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How Indian IT has changed sports around the world

The number of Indians participating in major international competitions like the tennis grand slams, the electric car-based Formula E in racing, or the prestigious UEFA Champions League in football is far from overwhelming.

You can't watch any of these famous events without coming into contact with Indian IT giants, either as sponsors or as providers of technical and logistical support. The technological prowess of these corporations can be seen and appreciated all around the world at sporting events, making them an ideal platform for global marketing campaigns.

HCLTech recently shared the news that their digital engagement with Cricket Australia would be continuing for another year. To guarantee that popular apps like Cricket Australia Live and PlayCricket remain at the top of the app store charts in Australia, the firm plans to use automation and analytics, including artificial intelligence and machine learning.

HCLTech has partnered with sporting organizations before; for example, they have assisted Manchester United in gaining over a billion fans and followers on social media over the past decade.

Also, another Indian powerhouse, Infosys, has made its impact in tennis. Millions of fans worldwide annually use the company's digital apps for the grand slams.

One of the largest digital out-of-home (DOOH) television networks, Bowling Centre TV is available in 1,000 bowling centers in the United States, which collectively welcome over 280 million consumers per year. Wipro also landed a deal with Bowling Centre TV in June.

Wipro's VisionEDGE solution will be incorporated with BCTV, which is used on more than 13,000 digital displays at these bowling centers to provide services including news, gaming, and advertising.

A market worth $21 billion

According to a study by IT market intelligence firm UnearthInsight, the top five Indian IT businesses  - Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, HCL Technologies, Wipro, and Tech Mahindra - generate between $800 million and $1 billion from the sports sector and related partnerships annually.

With an estimated $21 billion in potential revenue, India has captured about five percent of the worldwide market.

There are now departments within these businesses whose sole purpose is to manage sports sponsorships and/or strategy. TCS, the largest software exporter from India, for instance, employs someone whose sole responsibility is to oversee all of the company's international sports sponsorships.

The Infosys Tennis Platform is an open source platform that aggregates data from various sources and can be tailored to the requirements of any ATP-approved tournament.

The corporation has assigned an associate vice president (AVP) to oversee this initiative. And at Tech Mahindra, the company's sports-tech business head uses cloud computing to boost earnings from e-sports and video gaming.

Competition in sports

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, is held at Melbourne's famous Rod Laver Arena. If you are unable to make the yearly trip to Australia, you can experience it in a virtual reality 3D adaptation. Infosys claims that more than half a million tennis enthusiasts have already seen the 3D versions of Rod Laver Arena and Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris, which will host the French Open in June.

"The Infosys Match Center [an open source platform built for the ATP] has already engaged over 100 million tennis fans with its content, including live scores, photos, and videos," claimed Sumit Virmani, global chief marketing officer, Infosys.

It has a number of useful features, such as an AI-based win prediction, commentary driven by natural language processing, and the ability to pinpoint pivotal points in the game.

The games can be analyzed by both the players and their coaches in a dedicated player portal.

More than a thousand characteristics (such as serve speeds, point of return from the ground up, and even crowd noises) are used by artificial intelligence to identify trends in the match. Players and instructors can use the video clips that are created by AI to better understand the sport.

Filters can be applied to these films to examine specific aspects of the game, such as an opponent's serves at break point or strokes won with a backhand slice.

We made our initial entry into sports marketing in 2015, and one of the first things we learned was that the field offers tremendous potential for integrations and disruptive technologies. As Virmani put it, "we wanted to reimagine tennis for fans by using digital innovation and new technologies."

Sports across the world

Not only have businesses in India seen the commercial possibilities in merging sports and technology, but so have businesses from all over the world. IBM has been Wimbledon's technology partner since the 1990s.

We proved this year that using data and AI can improve the experience for the audience. "AI draw analysis tool [could] assess the difficulty of a player's draw, creating a new statistic for tennis," explained Kevin Farrar, head of sport partnerships for IBM UK & Ireland, in reference to IBM's AI commentary for match highlights and videos, which brought generative AI from IBM Watsonx to Wimbledon for the first time.

