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The Drum speaks to New York-based Michelle Doti Taylor, head of sports sponsorships at Tata Consultancy Services on why the company opts to invest in marathons, as part of its marketing suite ahead.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the leading global IT services, consulting and business solutions organization, recently announced signing a six-year partnership with London Marathon, the iconic mass sporting event that was first held in 1981. The title sponsorship will come into effect from 2022.

TCS is not new to marathon marketing and has been associated with major marathons across the world, including New York, Amsterdam, Singapore, and Mumbai over the years. Even for the London Marathon, TCS has been helping build the technology for the app for the past many years. Most recently in 2020, the tech company had updated the app to support participants in the first virtual London Marathon during the pandemic.

Marathons: an integral part of the TCS marketing suite

TCS, over the years, has been allocating sizable marketing dollars in leveraging global sports sponsorships to further build its brand, enhance customer relationships and reinforce the culture and core values to the target audience. Adds Taylor, “overall, the platform has been delivering solidly on the brand objectives.”

Specifically, while announcing TCS as the title sponsor for the prestigious London Marathon, Amit Kapur, country head, TCS UK & Ireland, said, “The London Marathon was founded on the core belief that the family of mankind can be united, and we are pleased to lead the way in driving the future success of physical and virtual London Marathons.” The London Marathon this year is scheduled to take place on 3rd October. 

Marathon sponsorship can be exciting for both B2B and B2C companies  

Most big-city marathons have been dependent on sponsors for both product and monetary support since their inception and interestingly many companies, across categories, have seen the value in the attractive marathon demographic.  

Not so surprisingly, when TCS started sponsoring the marathons, many wondered why a technology company would sponsor major global marathons. Shares Taylor, “For us, it was a natural evolution of building on the core values and belief that running can improve the lives of our employees, clients and communities where we work and live.”

As tech-led innovations transform all aspects of life, TCS has been able to use the marathon platform to showcase the power of technology to solve problems and enhance experiences, she adds.

Deploying technology to make the marathon experience seamless  

One of the biggest ways TCS has managed to leverage technology to make the marathon experience smoother is through the race app is created to support its sponsored events. The app product is used at 13 sponsored endurance running events globally. Shares Taylor, “The race apps have been a game-changer for the sport, allowing spectators (those on-course and at home) to track their runner along with the race, providing the emotional support to help get their loved ones across the finish line.” While runner tracking is the most popular feature in the app, other key features include animated course maps and fun AR-VR integrations. 

TCS race apps were downloaded by over 1.4 million people in 2019 and as per the available data, the runner tracking page in the 2019 New York City Marathon app had over 14 million page views. 

Pivoting the marathon experience during the pandemic

A fallout of the lockdown has been the increasing trend of virtual events which have become the new reality across categories - whether to conduct regular day to day meetings or to organize more bespoke events. Realizing that the pandemic is likely to have a mid to long-term impact, TCS started talking to its race partners to see how it can help them continue to engage with runners and also checked with internal teams to see what technology might be available to help the race partners overcome some of the new safety needs, shares Taylor.

Accordingly, the TCS Interactive team worked on creating a solution within the race app for virtual racing.

Elaborating on the company’s post-pandemic pivot strategy, she adds, “To help encourage engagement and excitement around the virtual events, TCS created new app features for the runners and spectators such as mini photo recaps, virtual medals using augmented reality, event-specific soundtracks and sound effects, customizable cheer cards and selfie photo frames.”

Challenges of sports sponsorship 

Companies have been leveraging the fan base and passion around sports for years to increase their brand awareness and sell products and services. Even though sports sponsorship is a multi-billion-dollar business globally and has been increasing in, both size and clout, it does have its unique challenges and needs a certain nuanced approach. 

Taylor, who has been a sports marketer for over 20 years, having worked at New York Road Runners and The Walt Disney Company before her current stint at TCS, says, “clear objectives and a plan for how the value of the sponsorship will be measured is the key to being able to maximize sports sponsorships as a marketing tool.” This is particularly the case with companies that are not able to directly connect their sponsorships to sales, she adds.

Life of a sports marketer in a tech company 

Taylor loves her sports marketer job including the current mandate where she gets to work at the intersection of sports and technology and seeing the impact these sponsorships have on the employees and communities. As with most jobs, there is a level of administration work that can be a bit tedious, she admits since “even the ‘fun’ jobs have paperwork.”