It’s a hot and humid Monday afternoon, and the Chennai Tennis Stadium is abuzz with activity. An hour before the sun sets, the venue will play host to the city’s first-ever WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) event, the Chennai Open. From Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard to World No 23, Alison Riske, big-ticket names will take to these courts to give Chennai’s its first taste of women’s tennis.
Off the court, the sponsors are lining up to put their money where the tennis is. The Tamil Nadu Government’s Rs 5-crore sponsorship cheque has been followed by a crore that Tata Consultancy Services
have coughed up.
Other brands like Thomas Cook
, Indian Overseas Bank and the AVT Group have made smaller commitments. Names like The Leela Palace
, Coca Cola
, among a few others, are event partners in various capacities. Each of these companies has a different reason for sponsoring tennis, a sport that isn’t exactly up the popularity charts in India.
“Our biggest businesses in the B-to-C space are outbound travel and foreign exchange, and both cater to the slightly up-market and more affluent Indian,” says Abraham Alapatt, President and Group Head (Marketing), Thomas Cook India, “Tennis is a sport that has huge affinity in this segment.”
A long association with Indian sport is likely another reason for sponsors to cough up big bucks. For instance, the AVT Group is a long-time sponsor of world squash champion, Joshna Chinappa. However, it’s brand visibility that is likely the big draw.
“Brands get tremendous mileage from the tournament by way of television and streaming worldwide — and more than any other sport,” points out former tennis legend and president of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, Vijay Amritraj.
“We are in over 150 countries by the time television deals have ended and not many sports can say that,” he adds, “In fact, tennis is a global sport, unlike some other sports that are played b not more than 10 or 12 countries.”
While Chennai is gripped by a bout of tennis fever, it has been a prolific few months for Indian sport in general. Just weeks ago, India hosted the World Chess Olympiad, which saw 1,700 players participate. The country also took home a whopping 61 medals at the Commonwealth Games.
This is good news for players looking for sponsors who in turn target brand-building activity. There’s little doubt the pool will widen beyond cricketers and cricket in its many formats.
That is also partly down to India winning big in these sports. The Indian squash trio of Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghoshal
took home gold and bronze medals at the World Squash Championships and Commonwealth Games, respectively.
Indian squash champions Saurav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal returned with bronze medals at he Commonwealth Games.
Two months ago, The World Chess Olympiad saw India bag a total of nine medals, including a historic bronze by the all-women team.
“We have momentum. A lot of people have been exposed to the game,” says Chess Grand Master, Viswanathan Anand
, “There’s still some chess fever (from when the Olympiad ended). On top of that we have a wonderful Tata Steel chess event in Kolkata. So, there are nice traditions building up everywhere.”
The Indian chess contingent won nine medals at the World Chess Olympiad in July.
Of course, India’s commendable internet penetration in recent times has also helped erstwhile less-popular sports match up to cricket by way of interest and eyeballs.
“Cricket is God here, and everything else comes second,” concedes Ajit Thomas, Chairman, AVT Group, “But with social media and television spreading to so many areas of sport and rural sports, I think there’s an opportunity here.”
While this may only be a start, for several sports and sportspeople, it could well be the dawn of a new era. However, India will have to work on ironing out wrinkles with FIFA
and International Olympic Committee
, before more sports and athletes find sponsors. Indications are rife that if that is indeed the case, chances are we’re in for a lot more international sporting action than before.