Xoriant, an American IT company, recently announced its partnership with the NFL, with the goal of automating the "hours" of manual viewing of match and practice film in terms of contact detection to a "few minutes" currently.

The reason for this is to protect the athletes.

Wipro, like many other tech companies, has gotten into the business of providing services to sports arenas.

Streamlining processes like temperature control and lighting in stadiums based on characteristics like crowd capacity and predictive maintenance alarms is made possible by real-time data on private networks supplied from connected internet of things (IoT) devices.

It also provides solutions and analytics, such as the ability to recommend products and deals to fans based on their previous purchases, or to make "quick click" purchases and have them delivered to your seat so you don't even have to get up from your seat to get some snacks.

In-game analytics and visualizations are another service the company offers to enhance the viewing experience for spectators. Infosys has also been collaborating with the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association and the New York Rangers of ice hockey to provide real-time coverage of event operations and increase fan interaction.

"The money made from these gigs doesn't really make a dent in the budget. But being a technology partner for extremely popular sports like cricket, tennis, football, golf, and racing aids in global brand shaping and provides opportunity to interact with clients and potential customers off the field. According to Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, a partner at development consultancy firm Catalincs, "it also helps the company position itself as a cool brand," which helps attract and retain the top personnel, locally and globally.

Effects of spending discretion?

In their first-quarter earnings reports, nearly all IT giants warned of a shift toward cost-saving deals as clients cut back on discretionary spending.

While TCS saw no chance of double-digit growth, Infosys predicted its worst revenue increase in nearly a decade in FY24.

Does this foretell a future dearth of commercial sponsorships in sports?

"With technology becoming more mature and accessible, we anticipate a robust pipeline and uphill demand for connected, smart, and seamless [sporting] experiences in the near future," said Malay Joshi, sector leader of communications, retail, connectivity, and services at Wipro.

"Growing demand for immersive experiences and immersive sports are constantly increasing the need to harness new-age technologies such as 5G connectivity, AI/ML, data, and security," he added.

Following and interest in sports, according to experts, are uncorrelated with economic cycles.

Broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) were sold last year for $6.02 billion, more than double the price from the previous cycle.

The cricket league is worth an estimated $10.9 billion, making it the second most valuable sports league in the world. According to UnearthInsight's CEO and founder, "a decade ago, each of these companies set up a dedicated sports practice within the media and entertainment vertical, but they could not capitalise or capture a larger market."

However, he continued, "However, despite a looming recession, such deals will be immune to spending cuts, as sports and gaming have seen no drop in ad revenue, sponsorship rates, or overall viewership" despite the economic downturn.

Energizing the game, stadiums

In addition, businesses are developing cloud-deployment solutions and IoT systems for fan involvement (including Alexa-enabled comments).

It's the same in every sport, whether it's tennis, cricket, football, motor sports, rugby, etc. Increasing the clubs' advertising and sponsorship income may also be a condition of some contracts.

The Cricket Australia Live app, for instance, provides access to a curated news feed, video highlights, and real-time score updates.

Access to certain live streaming and radio commentary can also be gained by using this portal, along with purchasing tickets and official products. HCLTech claimed that it was the most popular summer sports app in the country, with more than 100 million annual sessions (total user interactions).

In addition, Infosys has introduced over 30 innovations to the tennis ecosystem that leverage the convergence of AI, cloud, metaverse, mixed reality, and other cutting-edge technologies.

“The benefit of such partnerships is the ability to enhance brand recall among key buyers and influencers within the global CXO community. Often companies invite top clients for strategic panel discussions and social interactions on the sidelines of such events, and these serve to enhance their thought leadership and strengthen customer relationships,” said Nitin Bhatt, technology sector leader, EY India.

Bhatt remarked that the digital and AI solutions typically displayed at such events amaze both customers and workers, the latter of whom are proud to be affiliated with a firm whose technologies drive sports insights and experiences on a worldwide scale.

The technological advancements and backing are geared at a specific sporting event or organization. As soon as it becomes successful, the software is ported to other competitions or even other sports. This encompasses anything from creating and maintaining their official apps to enabling technology at stadiums.

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