Padel is regarded as one of the fastest-growing sports in the world and a new competition is ready to join the mix with ambitions to take padel to new heights and further expand its reach globally. 

The new Hexagon Cup padel tournament was launched in Madrid last year by founders Enrique Buenaventura, Simon Freer, Alejandro Agag, and Alberto Longo, who are well-known for having founded Formula E, the Extreme E electric off-road racing series, and the E1 all-electric powerboating competition.

The event is described as padel’s first World Cup for private teams. The inaugural edition will be held in the Spanish capital between January 31 and February 4 and feature men’s and women’s players competing in teams for an equal prize fund of €1 million ($1.09 million).

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By GlobalData

Owners of the six Hexagon Cup franchises include tennis stars Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal's academy, soccer player Robert Lewandowski, and Hollywood actress Eva Longoria.

Each of the six teams will be made up of two male players, two female players, and two 'next-gen' players. The competition will run for five days and will see the teams split into two qualifying groups. The tournament culminates with the Final Weekend featuring the top two from each group. 

In mid-October, the event secured an investment of £1 million ($1.3 million) from DMG Media, the UK group that owns multiple newspapers, while US investment company Oak View was awarded the contract to oversee the commercial and sponsorship strategy of the tournament.

The competition received further investment from private equity firm Lurra Capital in November, with its founder and chairman, Tyron Birkmeir, also joining the Hexagon Cup's advisory board.

The Hexagon Cup also recently hired Tim Godfrey from the Professional Triathlete Organisation as a strategic adviser.

With the foundations and significant backing in place, the tournament has been building out its commercial portfolio in recent weeks and most notably landed sports broadcaster Eurosport as a media partner in 64 countries across Europe and Asia.

London-based media rights agency Aurora Media Worldwide was also named as the competition’s broadcast production partner.

Several sponsorship deals have recently been concluded too, including with racket sport community app Playtomic this week, and sports equipment company Slazenger and beer brand Mahou San Miguel last month (December).

Portico Sport and global ticketing giant Ticketmaster have also partnered with the event.

Ahead of the Hexagon Cup's upcoming debut, Buenaventura spoke to Sportcal (GlobalData Sport) about the origins of the new competition and the founders' long-term ambitions.

How did the idea for the Hexagon Cup come about and what was the vision behind it?

“Padel has been huge in Spain, I was a player and know a lot of people in the ecosystem of the sport. I've been living abroad for the last 15 years working in motorsport, in Formula 1 and Formula E, so I've been doing international events for the last 15 years. In the last two or three years, I saw that padel was growing massively outside Spain and was becoming huge in a lot of countries, one of them being the UK. But also in Italy, Latin America (LATAM), and the Middle East.

“It was growing so fast that I thought, together with the other Formula E founders, we need to do an event. I know everyone in padel. A few tournaments are going on, like Premier Padel and World Padel Tour (WPT), which are established tours, but there's room for something different which is a team competition. It's something the players love that was missing.

“We were thinking of replicating something similar to motorsport, so a teams competition but not national. We said let's do something where players can represent certain regions by having a celebrity or a representative brand of those regions and by choosing players from any country. This is how the idea was born.

“It will not clash with WPT or Premier, it's something completely different. We’re not looking for a tour of 10+ events. We‘re starting with one big event, like the Laver Cup, where we can do something similar in five days, with international teams from all around the world. So that was the start of the idea, to do something very different and there was space for it.

“We have padel professionals working in Spain as part of the management team, together with many other team members. We have two groups of people, many of them based in Madrid, and a few in London. The Formula E founders, me included, are on the advisory board. We are keeping an eye on everything, opening all the doors, investments, etc. But the day-to-day is run by other event professionals, obviously with our help as we've been doing this for a while.”

Padel has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. Why is that and is that what attracted you to make the shift from motorsport?

“We saw in Spain how quickly it grew, so it was just a matter of time before it happened in other countries. It's easy and accessible. In tennis, you need many lessons before you start enjoying it because it's not an easy sport. Padel is a very easy sport. You can play in doubles and the court is shorter so it's very social. You can play having completely different levels.

“There is mass participation but in Spain, this was there for many years. But for professional padel to be broadcast on TV took a while. Now, a lot of people are following WPT on TV. We decided to jump into padel because it's booming.”

