New Delhi: Losing three teams and at least two big names from inaugural edition may not be seen as ideal but Champions Tennis League (CTL) is "here to stay" asserts its CEO Arjun Rao, who is bullish about a sponsorship growth by at least 300 to 400 percent.
CTL lost Bangalore and Delhi teams from the first edition and is set to begin a legal battle with the Pune franchisee to recover "outstanding dues" but Rao says it was a "learning experience" which will only help them do better.
In the second edition of the league, Raipur and Nagpur have been added to the roster and Chennai looks like grabbing the last available spot.
The league has conceded Indian tennis legend Leander Paes and world number six Agnieszka Radwanska to IPTL which offered big bucks to these players.
However, the CTL organisers are not losing sleep over either the withdrawal of franchisees or the players.
Rao was very candid in admitting that they could not "afford" Paes and Radwanska and insisted they would not stand in way of the players if they can earn more money by switching to the other league.
Rao also argued that it was difficult to slot an ageing Leander and it was purely a business call to let him go.
"Not having Leander and Sania as part of CTL is not such a bad thing because we have the best of both in Martina Hingis. Leander is a phenomenal doubles and mixed doubles player. The problem is, we can't slot Leander anywhere. You can't put him in singles against a former Grand Slam champions. It's not fair on the team," Rao told PTI in an interaction.
"Leander is a name, he has a price but is that price worth for a doubles one set. It's a business call."
Ask him about Polish girl Radwanska and he says, "It's not a loss. We decided not to (extend her stay). We could not afford her this year. She preferred to play IPTL because she was offered more money. You have to milk these opportunities. We don't have any problem with our line-up."
Quiz him about loss of teams and there was not even a hint of pessimism.
"It was not a crushing blow. We firmly believe that we are here to stay. We don't look at it in a negative light. Tennis is not cricket. There will be change of heart, change of interest. But the corporate interest is increasing. We are anticipating 300 to 400 percent growth in sponsorship."
"Owners of Delhi continue to be avid supporters of CTL.
We hope they will come back. We have problems with Pune people. There are major outstanding dues from last season, the matter is going to court. Others (Delhi and Bangalore) we respect business decision," Rao said.
"Any fledgeling project faces initial problems. We are not sitting today thinking what will we do, we have three new teams. We are able to replace team because of credibility of the League and its people. For us, it is a learning experience. CTL will also come into its own after third year."
Each of the six teams pay a sum of Rs six crore and the contract runs for nine years. The teams don't have worry about the players' fee since it's the CTL that pays to them.
"Financial viability will come in three to five years. We are confident that League will be able to sustain itself in three years and then the buyers will also sustain."
"When teams came into play, there was no expectation that it is going to be get-rich-quick scheme. It's a long term plan. Tennis and tennis leagues, have to get credibility in the minds of the sponsors. We have three teams who see it is a viable option. They have not closed it."
Rao said the biggest lesson they have learnt is that they have to market the league in a better way and they have planned it. He explained that they will make the second edition more interesting and enjoyable for the players.
"The home team players will stay much longer there. We want them to explore cities. We have planned to showcasing the players interesting locations, taking the players for wild life safari, heritage sites. The entire focus is to make it a globally visible event. If seen well today, others would want to come next time."
It is unavoiadable that CTL and IPTL will be compared but Rao says there is no point doing that.
"For us that's a completely different proposition. Big glitz, big festival, it's a rolling carnival. We are in India.
"There can't be comparison. His is a global event. From financial perspective., One of Mahesh's team value is entire value of CTL. His one team is six million dollars, our entire league is six million dollars. But our tennis was more competitive than theirs, last year."