There is ambiguity as to whether Roger Federer will play all legs of Mahesh Bhupathi’s International Premier Tennis League. There is speculation that he is being paid as much as $1.2 million (around Rs 7.4 crore) for each set! And as such, is unlikely to figure in more than two legs of the four (Phillipines, Singapore, India and UAE). However, he’s certain for Delhi.
Repeated queries to Bhupathi failed to reveal the precise number of cheap tickets available for the Indian leg. The publicity blitz insists that tickets are being sold in lots and the first batch sold out in 20 minutes. How many? I don’t know. There is no way to verify the veracity of these claims. But given the number of calls your correspondent has got for tickets, it’s obvious that interest in this league is extraordinarily high.
A shake up
And not just in Asia. In fact, Bhupathi’s attempt may well have shaken up the fossilised structure of the tennis tour. A senior International Tennis Federation official insists that the ATP (men’s tennis association) has called a meeting of various tournament directors and stake holders to figure how to counter potential mushrooming of such events. The logic is that if a top player can get in the vicinity of a million dollars from a week of a league that has him play a few exhibition sets, the charm of the smaller grade ATP events with less prize money may fade despite the appearance money these guys get.
The League, according to Asian Tennis Federation president Anil Khanna, is running under the aegis of the Asian federation. It’s been learnt that after initial enthusiasm, the ATP, WTA (professional women player’s body) and the ITF turned cold. It challenges the established structure where weeks on the tennis tour are owned by investors who either sell their right to hold a tournament to the highest bidder or else have evolved a profitable business model. Bhupathi’s gambit has made people uncomfortable.
Then, the long-planned league of the national tennis federation takes off on Monday. It’s been a huge struggle. The groundwork for the league has been going on for a number of years. Davis Cup player Rohit Rajpal crunched the numbers and chose not to go ahead. Karnataka administrator Sunder Raju had even put together a host of sponsors and figured out the whole nitty-gritty of a league a year ago. He backed out over differences with the national body. Both Rajpal and Raju are seasoned businessmen well versed with the commercial climate in India. Now, Vijay Amritraj in sync with Indian tennis president Khanna has come up with a six-team franchise based concept.
There have been financial problems surfacing. The Chennai team failed to take off. While the website says ‘sold out’, the majority of the tickets for the event have been given out. Some of the Indian players are slated to be paid on Monday before they take to the court in the evening. There are murmurs about the financial commitment of some investors. However, investors from Punjab who have been in touch with this writer were looking to get involved as they believed that the cost of a team will go up like cricket’s IPL and they will sell for a profit. During the five-year lock in period, they expect the business model to yield consistent revenue.
While there is a lot of presumed valuation of IPL teams, records filed with the Registrar of Companies show that only three teams – Jaipur, Kolkata and Delhi – have registered a profit in the financial year 2013-14 (between Rs 10-15 crore). Given the scramble to find sponsors and get the Champions Tennis League off the ground, I am sceptical about the return on investment.
Bhupathi and Amritraj must be commended for their drive and effort in putting up these ‘glorified exhibitions’. For quality sporting content starved markets like India, these may well click. The crux, however, lies in the business model. Many a league has been announced and failed to take off in India. Badminton, despite the best of players, is on hold after one edition. Tennis is now rolling its dice.