New T2APAC tournament will make table tennis a whole new ball game, organisers say
SINGAPORE – It boasts a US$1.75 million (S$2.43 million) prize purse, the biggest in the sport, as well as a snazzy new format in which four mixed teams of the world’s top paddlers will battle it out over the season in 24-minute, time-based matches.
While the T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) may resemble innovative sports events like the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), its chief executive officer and commissioner Jeff Chue insisted it is no gimmick.
The IPTL started with a bang in cities around Asia in its first year in 2014, featuring stars like Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But the exhibition fizzled out last year when financial issues saw its top names walk away.
However, Mr Chue believes his company has a product that will appeal to existing table tennis fans and attract new ones. He claims T2APAC has ploughed a seven-figure sum into the league, which will boast 24 of the world’s top players including world No 1 Ding Ning of China, Singapore’s three-time Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei, Japan’s Jun Mizutani, and up-and-coming paddlers like 14-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto.
“Our model is not franchise-based like IPTL,” Mr Chue told a press conference in Johor on the eve of the inaugural event. “We don’t jump on the bandwagon and have a franchise because I don’t think that works, not in Asia anyway. What sets us apart is the storytelling, it’s the content.”
While T2APAC will earn revenue from television broadcasting and sponsorship, Mr Chue said organisers are looking at other non-traditional revenue models such as monetising their content on mobile platforms.
Besides live streams of the league action, over 100 hours of adaptive programming and more than 120 hours of lifestyle content will be featured online from the seven-round Grand Prix style season from June to December.
Mr Chue (photo above) believes it will be a game changer. “T2 is meant to be a new way to raise the commercial profile of table tennis ... the returns are already coming in ... we believe that this could be the first in the future of sports business models,” he said.
“Content is a buzzword now, not only in sport but in entertainment and all other industries that have anything to do with a mobile phone. We have many ways to monetise content.
“(My goal is to) secure enough positive audience feedback from live and non-live content (in our first season), have a certain level of coverage within Asia, and reach out to non-table tennis viewers.”
Five-time Chinese world champion Jiang Jialiang, who will captain one of the teams, is hopeful that the league’s new format will attract younger fans.
“Everyone is interested as everyone can see that everything is different, the lighting, the set-up,” he said.
“The objective is to modernise the game, add a touch of glamour, and attract youthful fans.”
Former European champion Michael Maze also believes the future of the sport lies in innovation. “It’s better for TV as it’s more and more difficult now to get broadcast on TV.”
The paddlers in Johor for Round 1 from today till Friday are also keen for the action to kick off at the specially constructed T2Cavern studio set at Pinewood Iskandar Studios.
Ding said the new format convinced her to sign on for T2APAC’s inaugural season. “It’s a new challenge and experience. I feel I have a responsibility to take part and allow more people to enjoy the sport,” she said.
World No 4 Feng, of Team Maze, added: “Fans will like it because the interaction with them is more than in regular tournaments, and more than you get from TV and the Internet.”
Team JJ: Jiang Jialiang (captain), players: Vladimir Samsonov (Belarus), Chuang Chih-Yuan (Taiwan), Tomokazu Harimoto (Japan), Wu Yang (China), Jeon Ji-hee (South Korea), Matilda Ekholm (Sweden)
Team Maze: Michael Maze (captain), players: Timo Boll (Germany), Aleksandr Shibaev (Russia), Chen Chien-An (Taiwan), Feng Tianwei (Singapore), Yang Ha-eun (South Korea), ,Hina Hayata (Japan)
Team Persson: Jorgen Persson (captain), players: Jun Mizutani (Japan), Joo Sae-hyuk (South Korea), Mattias Karlsson (Sweden), Bernadette Szocs (Romania), Suthasini Sawettabut (Thailand), Ding Ning (China)
Team Rossi: Jorg Rosskopf (captain), players: Dima Ovtcharov (Germany), Shang Kun (China), Paul Drinkhall (England), Cheng I-Ching (Taiwan), Elizabeta Samara (Romania), Georgina Pota (Hungary)
HOW T2APAC WORKS:
• Matches will last 24 minutes instead of a best-of-seven format
• No deuce, first to 11 points wins the game
• Kill zone game – during a match, if one game ends on or after 22 minutes, a kill zone game will be played (first to five points)
• Team scores are determined by the number of games won by the team members.
• Four teams, with each team playing the other three teams twice during the regular season
• Each team consists of three men and three women players.
• Six matches - three women’s and three men’s singles - to be played during each session
• Seven match rounds from June to December (6 regular season, play-off and finals round)