A Gamechanger For Women's Cricket 
A Gamechanger For Women’s Cricket 

Long after IPL changed the face of men’s cricket, a similar transformation beckons the women’s cricketing landscape, with a full-fledged T20 league for women that gets rolling this month

For a long time, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) had maintained that a full-fledged franchise league for women’s cricket is not financially feasible. And many gullible fans not only bought this flimsy argument, but regurgitated it ad infinitum against the advocates of an IPL-styled league for women. Even the former Indian skipper, Mithali Raj, wasn’t spared when in 2017 — just after India finished as the runners-up in the Women’s ODI World Cup — she talked about the pressing need to have a league for women. The sceptics took shelter in the usual trope of lack of demand for women’s cricket, despite numerous examples proving otherwise. 


Fast forward to 2023, where all myths have been shattered, after the BCCI collected a whopping Rs 4,669.99 crore by selling five franchises for the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL). Three of the existing IPL franchises — Delhi Capitals, Mumbai Indians, and Royal Challengers Bangalore — successfully bid for the women’s teams, while the remaining two slots were filled by Adani Sports and Capri Global.  

In what was perhaps the biggest injection of cash into women’s sports, the impending WPL trumped the well-established league like the Women’s NBA, in terms of valuation. The board added another Rs 951 crore by selling the media rights of the first five seasons to Viacom 18. These numbers reflect the trust stakeholders have shown in women’s cricket and cricketers, who have consistently punched above their weight despite operating under a shoestring budget. “It’s great to see that the tournament is finally starting and it will give a lot more girls the chance to showcase their talent at the highest levels. And I am sure that this move will go a long way in enhancing the cricketing landscape,” shares Smriti Mandhana, the current vice-captain for the Indian women’s national team.  


While the men’s cricketing landscape saw a dramatic transformation with the inception of the IPL in 2008, women’s cricket was left to languish for years. But things have finally started to change for them. Only last year they earned the right to get the same match fees as male cricketers, and this year they’ll have a league for themselves, where young cricketers will get to rub shoulders with the biggest superstars of the game. Each team in the league can have a maximum of six overseas players, meaning there will be 60 domestic talents across five teams in the league. Although a majority of these Indian cricketers might not get a regular opportunity, the importance of living in such a high-pressure, high-performance set-up for almost a month can’t be understated. “Anything that happens in Indian cricket, the ripples can be felt in the wider cricketing ecosystem. It was important to capitalise on the interest created around women’s cricket,” says Megha Sinha, the sports broadcaster, who recently covered the ICC Women’s T20I World Cup for Doordarshan.  

The prospect of watching women’s cricket with Indian players in action for close to a month is tantalising. Till last year, the BCCI conducted the Women’s T20 Challenge, where three teams featured in a round-robin format in the middle of an IPL. To play a proper league, they needed to tour Australia — Women’s Big Bash — and England — The Hundred — and not more than a handful of Indian cricketers got an opportunity to play in those foreign leagues.  


The lack of depth in the talent pool was always held against the formation of the league, a notion that the current strategy analyst for Delhi Capitals Sriram Somayajula, vehemently disagrees with. “There is enough talent pool in Women’s Cricket to look for the best 7-8 players to form the core,” he argues, adding, “Australians, English, Kiwis, South Africans, Sri Lankans, a couple of players from Thailand and Zimbabwe and many other associates have been in the news over the last 18-24 months. They all have been constantly performing in one tournament or the other.”  

One could easily make a strong playing XI from the list of players who went unsold in the auction. Chamari Athapaththu, Danni Wyatt, Suzie Bates, and Laura Wolvaardt were among some of the high-profile players who couldn’t find any takers in the auction. The limit on the overseas player coupled with the auction dynamic definitely played a role here, but still, the fact that these players won’t be playing in the inaugural edition of the WPL tells a lot about the deep reservoir of the talents women’s cricket possess.  

While there’s definitely no dearth of elite women cricketers across the world, it was necessary for the board to ensure that these top-tier players are not thinly spread across teams, as it would have definitely hampered the competitiveness of the league. “It’s always difficult to strike a balance between what would dilute the league and the quality of the games and what exactly would be the true representation of the talent the game possesses,” says Sinha, adding that this is a dilemma every sporting league faces in the beginning.  

Even the IPL started with eight teams, and only after over a decade, they decided to add two more last year. The board understands how important the first year is going to be in terms of setting the tone. While those who already watch women’s cricket will surely watch the league, the biggest challenge for stakeholders will be to win over new audience, especially the youth demographic of our country. This is where the experience of running a league as successful as the IPL will come in handy, quips Somayajula. “It is about putting the right support team and squad and building it from there. Any new venture will have teething issues and BCCI would have surely covered all bases to ensure it gains popularity among viewers,” adds Somayajula, who also works as Head of Cricket Operations for Lanka Premier League.  

As per Sinha, the board and franchises need to take an aggressive approach towards marketing their product. “The most important thing is that everyone should know that such an event is happening,” she tells us, adding that the success of the league will be measured in terms of the number of people it brings in front of the television and into the stands. Karan Taurani, the senior vice president at Elara Capital — a finance and research firm that specialises in drawing up reports on emerging markets and products — echoes a similar sentiment, stating that the BCCI needs to invest aggressively in this property, and create awareness among people. “Women’s cricket will need heavy investment and a lot of support from the IPL and women’s celebrity,” he shares, noting that it will be difficult for them to match the viewership figures of the IPL. “WPL will be directly competing with fiction-based shows in the prime-time slots and it will take immense stardom or popularity to force these women to tune in to a cricket game,” he adds. 

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Moreover, the WPL will also be clashing with India’s home season in March, thus making it incredibly difficult for the league to attract viewers who are largely inclined towards men’s cricket. A healthy viewership becomes a significant metric for the league to prosper in the long run, as franchises will be deriving an overwhelming share of their revenue from the broadcasting rights alone. As per the existing model in place, the board will share 80% of the broadcasting revenue with all five teams. Even in the IPL, around 80% of the revenue the franchise generates comes from media rights notes Taurani. For the WPL this would amount to around INR 25 crore per year.  


Taurani, who recently co-authored a detailed financial report of WPL, points out that ticketing sale also adds a significant chunk to the revenue of the men’s franchise, but it’s difficult to predict the same in the case of WPL. “Franchise in the IPL earns around Rs 25-30 crore from the live audience, but that’s because the ticket price is very high,” he says, adding that ticket price in the WPL will be a fraction of IPL.  

Last year when Australia toured India for a five-match T20I series, the BCCI scrapped the entry fees for the viewers for the first three T20Is, which resulted in a jam-packed DY Patil Stadium. The BCCI could do this because the gate revenue doesn’t hold much importance for them, but the same can not be said for the franchise, which will need to be smart with the ticket pricing, ensuring that it isn’t so low that it hurt their pocket, and neither so high that it drives fans away.  

The advertisement rate for the brands is slated to be around INR 2-3 lakh for a ten-second slot, as compared to the Rs 15-18 lakh that IPL commands for the same duration. However, even IPL broadcasters are barely able to break even because of the exorbitant price they had to pay to secure media rights. “When you consider broadcasting rights, ad revenue, and ticket sales, it seems as though franchises have paid a hefty acquisition cost. If at all they break even, it will only happen after a period of five years,” points out Taurani, adding that the only silver lining is that three IPL teams have bought the WPL franchise, and they must use all their brand power to lift their sister franchise.

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