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Aircel backs out of Chennai Open tennis tournament

Chennai, Jan 5 (): With Aircel title sponsors backing out, Chennai Open, a tournament that has put India on the world tennis map with Karthi P Chidambaram, (son of P Chidambaram, Union Finance Minister), Chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee will likely shift from this city after its current matches are over.

Boris Becker, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya had played the Chennai Open held for 16 years in Chennai. Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), a global body of tennis players, conducts Chennai Open – South Asia’s only tournament. In the current edition that is in progress, four world’s top players and 18 top ranking players are taking part.

Many things have worked against the tournament. The present title sponsor Aircel has said that from next year it would not sponsor the event. The telecom company owned by Malaysia based Maxis feels that for the money they are paying the mileage is very little. China and Turkey have told ATP that they are ready to host the event.

Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) and IMGReliance, a JV between global sports consultancy IMG and Reliance Industries contract expires after the 2013 edition. Unless TNTA shows sponsorship agreements for next five years, IMG will pack its bags and go.

ATP tournaments are few in number and in demand by many countries. The tournament needs Rs 12 crore out of which Rs 5 crore is paid by the title sponsor and rest from Rs 2 crore given by TN Government and ticket collections.

ITC sponsored the event from 1997 to 2001 as Gold Flake Open and ATP decided that tobacco companies cannot sponsor tennis events. Tata Group stepped in and pulled out 2 years later. From 2005 – 2009, TN Government co-sponsored the event after which Aircel stepped in.

IMG cites Volvo, FedEx and currently Rado as official time-keeper as the tournament’s popularity. No TV channel is able to broadcast the event for want of advertising and TNTA now pays for the telecast. Gate collections are Rs 50 lakhs.

The Tamil Nadu government is doing its bit by raising the SDAT stadium to international standards. TNTA now looks to State to give the push to Hyundai, Ford, Samsung, BMW, Renault and other auto majors operating in Chennai to chip in. The presence of Karthi Chidambaram as Chairman of the organizing committee might be a deterrent. Rs 2 crore that doubled this year from State exchequer will only take care of appearance fees and ATP fees paid in dollars.