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IPTL: Don't blame demonestisation for issues that have plagued the league throughout

In the 30 days since it was announced to a shocked, bemused, surprised, angry and oblivious — in equal parts — India, demonetisation has affected most walks of life, including sport. While in the world of cricket, the second India-England Visakhapatnam Test suffered from a lack of ticket sales and the touring West Indies women's cricket team (along with its Indian counterpart) was denied its daily allowance; in the world of tennis, it was the announcement that none of the big names would be gracing Indian shores with their presence in the local leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).

Now for a moment, try and imagine Roger Federer standing at an ATM Queue in Kalkaji, New Delhi or 12th Main in Indiranagar, Bangalore. If you went up to him and asked why he was standing in solidarity with the common Indian, he might then tell you that he’s withdrawing his IPTL earnings. He might smash your head when you tell him about the withdrawal limit, but at least that’s what the organisers of the post-season event want you to imagine.

The IPTL is a great idea. It’s offering to take world tennis stars to locations that don’t really get to see them much. It’s giving tennis fans across the world a flavour of the ATP and WTA tours. It’s also adding dimensions of teams to a sport that usually has only national teams in the Davis or Fed Cup. It ought to work. So, what’s gone wrong?

The most recent statement from the IPTL about demonetisation is a great indicator of what ails it. The league has been in trouble for a while. In 2015, it huffed and puffed its way through only because of the star power of the players on offer. Of the top five men’s players in the world, four of them were on display. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams both turned up as well. It was a major coup. Yet, owners were not paid on time, players were not paid on time, and there was major discontent in the ranks of the organisation too.

 IPTL: Dont blame demonestisation for issues that have plagued the league throughout

File photo of Roger Federer and Rafal Nadal at the IPTL. Reuters

So, in 2016, the owners of the teams rebelled. They pushed back and threatened to pull support to the league. They threatened to take away the ownership of the league from Mahesh Bhupathi and company. Reliable sources have informed us that payments from 2015 are still pending to team owners.

So, instead of blaming demonestisation, the IPTL should have simply said it was pulling back. It was an audacious punt that hasn’t come off. That statement is symptomatic of the nature of the league. Lots of great ideas and thoughts, but a general lack of cohesion.

Having spoken to several individuals involved with the IPTL across teams and the league, it is also learnt that the league had plans for expansion to other parts of the world. This will definitely be a huge roadblock to that dream.

Mahesh Bhupathi is Indian tennis royalty and has built one of the most successful sports businesses in the country and arguably, in Asia as well. The fact that he has struggled to keep things together after just three years indicates the capacity of Indian investors in sport to help grow any sport apart from cricket. Yet, he definitely knew that going in.

All owners of the five IPTL teams (the future of Manila Mavericks remains uncertain) have Indian roots. Each one was promised quick returns and dreams of multi-million dollar sponsorships. Far from doing due diligence on the actual possibilities, those seven figure claims swayed their decision to buy their teams. Our sources tell us that a lot of the team owners would compare themselves to the owners of the IPL. Yet, unlike the IPL, where everyone lost money for at least two years, these owners wanted an immediate return on investment. Given the wage rates of the players and the central revenue pool from league sponsors and broadcasters, that was never going to happen.

The claim that the economic environment can determine the future of the tournament is a worrisome precedent. The tagline for the event is ‘Break The Code’, but it might be time for them to get back to the basics, build from the ground up and create a sustainable league that can truly take tennis to the masses.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 15:16:23 IST