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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The nascent International Premier Tennis League has $60 million committed for five franchises, said Morgan Menahem, the league’s chief executive, and plans to add three more teams for its 2014 inaugural season.

Mahesh Bhupathi used the Indian Premier League as a model for the new tennis league.
The brainchild of current doubles player and businessman Mahesh Bhupathi, the IPTL is targeting a two- to three-week season in November 2014 in Asia and the Middle East, with eight franchises boasting player budgets of up to $10 million apiece.

“We envision [by 2015] getting to 10 teams; two conferences and a finals weekend,” said Menahem, who is also the agent for top-10-ranked player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Menahem will run IPTL out of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, suggesting that as one of the franchise locations.

Menahem declined to disclose the committed franchise owners’ identities but said they are being asked to pay $12 million for a 10-year term in addition to the money they’d commit to the player budgets.

It’s no secret that demand is high for top-level tennis in the Middle East and Asia, and top dollars could follow. Rafael Nadal received more than $1 million for a one-night exhibition at New York’s Madison Square Garden in March; organizers in the Middle East and Asia would likely be able to meet, or exceed, such sums.

Additionally, top players have already voiced their support for the league, including Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

The competition format is patterned after World TeamTennis in the United States (with singles and doubles matches) and will include a match with legends participants as well. But Bhupathi patterned the concept of wealthy franchise owners paying huge salaries after cricket’s Indian Premier League, which formed in 2008 and has found instant success.

The first IPTL draft is set to be held at the Australian Open in January and will feature a twist on traditional drafts: Players’ services will be auctioned, not selected. In other words, franchises will bid for players. Whether an auction draft process is used again after this year is yet to be determined, but in year one, deciding where players go would have been too challenging, Menahem said.

The league plans sponsorship sales, including a title sponsor, and has hired agency MP & Silva to handle TV talks.

It’s unclear whether big money will raise the level of play in what largely has been considered the “silly season” in tennis. After a grueling 10- to 11-month calendar featuring the ATP and WTA tour schedules, the four Grand Slams and Davis Cup play, the exhibitions that litter the November and December schedule are commonly less-than-serious affairs.

The NFL surprised the sports world in April, revealing it would put cameras in team locker rooms so fans in stadiums could be privy to that inner sanctum during halftime. It marked the latest and arguably most visible step in the NFL’s drive to engage fans in-stadium.

But now, with two months to go before those cameras would turn on for the first time, it’s clear the idea and its implementation remain works in progress.

No club among nearly two dozen contacted by SportsBusiness Journal had a plan in place as of last week for how to carry out the NFL’s marching orders, with the first home preseason games scheduled for Aug. 8.

A host of challenges are in play, including whether to show the footage at all, a decision that is at the teams’ discretion. But presuming a club decides to do so, how much of the compiled footage is shown, which parts, and who makes that decision (a team’s football operations staff or its business side) are questions that largely still need answers.

“We haven’t worked through this yet,” was the reply from the Green Bay Packers.

The response from the Miami Dolphins was similar: “Not much we can tell you at this point. We haven’t yet discussed how we will handle that.”

The Minnesota Vikings: “We have not made any decisions at this point.”

And the Cincinnati Bengals: “It’s on the future agenda, but so far has been brought up only briefly at one meeting.”
Those four clubs are hardly outliers, either. Team executives and owners interviewed during the recent spring owners meeting were lukewarm on the topic, many not counting it as a pressing priority. One team president was unaware if the team could use audio if it showed halftime footage. (It can, as well as for pregame activities, too.)

How coaches will respond is also a big unknown, though so far, owners and other team representatives appear sensitive to making sure their voices are heard.

“We have not decided how to do it,” said Arthur Blank, the Atlanta Falcons owner. “Our coach and coaches, they are comfortable [with cameras].”

Shahid Khan, the Jacksonville Jaguars owner, said he would leave a lot of the decisions about what could be seen to his new head coach, Gus Bradley. Of course, how that might work logistically in real time is uncertain. Bradley wouldn’t be available on game day to edit what gets shown or when — or if the footage is to be used the same day as opposed to being part of a later highlights package or feature presentation.

Teams haven’t diagrammed rules to determine what locker room look-ins will look like.
Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt said cameras in the locker rooms at halftime will not be easy to activate.

“When I start thinking about halftime in my own experiences, it is a 12-minute rush of activity,” said Brandt, now a sports business commentator. “You have players running to the bathroom, some running to the training room; you have players running to the equipment room to get equipment alterations. Then you have them all splitting off into position group meetings. And then there are the final 40 chaotic seconds where they bring everyone together and give a pep talk to the entire group.”

How that all gets translated into something engaging for fans and that clubs are comfortable showing — and offering in a timely fashion — goes to the heart of those unanswered questions. Clearly, teams cannot show strategy sessions, such as a coach outlining defensive adjustments.

Some clubs already have cameras in the locker rooms. The Dallas Cowboys, for example, have used them to show pregame activity on their stadium’s massive scoreboards. The Baltimore Ravens also have taped activity in the locker room to use in player introductions.

How the NFL will respond if clubs do not embrace the new concept is also unclear. The league walks a fine line between working to entertain and keep fans at games, and treading on turf that traditionally is the clubs’ domain.

The NFL last year sold 98 percent of available game tickets and hopes to hit 100 percent this year. But giving those ticket buyers something they can’t get at home is an increasing concern for the league office. Whether a halftime locker room pep talk or seeing a player getting bandaged is part of the equation for keeping fans glued to their stadium seats remains to be seen.