Tennis the Menace - The rise and fall of the IPTL

In early December 2014, on a cold winter evening in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic played against each other. This might very well have been just another contest between the two who have faced off 47 times on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) circuit till the 2019 Australian Open.

But for the next 30 minutes or less, the two men played such sublime tennis that, in the end, it didn’t matter who won for the 10,000-odd spectators who had filled all but the cheaper top stands of the arena. For tennis fans, this was an unprecedented contest between players of such stature — Federer and Djokovic had never played here before — on Indian soil. This was international tennis at its best; yet it was not really tennis on an international scale.

This match, in the first season of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), set the ball rolling on what promised to be the Indian Premier League cricket’s equivalent for tennis. It brought some of the biggest names in the game to India, among other countries in Asia. It redefined rules and modes of the sport, and attempted to make tennis appealing for those who were otherwise not interested.

Yet, four years down the line, the story is different. On October 4, 2018, a television statistics-graphics-producer, Steph Trudel, tweeted a press release issued by an entity named Broadcast Sports News titled, ‘International Premier Tennis League Broke the Business Code – Broadcast Crew and Tournament Service Providers Remain Unpaid’.

The press release said: “Despite considerable patience and understanding from the contributing TV production crew and associated tournament service providers, the fees for labour and associated expenses for the 2016 season remain entirely unpaid. The following year featured a comedy of broken promises and sliding payment deadlines and now in the last quarter of 2018 the crew have finally drawn the line accepting the fact that IPTL, despite its mission statement has indeed ‘broken the business code’.”

A couple of days later, former tennis player and entrepreneur Mahesh Bhupathi who founded the IPTL told Mail Today that he is not solely responsible for the situation. “In 2016, one of the IPTL team owners, the Legendari Group that owned the Japan franchise, turned out to be frauds,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “Their share of payment close to US$ 8 million was the reason things came spiralling down. There have been pending dues from the league to players, most of them my colleagues and vendors as well.”

The Legendari Group had also appointed Leander Paes as brand ambassador for two years in 2016.

The IPTL was not held in 2017 or 2018, and now will be remembered as a league that promised much and delivered short.

How did the league that was supposed to break even and make a profit in the second season (according to former IPTL chief executive Morgan Menahem’s November 2015 interview in the Sports Business Journal) fold up after the third season? What made this league wither so quickly? How much of the allegations and counter allegations are true?

While people who worked and were associated with the IPTL did not wish to reveal their identity for this article, they pieced together a story of novelty, mismanagement, naivety, and poor planning that led to the rise and decline of the IPTL.

About the Writer

Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based independent sports and features writer-editor.@iarunj

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