What are your thoughts on the Premier Padel-WPT merger and how can you compete with a state-backed competition?

“I think it's good that they have merged. Having the two tours created a lot of confusion. The uncertainty with the players was huge. There were too many competitions, it was even worse than tennis, they were playing week after week non-stop, and they didn't rest between games. They play seven days a week. Those winning the tournaments were playing every single day of the year, so that's not good.

“In the end, there were a lot of injuries, so it was better for the uncertainty, the calendar, and for the players to have one tour and to organize it properly. Premier is hiring properly, the new CEO comes from the ATP, and he has very good experience and will do great. We have a space there like in tennis where you have the Laver Cup, Davis Cup, United Cup, and Hopman Cup.

“We are actually in conversations with Premier to do a collaboration or even become a sanctioned event by Premier. So, we have equity in the calendar and our space. From there we will see whether we grow in the number of events, or we stay as one big event. We then have plans of doing other national, regional, or more amateur leagues that could be the road to expand and add other categories to the existing ones to mix both worlds of amateur and professional.”

What markets are you targeting to grow the sport outside of Spain?

“Since the beginning, we were very ambitious and focused on not having six Spanish teams. Even though we had interest from big celebrities in Spain, we wanted to try and spread it a little bit. So, we have Andy Murray in the UK as an owner of one of the teams, Robert Lewandowski owns another team, Eva Longoria from the US, and a businessman in Puerto Rico and we are in negotiations to extend the number of teams with potential owners in the Middle East, the US, and Mexico.

“Italy is a huge market now and Sweden is another big market, there are plenty of locations. After Spain, probably Italy, Sweden, Argentina, and Mexico are the other biggest markets. But the Middle East is growing very fast, in the US it's just a matter of time but I would say that in the next 10 years, it will be massive.

“The UK is growing, it’s still very young but it's growing very quickly. The same with Germany, and France is also growing very fast. It's a matter of time before it becomes as big as tennis and is played in more places than tennis because it's easier, cheaper, and more accessible.”

Will you announce more sponsors and broadcasters before the tournament?

“We are going to announce a few in the coming weeks, including major broadcasters in Spain and the UK which is fantastic to see that there’s interest from big broadcasters. We also have a couple in LATAM already signed up to be announced and we have Dubai Sports for the Middle East. Then we will do streaming deals with platforms like Youtube and Twitch so the competition is accessible via digital platforms also and can be free to most of the fans.”

Will you look to launch your own streaming service?

“It's something that we are exploring. Obviously, for the first year, we will probably launch with existing platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and other similar ones. We are considering maybe doing our own one in the future or maybe partnering with a big company to collaborate with them.”

What are your commercial goals for the competition, how will you generate appeal and value?

“We are creating something very different to what is out there. Premier and WPT were focusing a lot on expanding padel and getting into mass participation. We are focusing on that and replicating what they are doing but investing a bit more in the production of the TV product, but also in the fan zone.

“We are doing a fan zone which is not just stores where people can buy equipment, we are putting a court in the fan zones where people can participate and not just watch. So, with these kinds of experiences, we will try to maximize them a lot. Also, we are focusing a lot on corporate hospitality which will allow brands to bring clients and executives and conduct business.”

What are your ambitions for the first season and the longer term?

“In the first season, it is to make ourselves known, not just in the padel ecosystem, which we've managed to do and made quite a lot of noise, but elsewhere. We need to try and fill the stadium as much as possible. We are new, it’s a new product. It's going to be difficult, it’s always difficult in the first year but that's why we are trying to make a lot of noise in the media, with the players, and the celebrities and owners of the team.

“That's the focus now for the first year. We want everyone to be happy and willing to come back next year, not just the fans, but also the players, brands, and broadcasters. That's the goal.”

Do you plan to expand beyond six teams?

“We have a limit; we’ve agreed that there will be no more than 12 teams. That way the owners will have franchise value. Anyone willing to join after those 12 teams will need to acquire one of the existing teams so it creates value for the teams.

“The plan is to expand, we are already in conversation with a few others and maybe we’ll extend it to eight teams next year. Who knows, we may stop at 10 or we may extend up to 12, we'll see but next year we will probably have eight.”