The Tata Mumbai Marathon, Asia’s biggest endurance race, is helping deepen the connect companies like Tata Consultancy Services and Tata Steel have established with running communities around the world

Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran (left) with pole vault legend Sergey Bubka, the event ambassador for the Tata Mumbai Marathon

On the 21st day of the new year, some 44,000 people in Mumbai woke up ready to run. It was the day of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, among the world’s top 10 running events and the largest in Asia, which draws participants of all ages and abilities, including celebrities and international athletes.

They came to run not just for the money — the Mumbai Marathon is the richest race in India with a prize pool of $405,000 — but also to support a wide range of social causes. The marathon is the largest philanthropic sporting event in India and has benefitted, in the 15 years since its inception, about 550 NGOs to the tune of nearly 2 billion.

With large-scale community participation, there’s a strong social angle to the Tata engagement with Mumbai’s biggest running event. Although Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has been associated with the Mumbai Marathon for a number of years, the engagement has now been taken to a higher level with the Tata group and the company signing a 10-year title sponsorship deal for the event.

Speaking at the launch announcement in August 2017 for the Mumbai Marathon, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran, a passionate marathoner himself, said, “Events like the marathon promote values like grit, tenacity, excellence, perseverance, belief, commitment and passion that have been a key part of the Tata group’s ethos since its inception... Partnering with India’s premier long-distance running event is a great way for the Tata group to increase our engagement with the community, raise funds for charity as well as create societal awareness about the necessity of good health and fitness. As a marathoner, I’m personally proud to support this partnership.”

LONG-TIME ALLEGIANCE

TCS’s association with long-distance running events goes back several years and includes some of the world’s most famous runs. As title sponsor or technology partner, it has been associated with the city marathons of New York, Boston, London, Singapore and Amsterdam. The company also supports other long-distance running events, among them the World 10K in Bengaluru and the Lidingöloppet cross-country run in Sweden (see Running around the world).

Men’s event champion Solomon Deksisa (Ethiopia), who clocked a credible 2:09:34 in the 42-km event, flanked by compatriot and runner-up Shumet Akalnaw (left) and Kenya's Joshua Kipkorir, who finished in third place

TCS chief marketing officer Ravi Viswanathan believes marathons offer an attractive sponsorship avenue because they’re so inclusive. “We’ve found that endurance running, especially marathons, gives us a great opportunity to connect with local communities," he says. "Marathons are one of the few sporting events where anyone can participate in the same race alongside world-class, elite athletes. This draws not only participants but also spectators and others.”

That marathons are a huge draw is a bit of an understatement. About 2.5 million people showed up to cheer the 52,000-odd runners in the New York Marathon last year. (Interesting fact: Forbes magazine estimated that some 1,800 toilets were set up for the race. The toilet stops are essential; an average marathoner takes over 4.5 hours to complete the course.)

Sydney, where TCS begins its engagement with the City2Surf running event this year, which is arguably the world’s biggest running event, with more than 82,000 enthusiastic participants. Numbers like these support TCS’s estimation that it has garnered over a billion brand impressions through the 20-odd running events it is involved with.

Men's winner Solomon Deksisa and women's champ Amane Gobena at the finish line

Apart from the potential for increasing brand visibility, sporting events are also a promising engagement opportunity for clients, customers and employees. Around 3,300 people, representing about 300 TCS client companies, have run in the company-sponsored marathons.

And it’s not just TCS. Tata Steel, one of the oldest companies in the group, has taken to running events, going beyond their traditionally supported sports like football and hockey. The company has also started sponsoring running events. Four years ago, it started the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, a 25-km marathon that has a social cause at its heart: supporting the Tata Medical Center, a cancer hospital in Kolkata. While Kolkata is not associated with chart-busting running events, more than 10,000 people turned out for the race, which was held on December 17, 2017.

The Tata Steel Kolkata 25k has grown to become the largest such endurance race in eastern India. The popularity and appeal of such events has led Tata Steel to host running events in Jamshedpur, at its mines in Noamundi (Jharkhand) and a half marathon in Bhubaneshwar (Odisha).

“City-branded marathons are about health and fitness, about community participation and about running for a cause,” says Sunil Bhaskaran, vice president, corporate services, Tata Steel. “The fit was fine for Tata Steel and the decision to base the running events in the regions where we operate was logical. There are three elements in our approach to sports: facilitating wellness among, and the wellbeing of, our employees; working with the community in the domain of sports; and nurturing talented young sportspeople.”

