Hong Kong key target for 'instant-action' franchise based on cricket's Indian Premier League
Cricket's IPL the model for ambitious new international league set to launch next year with the world's top players on board
Hong Kong will play a "prominent" role in the new International Premier Tennis League, says former Indian doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, one of the driving forces behind an ambitious move to revolutionise the game in the same way cricket has been turned upside down by the Twenty20 version.
The IPTL follows in the footsteps of cricket's Indian Premier League and will serve up the world's top players, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, in an instant and novel format to millions of fans across Asia late next year. Hong Kong has been targeted as one of the key franchise cities with Bhupathi yesterday confirming talks were well under way with local connections.
"Hong Kong is a priority for us. We want to base a franchise in this city which has a tennis culture and which used to be an ATP Tour destination," Bhupathi said. "We are talking to people in Hong Kong and I'm confident we can have a team based there."
Hong Kong Tennis Association officials said they were unaware of the plan, but added that any event, which brought world-class tennis to the city would be supported. "We have not been approached but we would welcome it," said HKTA executive council member Herbert Chow Siu-lung.
The minimum franchise fee is US$12 million spread over 10 years with organisers promising that 85 per cent of the revenues generated by the IPTL, mainly from television rights and sponsorship, would be shared by team owners.
Indian cricket's IPL, which was formed in 2008, has an existing 10-year broadcasting rights deal worth US$1.6 billion with Sony TV.
Bhupathi said talks were ongoing with TV broadcasters and he was confident of striking a lucrative deal, especially with the backing of the world's top players.
World No 1 Djokovic, 11-time grand slam winner Nadal, US Open champion Andy Murray, and retired grand slam champions Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have all confirmed their participation in the inaugural edition scheduled for December 2014. Among the women, Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka will be the headline acts.
"The players are all committed, for the money will be good. We will be playing this tournament during the off-season and we have got the backing from the ATP as well as the WTA, who have both been supportive of the idea. This will be serious tennis, and not an exhibition," said Bhupathi, the managing director of the IPTL management company which also has former stars Boris Becker and Carlos Moya in tow.
The format is simple. Six franchises based across Asia will field teams, comprising men and women as well as past legends, which will play round-robin home-and-away matches in its first year. Teams will then compete in men's and women's singles, men's and mixed doubles and a men's legends singles - one set per match, with no advantage scoring. The top four teams will then enter the play-offs. The competition is slated for November 28-December 21, 2014.
An entire match is expected to last three hours and is tailor-made for television. When the idea was unveiled a fortnight ago at the start of the French Open, Djokovic called the tournament a "revolutionary idea", Nadal said "it will be a big success for sure", while Williams described it as "like a dream come true".
Bhupathi said: "We will start with six franchises and hopefully increase it to 10."
The six franchises will bid for players at an auction that will take place in Melbourne around the time of next year's Australian Open. Each team can have between six and 10 players and the maximum budget for a team will be US$10 million per season. Other cities under consideration to run franchises include Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta, Manila, Bangalore, Calcutta, Doha and Dubai.
"Franchises can be owned by anyone. It doesn't necessarily have to be a locally based owner, although that will help in the logistics. Franchises will be sold privately and we hope to have it all in place before the end of the year," Bhupathi said.
"We have initially targeted cities in Asia because there is a big demand for top-class tennis in this region. Right now both the ATP and WTA cannot add events to the calendar and there are a lot of exhibition events taking place in Asia. Early this year we saw such an event in Hong Kong and I believe there is room for something which is more serious than an exhibition," Bhupathi said.
The IPTL plans to award six team licences for 2014 and expand to 10 teams in 2015
Minimum franchise fee is US$12 million (US$1.2 million per season over 10 years)
85 per cent of revenues generated by the league to be shared with team owners (TV rights, sponsorship)
100 per cent of revenues generated by team owners from sponsorship, hospitality and concessions and ticketing will remain with the owners