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Aircel and the Chennai Open: Interview with CMO Anupam Vasudev

Aircel have recently renewed the lease on India's only stop on the ATP Tour.

Aircel CMO anupam vasudev
Aircel Chief Marketing Officer Anupam Vasudev spoke about the company’s long association with the Open

After Stan Wawrinka won his fourth Aircel Chennai Open title this past Sunday. As the crowd favourite and a man very popular in these parts, Wawrinka’s win clearly delighted those in attendance at the stadium as well as many watching on television.

The good news wasn’t to end there.

M. A. Alagappan, President, Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), the host association for the tournament, announced that the lease for the Aircel Chennai Open was being renewed and that next year, India’s only ATP event would be back for yet another season.

It is courtesy the contributions of the sponsors of the event that the tournament has continued to reach 20 editions and continue to draw players from the Top 5 like Stan Wawrinka, now a 2-time Grand Slam champion.

Wawrinka said as much during the presentation ceremony, “I would like to thank all the sponsors, particularly Aircel for their efforts in making this tournament happen.”

Aircel are the title sponsors, an association that began seven years ago, moving on to title sponsorship since 2011. In that time, the tournament has pushed on and has become a good hunting ground for players who have gone on to develop well on the ATP World Tour.

Players such as Wawrinka himself, whose winning run in 2014 (his first title came in 2011) saw him capture a Grand Slam as well in each of 2014 and 2015. Will he continue the trend in 2016?

Wawrinka apart, Milos Raonic, winner here in 2012, went on to break into the Top 10 and has stayed there for the last four years. Marin Cilic, winner of back-to-back titles also enjoyed a spell in the Top 10 and won the US Open in 2014.

Aircel has been making concerted efforts to get the best talent here, working closely with the tournament organizers, explains Anupam Vasudev, Chief Marketing Officer, Aircel.

“We are a mass market brand, and we primarily look to target the young audience, typically between the ages of 15-28. The two things that are extremely popular with this category in India are sport and films.

We’ve taken the call to invest in sport as a result because we felt that it was an uncluttered space. And Aircel as a brand wants to convey the same feelings as what the youth primarily desire, achievement, and hence establish an emotional connect with them through sport”, explains Vasudev, on his company’s approach to sports marketing.

The Aircel Chennai Open isn’t the only sporting property that Aircel has supported. The Chennai Super Kings Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, Shillong Lahjong in the i-League, Atletico de Kolkata in the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament are amongst the prominent ones.

The company having a prominent presence in these markets also made it a more natural connection. “We are strong in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and the North-East and as such it was only logical we look at connecting with properties in these regions. And fortunately we have had some great teams and tournaments that we could associate with. These sporting properties are important to us forming a key cornerstone in our outlook”, adds Vasudev.

When quizzed about the Aircel Chennai Open in particular, Vasudev explains how it came about – “We found out that tennis was in fact the second most watched sport in India. Of course, cricket was first, and there was a huge margin between cricket and the rest of the sports. But tennis was a good margin ahead of the rest of the chasing pack.

And that helped us settle on tennis as a sport worth investing in. Also, we tend to look at long term properties and relationships and the Aircel Chennai Open having been running over 15 years at the time we joined in was a solid tournament we were willing to get behind, confident that the tournament would continue to be a flagship event down the line as well.”

Talking about the event as such and the visions that Aircel has for it, he says it is about establishing India as a premier destination on the tennis map, hoping to enhance the scope of the event and draw in the best players and more crowds.

Besides being CMO at Aircel, Vasudev is a keen tennis enthusiast himself and is a frequent tennis player himself. He loves playing the game in his leisure time and counts Wawrinka, Janko Tipsarevic and Leander Paes as some of his favourite players from the Aircel Chennai Open. He has also been impressed with young Ramkumar Ramanathan’s performance at this year’s event.

“I have been following Ramkumar’s matches. It is really nice to see him do well. He faced stronger players than him and he beat them, he looks to have a good future”, he added.

Vasudev says going forward, he would like to see two Indians make it into the Top 50 in the world rankings in the singles, in the next five years. That for him would represent a significant milestone for Indian tennis and a foundation for players coming up in future.

As for what ails the sport, he says, “Tennis is not a career path yet in India. I’ve seen a lot of people play tennis, but discontinue it after a certain age to take up some other career. It’s something that lot of people believe is not a bankable career. But the recent developments should show them that it is possible. Getting that breakthrough into the Top 50 is also about not having just one or two players and counting on them. We need a 100 Ramanathans, we need to have a huge pool of talent from which a couple can make the breakthrough.”

Besides tennis, he is also an ardent fan of cricket and golf.

He has liked the good quality of matches in this year’s edition, especially from youngsters such as Ramanathan, Borna Coric and Alexander Rublev.

The Aircel Chennai Open will be back next year as I’d already mentioned up top and with two decades of success in its bag, looking to raise the bar here with the continued support of its title sponsor, Aircel.

As a sporting property, the Aircel Chennai Open is one of the most prestigious in India, and as a destination for players to start the season, it definitely is competing more firmly now with the likes of Brisbane and Doha.

Time to start planning for next year then, as the Aircel Chennai Open looks to get bigger and better.

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