PUBLISHED MAY 2, 2021, 5:12 PM SGT SINGAPORE - With 226 member associations within the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), hundreds of millions of people playing the sport worldwide, and five continents represented in the top 50 of both the men's and women's world rankings, table tennis can be considered a truly global sport. This is why ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton estimates the table tennis industry is worth "billions of dollars" and this untapped potential is also the reason the world governing body created and launched its new commercial vehicle World Table Tennis (WTT) last year. The Australian told The Straits Times: "Our industry is huge, there are hobby players all over the world who follow the scene... for sure the potential is in the billions of dollars and we are really only scraping at the surface with our current business model."
"Sport has to survive and prevail. At some stage, the pandemic will end and we want to be on the front foot showing that even during that difficult time we still had content and our best players competing, and we are still moving forward with our plan in a safe setting."
The returns may not be immediate as official viewership figures are not in yet and WTT is still building up its sponsor pool, which means it has to dig into its reserves first.
Dainton shared that the cost of the Doha bubble, which includes around 6,000 tests for about 150 people and other Covid-19 preventive measures, was about US$1-2 million.
The prize money for the Contender event was also doubled to US$200,000 as a sign of solidarity with the players who have had to cope without being able to challenge for prize money for most of the year.
And this comes at a time when his 15-strong WTT team are at half-strength and have taken a 30-40 per cent pay cut during this downtime.
"Even if it represents an initial investment from us now, we think it's better to try and move on and weather the storm," said Dainton.
He also had to deal with opposition from within the ITTF, with some European associations such as the Germans raising concerns over WTT's governance and accountability last November.
Dainton said such sentiments are understandable and it will do its best to convince the critics that the entire table tennis family will stand to gain if WTT is successful.
He said: "Inside a federation like ours which is 95 years old, where we have had a system for a long time, any major transformation is always going to be hard to accept for some. We try to take it in our stride and see it as there are things that we could improve on and communicate better as well.
"In many sports including us, due to the commercial and financial nature, there is so much more attention on the elite level.
"And when you put the attention only on the elite, hundreds of players behind will be frustrated. They want to also participate but there are not that many events for them because it probably doesn't make as much financial sense to have them.
"This is what we are trying to change by having more tiers and events. The business and financial side of sport are important, but we believe that as WTT takes off, the entire family - member associations, players and partners - can all benefit together."