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ITTF unveils World Table Tennis events as Le Floc’h comes on board

The International Table Tennis Federation has released details of World Table Tennis, its new in-house commercial arm, along with details of the new competitions that will take place from 2021 onwards.

The international federation has announced a restructure of its top properties, including a doubling of prize money and an exclusive women’s tour, plus improved broadcast production.

As reported exclusively by SportBusiness, the ITTF decided against awarding its commercial rights wholesale to an agency and is set to use a combination of in-house expertise and agency assistance to market the rights, with Philippe Le Floc’h, the former chief commercial officer at Fifa, brought on board.

Le Floc’h’s arrival as senior commercial strategy consultant to the WTT was announced today (Tuesday) alongside the make-up of the new events and a timeline for “national associations, host countries, cities and private entities” looking to bid for them.

The new ‘Grand Smashes’ will sit atop the new event structure, taking place up to four times per year across at least ten days each. The top 64 men and leading 64 women will compete for between $2m (€1.8m) and $3m in prize money per event.

A string of ‘WTT Series’ events will take place throughout the year, made up of the WTT Champions Series and WTT Cup Finals and offering a combined $8m in prize money. This will be comprised of between $1m and $1.5m per WTT Cup Finals event and between $400,000 and $600,0000 per WTT Champions Series stop.

Additionally, the ‘Star Contender’ and ‘Contender Series’ have been introduced for up-and-coming players. The Star Contender events offer a prize money range of $200,000 to $300,000 per event, with the Contender Series offering a quarter of those sums.

Steve Dainton, the ITTF chief executive, said: “Through World Table Tennis, we are endeavouring to build a platform that really benefits our athletes and fans, enabling better structured events and higher prize money. Lots of time and resources have gone into this, as it’s a huge project that will revolutionise our sport for good.

“The professionalisation of our core top products is something that had been missing in our sport. This is a great moment for table tennis, and we cannot wait to enter our new era upon overcoming the unforeseen challenges of 2020.”

Currently, the ITTF operates the top-tier World Tour Platinum events and six regular World Tour events, with the World Tour sitting above the ITTF Challenge Series.

The ITTF said: “The benefits of the new event structure are widespread: greater competition among athletes to attain more attractive prize monies; separate women’s events to brighten the spotlight on the next generation of female stars; iconic venues and locations for an ‘I was there’ experience and world-class TV production and digital storytelling to entertain a growing global fanbase.”

Outlining the dates for interested parties to bid to host events, the ITTF specified the following timeline:

  • April 10, 2020 – Submission of expression of interest by potential hosts
  • April 2020 – Release of event manuals and final bid form to registered interested parties
  • May 2020 – Submission of final bids by potential hosts
  • June 2020 – Evaluation of final bids by WTT, then confirmation of 2021 hosts and venue inspections
  • July 2020 – Confirmation of commercial package by WTT

Le Floc’h advises on in-house model

Having left Fifa in September and returned to Malaysia, Le Floc’h’s mandate with WTT marks his return to the sports industry.

He has been recruited to advise on WTT leadership and commercial strategy. The ITTF said that he will “provide strategy on the overall master plan, event structure, media and digital rights, commercial contracts, commercial structure, sponsorship structure, public relations/communication/brand, and attend key WTT meetings and events”.

Philippe Le Floc’h

Le Floc’h said: “From the minute I heard about this project, it excited me. It is very rare that an international federation is so forward-thinking about the way it runs its commercial business. That is why I decided to get involved in this ground-breaking journey.

“I have high hopes for what this new business model can achieve and I believe that WTT will become a case study for all the other international federations. I look forward to using my years of experience to help WTT become a success and position table tennis among the global sporting elite.”

In going to market with its rights nearly a year ago, the ITTF was looking for deals of at least eight years in duration. It is understood to have been open to all options, including employing an agency or agencies to manage its rights, before deciding on an in-house model.

The federation is understood to have agreed a commercial partnership with Chinese company Quanguan Sports (QG Sports) for 2021 onwards. The rights covered by this deal are not yet clear.

A host of companies took part in the international rights tender – more than 50 lodged initial expressions of interest – including most of the sports industry’s major agencies. Three agencies were involved in the final stages of the process – Infront, Dentsu and IMG.

The federation’s current international rights agency, Lagardère Sports, did not make it past the early stages. Mediapro is also understood to have been involved in the talks.
The rights tendered by the ITTF included sponsorship, media, video betting and data, event hosting and licensing. The management of top players’ commercial rights plus digital, social and television advertising inventory were also on offer.

In the most recent cycle of media rights deals, from either 2016 or 2017 to 2020, the ITTF sold its rights directly in China – by far the biggest single market for the sport – Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. The rights in the rest of the world were sold by Lagardère Sports.