Where did the International Premier Tennis League Come From?
For years tennis executives have been trying to draw from popular team sports like Baseball or American football to build new audiences. Critics of the sport say that best of five set matches are too long; lets disrupt the flow of play or advantage scoring draws deuce games long past their allotted time. The tempo, grind, and momentum of a match makes tennis unpredictable. This is what keeps us die-heart fans at their edge of their seats as rallies extend late into the evenings. As a player and more of a purist, I the standard format of the game. However, others have tried experimenting with different formats to change the perception of the game and bring it to new markets.
World Team Tennis was founded in 1973 as one of the first attempts to allow stars from the pro tour to participate in team play during their off season. The format consists of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles all within the same event. There is no “ad” scoring, meaning that games are won on a sudden death point when the score reaches deuce and an lets do not disrupt the flow of play. Music blasts in between points, cheerleaders dance, and fans participate in ways that would draw scowls at the All England Club. Legends of the game play with current stars and up and coming players alike. Mahesh Bhupathi represented the New York Buzz and entertained smaller crowds than at a high school basketball game(I’ve never been a huge fan of WTT); However the model of team tennis must have had a lasting impression on him. He is now the director of International Premier Tennis League.
Many of you in the United States may have not heard of the IPTL, but it has making headlines in Asia. The IPTL has secured Coca Cola and Qatar Airways as its flagship sponsors. Mahesh Bhupati put together a league with four teams, each sporting a 10 million dollar salary cap used to attract some of Tennis’s biggest names.
The four teams with their players are:
- Manila Mavericks
- Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kirsten Flipkens, Daniel Nestor, Carlos Moya, Treat Huey
- DBS Singapore Slammers
- Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt, Nick Kyrgios, Daniela Hantuchova, Bruno Soares, Patrick Rafter
- Micromax Indian Aces
- Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Gael Monfils, Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Fabrice Santoro
- Musafir.com UAE Royals
- Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Malek Jaziri, Nenad Zimonjic, Goran Ivanisevic, Kristina Mladenovic, Marin Cilic
It has a very similar format to that of WTT, but here is a quick video that illustrates all of the new changes made to the game.
My Side of the Net
While it’s great to see the current stars of the game come together with some of the legends of tennis, I still have mixed feelings about whether or not this a genuine attempt at making a positive impact on the game. The glitz and the glamor of the ties come across more as a PR campaign than as a true way to engage fans in the sport. In India, where Roger Federer is treated with the same reverence as Ganesh himself, he appeared on court with a slew of Bollywood stars to promote the IPTL. This is less about goodwill and more about the extravagance that Bollywood represents.
In my last post I wrote about tennis’s explosive growth in Asia and the IPTL serves as living proof. On the one hand, their aggressive social media campaign with constant snapshots of oncourt and offcourt actives, help fans feel like they a part of the whirlwind tour, as tennis is played in new venues in exotic lands(Manila is exotic for most westerners). On the other hand, with all of the corporate intervention and money backing the league, fans may get priced out of the ability to catch their favorite players play their home town stadiums. I pose the question to you tennis fans:
- What do you make of the IPTL?
- Is the change of format good for tennis?
- Do you think that these new formats of the game will bleed into the ATP tour?