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Qatar buys rival padel tour after legal wrangling

Qatar Padel Shutterstock/FotoAndalucia
Padel is similar to tennis but is usually played in doubles. Its growing prize pool is dwarfed by that of tennis
  • QSI to buy World Padel Tour
  • Launched Premier Padel in 2022
  • The racquet sport is growing in popularity

State-owned Qatar Sports Investments has agreed to buy the World Padel Tour and will launch a unified global circuit for the fast-growing racquet sport next year.

QSI created a breakaway padel competition in early 2022, and the Qatari takeover of the sport mirrors Saudi Arabia’s controversial multimillion-dollar entry into men’s professional golf.

Padel uses the same points scoring system as tennis and is also similar to squash, although it is doubles-only.

There are more than 25 million players worldwide, twice the number from half a decade earlier, according to the International Padel Federation (FIP).

The sport’s surging popularity piqued the interest of QSI chairman Nasser al Khelaifi, a former professional tennis player who is also the chairman of both Paris Saint Germain soccer club and broadcaster beIN Media Group.

Qatar hosted the 2021 Padel World Championship and in February 2022 QSI launched Premier Padel in partnership with the FIP.

The new circuit rivalled the longer-established World Padel Tour (WPT). It received the backing of the Professional Players Association, despite most professionals being under contract to the WPT until December 31, 2023.

WPT launched in 2013 and is owned by Barcelona-based brewer Damm. In May 2022 WPT filed a lawsuit against QSI, the padel federation and the players’ union for what it described as unfair competition.

But last November, a Madrid court ruled that WPT could not stop players from participating in the breakaway Premier Padel tour, Sportcal reported, and it was also forced to abandon its attempt to sue players for 25 million euros ($27.1 million) in damages.

Those setbacks led QSI and Damm to begin negotiations in January to unify the two padel tours.

On Thursday, QSI announced it had agreed to buy its rival, with all disputes – including those with players who had participated in the breakaway competition – now also resolved.

The unified tour will go by the same name as the Qatari-backed circuit, Premier Padel, and will begin in 2024, QSI said in a statement. The federation will govern it.

“QSI is proud to be at the heart of driving the development of padel professionally all around the world, always placing the players at the centre of our mission to grow the sport everywhere,” Al Khelaifi said.

The Qatari executive “knows there are significant barriers to entry in professional tennis”, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris.

“The tennis events in Doha haven’t become really important tournaments in the tennis calendar. Al Khelaifi has been looking at other sports (related to) tennis and therefore this bet on padel,” Chadwick added.

“QSI, through its investments and some of its commercial partners, has demonstrated there is a potential marketplace there.

“Whether the sport can be grown to an extent that it begins to rival the likes of tennis is an interesting question.”

Establishing control

The WPT’s 2023 schedule features 26 tournaments including 13 in Spain alone.

Premier Padel’s itinerary this year encompasses eight events in seven countries such as Spain, Egypt, France and Argentina.

Premier Padel had signed multiyear broadcast deals that televise the sport in around 180 territories, while WPT claims a similar reach.

Premier Padel offered record prize money to woo players. That included a prize pool of €525,000 ($568,000) at each of the four majors – Doha, Rome, Paris and Mexico – and €250,000 for lower profile events.

Yet such amounts remain paltry compared with tennis. Wimbledon men’s and women’s singles champions this year each earned £2.35 million ($2.97 million), for example, while first-round losers received $69,500.

Premier Padel had planned to expand to around 24 tournaments annually from 2024 onwards, before its takeover of WPT. The schedule for the new tour has yet to be published.

Although considerably lower profile, QSI’s launch of a rival padel circuit to compete with a longer-standing competitor was similar to Saudi Arabia’s LIV golf tour. It recruited a plethora of superstar players to its roster by offering fees in the hundreds of millions in some cases.

LIV struggled to gain traction, with no broadcasting deal and participating players banished from golf’s most glittering events. Then in a shock move Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in June announced LIV would merge with the United States PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour to create a new, global entity.

“Unless you’re Saudi Arabia and you have huge amounts of money, there are significant barriers to entry in some of the big sporting competitions worldwide,” Chadwick said.

“There are other sports, assets and competitions that have lower barriers to entry. They’re easier to invest into, to acquire, and establish some degree of governance control over. Padel fits into that category.”

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