Bharti Airtel, India's largest telecom company, has pulled out as title sponsor of the Champions League Twenty20 tournament. Airtel had signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $40 million to sponsor the event in 2009, but has decided to withdraw its sponsorship two years into the deal, according to ESPN Star Sports (ESS), the tournament's broadcaster.
"We confirm that due to unforeseen circumstances Airtel has exited the title sponsor slot for Champions League Twenty20 this year," Sanjay Kailash, the executive vice-president for Ad Sales and New Media, ESS, said in a statement emailed to ESPNcricinfo. Kailash added that they are in negotiations to sign a new title sponsor and will make a formal announcement soon. ESS paid nearly $1 billion in 2008 for the 10-year-broadcasting rights for the tournament.
The CLT20 has had something of a rocky existence so far, struggling to attract a large viewership and suffering in comparison to its glamorous sibling, the IPL, despite having arguably a higher standard of cricket on display. The event's scheduled first season in 2008 was cancelled because of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November of that year. When the tournament did make its belated debut as a 12-team event in 2009, it was hurt by a more nagging problem - fans in India, cricket's largest market, showed little interest in non-IPL teams.
That year the CLT20 drew an average television ratings point (TRP) of 1.06 (one TRP represents 1% of viewers in the surveyed area in a given minute), compared to an average TRP of 4.1 for the 2009 IPL, according to TAM Media Research, a television ratings agency. The ratings did improve in 2010, when the event was held in South Africa and aggressively promoted with advertisements featuring Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan. The average TRP rose to 1.45 and 77.7 million Indian fans tuned in to watch over the course of 16 days. However, the ratings were still far below that of the IPL, which had an average TVR of 5.51 the same year.
The 2011 CLT20 will be held in India from September 23 to October 9, and will be preceded by a qualifier for the first time from which three teams will progress to the main round to compete with seven others. The qualifiers will be held in Hyderabad between September 19 and 21, while the main tournament will be spread across three cities - Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. The event could have as many as four IPL teams in the main draw if the Kolkata Knight Riders make it through the qualifiers, potentially increasing interest in the Indian market. IPL champions Chennai Super Kings, runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians have already qualified on the basis of their performance in the IPL.