by, the IT major also announced a partnership for the Jaguar TCS racing team and Formula-E motorsports. It also made its way into the field of golf by partnering with the Dutch Open.

In an exclusive conversation as part of Storyboard18’s month in focus - Just Sports, Rajashree R shares the brand’s approach to sponsorships.

Edited excerpts.

Q. You have title sponsored events across different markets now. New York and London, which are World Marathon Majors. Then Amsterdam, Toronto, Bengaluru; and many events that you associate with as a technology partner. How exactly do you choose these events? What is the deciding factor?

If you look at the recent past, you would have hardly seen a brand dominate a sport as we do with marathons. Brands sponsor an odd football game or an odd tennis event. But we are today a primary source behind marathons. We are sponsoring around 14 marathons across the world. Right from Canberra to Amsterdam to London. As a runner, you would know that New York and London are the top billing marathons in the world. It is a reflection of that and, of course, this is where our customers are, our own employees are. It is a no brainer if you ask me.

Q. Some of these sponsorships and partnerships are up for renewal after a few years. What keeps you interested?

It is a long term commitment for us. The good thing about a marathon is that it is a very inclusive sport. If you look at some of the other sports, they are not as inclusive as a marathon is. You see millions of runners wearing a TCS badge and running on the Brooklyn bridge—it gives you goosebumps! Not just as a ‘TCSer’ but also as an Indian. The fact that it brings a city together, brings the commonman together, I think, is very exciting for us as a brand. I am waiting to see the London Marathon because this is the first time we would have the title sponsorship. So, these are goosebumps moments for all of us, and we are deeply committed to the cause.

From New York to London: Why TCS loves marathonsTCS World 10K, Bengaluru

Q. As you mentioned, TCS’ new role is that of the title partner for the upcoming London Marathon. What are the big plans there?

For me, if you say, New York, London, and Mumbai, I think you have covered the world. We are very excited about the London opportunity. It is a gorgeous marathon. It goes through the parks of London. It is a historic marathon as well—one of the oldest marathons out there. The UK is a very important market for us. It is a market where we are the No.1 technology service provider, so bringing our customers, our employees and the larger ecosystem to this platform is very exciting. It is not just about customers but our employees as well. Because every year, we sponsor 6,000 employees to participate in these marathons.

Q. Earlier, you mentioned how TCS has dominated this sport of marathons. But now you are also getting into other sports such as Formula E or Dutch Open for Golf. What are the strategy and approaches there?

For us, sport, in general, is a great association for the brand. Because when you are a sports person, you push yourself as a human to your maximum limit. And any place where technology is helping humans to do better is the intersection that we love. So whether it is running or the use of technology or the use of the app, giving runners the guidance to do the training and helping them do better is an exciting area.

Motorsport was interesting to us especially. The EV opportunity is an area where we believe our future lies. We all know our future lies with EV. We want to be a part of that journey. And Formula E is at the pinnacle because the kind of research that happens on the sidelines of Formula E drives the road map for electric vehicles in the future. Jaguar is a fantastic brand for us to be associated with. We are not just a sponsor, we are a partner to Jaguar. We have a large relationship with Jaguar as well. So we are working very closely with them on the vehicle, helping the drivers with technology, and so on. The reason we got on to it was that it allowed us to use our technology strength for drivers to do better and also for the greater cause of EV as our future. So that intersection was very exciting for us and that is why we got on board.

Q. Earlier this year, TCS was declared the second most valuable information technology company globally by a Brand Finance report. What has been the contribution of sports sponsorships to help achieve this global brand positioning?

It has been pivotal. I think we are probably one of the first brands to have a global platform as far as sponsorships are concerned. We can now see other Indian brands joining the bandwagon, which is good. It has helped us to take the brand forward. Having that kind of strong presence in some of the marquee markets has been pivotal in gaining brand value. If you look at the narration of the brand value when we got the report, they rated the sports sponsorships as a key driver to achieving this brand value. And very importantly, it is not just about that day, we do a lot of things around the sponsorships. For example, in New York, we do something called team TCS for teachers. We got a cohort of teachers who we are sponsoring to run the New York Marathon. As we know, during the pandemic, the teaching community was affected. So we are supporting a lot of initiatives around the sidelines of the marathon.

From New York to London: Why TCS loves marathonsLondon Marathon

Q. With the Council of Responsible Sport, you have recently launched an app called ‘Rescore’ that will help organisers make their events more sustainable. Can you share how will it work?

I am very proud of it. When running events happen, a lot of waste is generated. Today we know that people want more sustainable things. A lot of these runners want to lead a sustainable life and not contribute to any waste. This app, that we have done with the Council of Responsible Sport, is a full dashboard which is used by the event organisers to measure various factors that contribute to the lack of sustainability—like wastage, use of power, and use of fuel. A lot of factors they can themselves measure like how green and sustainable this event is. The app is free. When you run a marathon, you will be happy to know that you are running a sustainable marathon.

Note to readers: Storyboard18’s new Month In Focus initiative spotlights themes and topics that are pushing marketers to reshape and rethink how brands interact with today’s customers. Our first theme is Just Sports, a special spotlight on sports marketing presented by Sports18. We bring to you stories of how marketers are harnessing the power of technology, innovation and creativity in sports to create powerful storytelling in campaigns that increase affinity and loyalty with audiences. From traditional sports platforms around cricket to emerging games and the rise of esports, we get leading voices from the marketing and sports worlds to give us sharp and fast insights into future-facing marketing practices. Also, tune in for analysis which will surface ideas and strategies that are helping brands to level up experiences and storytelling with authentic collaborations. So watch this space for Just Sports.