An IPL for tennis: Bhupathi outlines “revolutionary” plans
When blockbuster names like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams publicly endorse a new tennis initiative, you know the mastermind behind it is definitely onto something.
On Friday night in Paris, Indian doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi unveiled his plans for his new project, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) - a team tennis event to be held across various cities in Asia, featuring a host of top players and tennis legends, who could potentially be heading to action in the UAE, on the scheduled debut date scheduled for December 2014.
Dubbed by world No1 Djokovic as a “revolutionary” tennis initiative, Bhupathi drew inspiration for the format of the IPTL from the Indian Premier League, which he has witnessed its growing success since its inception in 2008.
The pilot season will include six teams which will be drafted during next January’s Australian Open in Melbourne, and each franchise will include a roster of six to 10 players with total salaries expected to range from $4million to $10million.
Each team will play home and away fixtures which will include five one-set matches – men and women’s singles, men’s doubles, and a legends’ singles that will feature the likes of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who have already pledged their commitment to the project.
The six cities that will host the franchises are yet to determined but Bhupathi say he will make sure that the league will span the whole Asian continent and that Dubai or Abu Dhabi are likely locations where players are keen on playing at.
“We have 10 cities that are in the running to get the first six spots,” Bhupathi told Sport360°. “We’ve got two or three in the Middle East, we’ve got China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Jakarta, India…
“I think ( Dubai and Abu Dhabi can play a part). I hope so. Not only because I know that there is a great demand for tennis over there - I mean the Dubai Open is sold out every year and Abu Dhabi has this intriguing exhibition. But here is an opportunity to watch men, women and legends on the same platform that doesn’t exist in tennis.
“And I know players love playing in that region because that time of the year they’re going to use, besides playing the league, as a preparation for Australia and the weather is great for them too.
“So a lot of players are very keen saying ‘I will definitely want to play there if the team comes’. We’re in talks with a few parties so hopefully something will happen.”
Bhupathi says he’s focusing on the business appeal of the league as well to make sure stakeholders get their fair share of revenues and explains how the format of the fixtures makes it almost custom-designed for TV.
“It’s an ambitious endeavour and a unique concept,” says the four-time Grand Slam men's doubles champion. “I think the biggest complaint in tennis over time has been the fact – on the TV perspective – is that you can’t control the length of a match and broadcast timings for a Grand Slam final could be two hours or five hours. But here we’ve come up with a concept that a match will be maximum three hours, so the TV networks are extremely excited because they can schedule programming.
“From the owners perspective, we want to make sure that it is also run like a business. So the owners have a huge stake in everything that the league raises as well, with the TV rights, central sponsors, everything that we raise, 85 per cent goes back to the owners.
“And all the revenues that they raise themselves for the local team sponsors and ticket sales is all theirs. We’re trying to make it business friendly and from a concepts point of view we want to bring in NBA style entertainment to tennis. We feel there’s a lot of fans in tennis across the world but we want to bring in new fans to tennis.”
With the increasing demands of both the ATP and WTA tours, player commitments may be a concern in the long run but Bhupathi has ambitious goals and believes the franchise teams can become strong brands within themselves in the future, regardless of the players involved.
He says: “We’re very aware that it’s going to be very player driven especially in the first two years. But later on once this concept grows, like Manchester United, they have fans no matter who plays for them and hopefully we’ll get to that stage at some point in our careers. But right now, it’s player-driven and luckily for us when we ran the concept through them, we had a lot of show of hands.”
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