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Amritraj, Bhupathi vie for match point

India’s two ace international players, Vijay Amritraj and Mahesh Bhupathi, are facing each other on the tennis court but now as promoters of tennis teams. Amritraj is set to launch the Champions Tennis League (CTL), on the lines of Indian Premier League in cricket. It will have six city-based teams in the first edition, to be held between November 17 and 26.

This is a few weeks ahead of the Mahesh Bhupathi-promoted International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) tournament, which will be played in various cities of Asia, including Dubai, Delhi or Mumbai, Singapore and Manila.

CTL will have 13 matches played over the 10-day period, with the teams structured into two groups, each having three teams, where all teams play each other in a home and away format. The team with the highest number of games won (and not sets) in their respective group will play each other in the grand finale to win prize money of Rs 1 crore. The runner-up will get Rs 50 lakh.

CTL teams will feature male and female players with international rankings between No. 5 and No. 25. Each of the six teams will also have an international legend as playing captain, apart from a noted Indian male tennis player, plus a top-ranked junior Indian girl and boy from each city. The league organiser company, Second Serve, is currently in talks with the international players and will be announcing the names by September first week, along with names of the franchise owners.

There was no auction for the franchises. Much like the Mashal Sports-promoted Pro Kabaddi League, the promoters went to the market with their concept and business plan and roped in franchise owners from among the interested parties.

CTL will follow a business model very similar to the 20-20 tournament IPL. The central revenue pool will consist of fees from the broadcasting rights and the sponsorship fees. A percentage of the central revenue will be kept aside to be distributed equally among the team owners, while the rest will be used to produce and run the tournament. The percentage that will be given to the franchises will be decided after a discussion with the franchise owners. In case of the IPL, 80 per cent of the central revenue is distributed among the teams.

The league has the support of the All-India Tennis Association (AITA). Vijay Amritraj, chairman and managing director of Second Serve Private Limited, says, “I have been discussing an initiative like this with AITA for many years now. Finally, we have decided that together, we can bring a level of tennis entertainment that has never been seen in India before. We are in final negotiations with interested parties in Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chandigarh and are working hard to take forward discussions in Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune for our remaining two franchises.”

The cost incurred by the franchises would be in the range of Rs 4 to 6 crore, much in line with the expenses on other domestic non-cricket leagues, barring the Indian Super League (ISL). Both the kabaddi leagues (Pro Kabaddi League and Wave World Kabaddi League), the Indian Badminton League and the Hero Hockey India League call for investments in the same range by the franchise owners. The ISL franchises will be shelling out nearly Rs 20 crore.

This cost includes the franchise fee, the player fee and the production cost (ground and television). The only variable is the marketing and promotion cost that a team owner would employ according to his sensibilities.

“Vijay was very clear about one thing. Financially, it should be viable for the team owners to commit themselves to the league and so, we have ensured that the cost is restricted wherever possible. Also, while there are no celebrities on board yet (among the franchise owners), we have given them the choice of roping them in at any stage,” says Arjun Rao, chief executive officer, Second Serve. Most of the franchise owners would be from the corporate world.

He adds the timing of the league is not an attempt to compete with Bhupathi’s IPTL. It is in fact the result of a packed ATP and WTA calendar and the promoters had only a two-week window, which they grabbed.

“We were not too keen on holding the event in December considering it is Christmas time and most of the players would want to prepare for the next international tennis season. Also, in essence, the two leagues are very different. The format is similar as it is fashioned for television but the similarities end there. We are a purely domestic league while Mahesh’s attempts to take it to four countries across Asia,” he says.

There is not much clarity on the Globosport organised IPTL with only the names of the players and names of two of the owners which has come out. The league claims it has managed to rope in players like Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Andre Agassi. Among the four teams, the Singapore-based team is co-owned by Vikar Ghelot and Sunil Gavaskar, while the other team owners are yet to be announced. The media partner on the tournament is UFA Sports, which will be responsible for the distribution of the media rights in the respective host countries. Sources reveal that Star India is the front-runner for acquiring the media rights for the IPTL for telecast in India.

The broadcast rights of CTL has been snapped up by Multi Screen Media and will be telecast on its sports channel Sony Six. While the acquisition fee has not been disclosed, the deal has been inked for a period of five years.

“This is the first time the game of tennis will be brought closer to the Indian audiences on the ground. Barring the Chennai Open, there is no major event taking place in the country. We, at Sony Six, see a good opportunity in the tournament since it is domestic and will be aired at prime time for the entire duration,” says Prasana Krishnan, executive vice-president and business head, Sony Six.

Sony Six also has the broadcast rights of the Wave Kabaddi League and the Caribbean Premier League and also telecast the English feed of the Indian Premier League. It recently aired the FIFA World Cup on its channels Sony Six, Sony Six HD and its Bangla channel Sony Aath.

Both Second Serve and Sony Six believe it is too early to talk sponsorships, but the individual teams will be hard at work roping in advertisers and sponsors over the next couple of months.


TENNIS TOURNAMENTS

Champions Tennis League (CTL)

  • Promoted by Vijay Amritraj’s Second Serve
  • Total of 6 teams
  • Purely domestic league with 6 players per team
  • Broadcast partner in the Indian sub-continent is MSM (five-year deal)
  • Winner to get Rs 1 crore, runner-up Rs 50 lakh

International Premier Tennis League (IPTL)

  • Promoted by Mahesh Bhupathi’s Globosport
  • Total of 4 teams
  • Asia level tournament spanning four countries – India, UAE, Singapore and Philippines with a maximum of 8 players per team
  • Media partner is UFA sport, which will distribute the rights in the respective host cities
  • The league claims it has managed to rope in players like Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Andre Agassi

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