The much-hyped Twenty20 Champions League has lost its title sponsor due to lack of interest in the multi-nation club tournament, Indian media reported on Wednesday.
Telecom major Airtel ended its three-year deal worth $40 million after just two years, citing low viewership, a national business daily quoted company sources as saying.
Tournament broadcaster ESPN-Star, which reportedly paid a billion dollars for 10-year media rights for the tournament, confirmed Airtel had pulled out.
"Airtel had other brand investments to make and it was not possible for them to pump money into the Champions League," Sanjay Kailash, the executive vice-president for sales and new media at ESPN-Star, told the newspaper.
Airtel's logo has also been removed from the tournament's official website (www.clt20.com).
ESPN-Star must now find a new sponsor for the third edition of the tournament, featuring leading Twenty20 domestic teams from around the world, to be played in India from September 19-October 9.
The newspaper said Airtel's deal had an exit clause that allowed it to withdraw from the tournament if the television ratings did not match expectations.
The Champions League was launched by the cricket boards of India, Australia and South Africa in the wake of the hugely popular Indian Premier League.
But its first two editions, played in India and South Africa, failed to ignite the same interest as the IPL, partly, analysts say, due to a lack of marquee name players.
"It's a folly to think every cricket match will sell in India," said media executive Amardeep Sidhu. "The IPL is popular in India because each of the 10 teams has a few national stars and fans can identify with them.
"Most of the foreign teams have players who are sometimes unknown even in their own country."
To increase interest, organisers picked three IPL teams among the seven direct entries this year, with a fourth team scheduled to play in the qualifiers for the three remaining berths.
The qualifiers will feature Kolkata Knight Riders alongside Trinidad and Tobago (West Indies), Auckland Aces (New Zealand), two teams from the ongoing English Twenty20 and one from Sri Lanka.
The top three will join Cape Cobras and Warriors (South Africa), South Australia and New South Wales (Australia), and Royal Challengers Bangalore, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians (India) in the main draw.
The qualifiers will be played in Hyderabad from September 19-21, while the main tournament will be held in Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata from September 23-October 9.