Gerard Pique’s $3BILLION gamble: Barcelona defender ready to see how new-look Davis Cup plays out… as his marketing company Kosmos are now in charge of 119-year-old competition
- Barcelona defender Gerard Pique wants to rebuild the prestige of the Davis Cup
- His marketing company have been charged with rebranding the tournament
- The standing of the Davis Cup has declined in recent years with late pull-outs
- Pique is confident the £14million prize pot will help draw in the game’s top stars
Gerard Pique has seen off the world’s best strikers in his dazzling football career, and won pretty much everything in the game worth winning. But never before has he been faced by something like the challenge that confronts him this week: trying to make a success of the new Davis Cup format.
Great Britain, led by rejuvenated Andy Murray, are among the 18 nations lining up at the Caja Magica in Madrid – something akin to enemy territory for a Catalan icon like Pique.
His Kosmos marketing company have taken over the 119-year-old competition, and now we are going to see if he is going to make his vision work.
Barcelona ace Gerard Pique is turning his hand to tennis to try and rejuvenate the Davis Cup
Pique was joined by his parents Joan (left) and Montse (right) at the Davis Cup dinner event
Pique and his backers, including Barcelona’s Japanese sponsors Rakuten, have acquired the license to revamp an event whose previous four-week annual format had seen participation by the world’s top players start to ebb away.
The no-shows have largely been stemmed by the new schedule, but there has been much else to sort out, such as the logistical task of accommodating 18 teams in one venue.
The international football break (he has now retired from the Spanish team) has come at an opportune time.
‘There were some surprises in terms of operations,’ said Pique, a long-time fan of the sport, on a visit to the recent US Open.
‘For example creating 18 dressing rooms for the teams. We are having 18 different spaces of 100 square metres, each of them so they can have their own privacy.
‘In terms of the event we needed to convince different people who were maybe sceptical and were against the idea of changing the format. We’ve had to face it since the beginning. This is something I believe we did an amazing job at because we feel people in the game are now more convinced.
‘The Davis Cup has a big meaning in the world of sport and tennis, there were some people against it, but right now I feel that Davis Cup is going to be stronger than it has been in the last 10 years.’
Pique’s marketing company Kosmos are now in charge of the competition steeped in history
The initial word from the British team, who flew out last Wednesday, is that the practice facilities – which have involved the erection of inflatable bubbles – changing rooms and general set-up are impressive.
The attendance by the world’s best players has improved although is still far from universal, with Russian No 1 Daniil Medvedev pulling out on Saturday.
Most of those who are fit and qualified will be there, with the key duo of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic said to have received hefty fees in addition to the £14million prize pot to ensure their participation.
Roger Federer and Germany’s Alex Zverev have been among the exceptions. The fact that they are both managed by Team8, who promote the approximate rival Laver Cup, is no coincidence. But this venture remains a voyage into the unknown.
For a start the weather is going to be cold for spectators at a venue which is not fully enclosed, with the temperature unlikely to get higher than 11 degrees at this unsatisfactorily late date.
Ticket sales for some of the matches have been poor, although Spain’s matches have gone well. The next best-supported team is likely to be GB, whose following is expected to be well over 1,000.
Their two group matches – beginning on Wednesday against Holland before playing Kazakhstan to try and make Friday’s quarter finals – will not have the acreage of empty seats which will be seen at some encounters around the three courts in use, especially during the day.
Pique has received support from high-profile sports and political figures in his ambitious move
What is worrying many experts in the tennis promotion business, however, is how the sums add up . They question how on earth the event will generate profits to satisfy the financial conditions of the deal with the ITF, which has been promised $3billion (£2.3bn) over 25 years by Kosmos.
There do not seem to be any blockbuster TV packages that have been sold, for example. Eurosport snapped up the UK rights late in the day, an indicator that little in the way of premium has been paid.
Loyal blue chip tennis backers BNP Paribas bank have withdrawn their longstanding support.
Looking on anxiously will be Pique’s collaborator and recently re-elected ITF president Dave Haggerty, whose most forceful backers included Wimbledon and its outgoing Chairman Philip Brook.
The fallout for all concerned will be considerable if the historic competition – which has produced some of the sport’s greatest ever moments of drama – flounders in the next few years.
Neutral onlookers remain astonished that the game’s rulers have allowed to develop a situation whereby the very similar ATP Cup will take place six weeks later in Australia.
It would be no surprise to see the two events forced into some kind of shotgun marriage a few years from now.
Barcelona centre back Pique has a massive passion not just for football, but for tennis as well
With the sport continually dogged by a lack of unified governance, different parties have been scrapping for their piece of the pie and, in particular, the securing of prime calendar dates.
One scenario that might evolve is the creation of a ten-day or fortnight’s team extravaganza involving both men and women, akin to a fifth Major. Requiring compromise, that may be too sensible an idea for it ever to take wing.
In pure tennis terms the coming week looks promising, and it could yet surprise the sceptics.
Great Britain, the 2015 champions, have a decent draw and Murray’s feats in team competition need no introduction. With the matches decided over the best of three rubbers (playing best of three sets) GB have strong doubles options.
By virtue of current rankings, Dan Evans or Kyle Edmund will be fielded as the No 1 singles player with Murray ready to tackle the opposition No 2. They are among the realistic contenders in an open field of nations. It could all be fun, while it lasts.
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