The Tata Mumbai Marathon attracted participants from all walks of life

Race facts

  • The Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018 attracted about 44,000 runners.
  • The marathon has a prize pool of $405,000, the largest in India.
  • It is the biggest marathon in Asia as well as the biggest mass participation sporting event in the continent.
  • The event had seven race categories: marathon (42.194 km), half marathon (21.097 km), dream run (6 km), senior citizens race (4.3 km), ‘champions with disability’ (2.4 km), and the newly added ‘timed 10-km run’.
  • Gideon Kipketer’s timing of 2:08:35 in the men’s event in 2016 and Valentine Kipketer’s 2:24:33 in 2013 are the course records for the event.

FITNESS FACTOR

Running is a serious matter at TCS, especially when it comes to its employees. “Work-life balance is an important aspect of our employees’ lives,” says Mr Viswanathan. "People working with TCS have taken to running as a part of our employee health and fitness programme called Fit4Life. They have been among the biggest contingents at the Mumbai Marathon.”

TCS makes a donation to charity for every kilometre and every hour of fitness an employee logs through the internal Fit4Life app. More than 6 million kilometres have been logged annually through the app, the equivalent of 150 laps around the earth. That’s an active workforce in the true sense of the word.

TCS also banks on its IT competencies to make running events more fun and digitally engaging for runners and spectators. It has developed a smartphone app for running races that displays event information such as schedules, maps and running data. It also measures the real-time status of pace, distance, calories burned and other insights on a runner’s performance. A new GPS feature helps spectators track, through mapped locations, where their loved ones are running. This enables them to show up at spots along the route to cheer and offer encouragement. With about 560,000 downloads, the TCS app has been voted the No 1 free app in Apple Store.

Taking the marathon route is a winning move for TCS, which leverages its technological expertise and is aligned with its efforts to promote health and fitness in the community.

The 2017 edition of the NYC Marathon had runners from 124 countries

Running around the world

TCS supports several globally prestigious marathons, as title sponsor, technology partner or both:

TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON

Among the best-known marathons in the world, the NYC Marathon had over 98% of participants — 50,766 runners — finishing the 2017 race. The total prize money for the event, which had runners from 124 countries, was $825,000. There were an estimated 2.5 million spectators and the race earned $31.7 million for social partner New York Road Runners. It also included the biggest wheelchair race prize in the world: $125,000 in total.

TCS WORLD 10K BENGALURU

With a prize pool of more than $200,000, the TCS World 10K is the biggest running event in Bengaluru, with participants running over 10km of city roads. What makes this race special is its social connect. It brings in nearly 10,000 donors, making the event the largest philanthropy platform in the city. Since inception, it has benefitted more than 300 civil society organisations and helped raise in excess of 520 million in donations.

The Amsterdam run

TCS LIDINGÖLOPPET

The Swedish Lidingöloppet is one of the world’s most popular cross-country runs. It takes participants through a gruelling 30-km course in open terrain near Stockholm in September each year. The 2017 edition of the race had 22,000 participants from 35 countries. TCS also sponsors other events such as the Lidingöloppet 15km, Lidingöruset (for people with special needs), Lidingörullet (wheelchair users) and LillaLidingöloppet (kids).

TCS CLARK ANIMO

Now in its ninth edition, the TCS Clark Animo is one of the Philippines most exciting distance running events. The race is held annually in Clark Pampanga and features the 42km marathon as well as shorter distance events. Many thousands of runners participate in the event.

CITY2SURF, SYDNEY

The latest addition to TCS’s running events portfolio unfolds in the southern hemisphere. In 2018, TCS will support three such races in Australia: the Australian Running Festival in Canberra, the City2Surf event in Sydney, and the City2Sea run in Melbourne. Sydney’s City2Surf is widely regarded as the world’s biggest such event, with over 80,700 runners participating in 2017.

TCS AMSTERDAM MARATHON

One of the most prominent and popular marathons in Europe, the TCS Amsterdam Marathon hosts some 42,500 runners from more than 80 countries. Started in 1975, the race has received the 'IAAF Gold Label for Road Races', the highest honour in the business. TCS has been a supporter of the Amsterdam Marathon since 2011.


Images courtesy Procam International