February 18, 2023
Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.
We’ve just had the player auctions for the Women’s Premier League, or WPL. It was a windfall, richly deserved, for our women cricketers and the league itself is widely viewed as an inflection point in the women’s game. In this episode, I don’t want to talk numbers much but I do want to look at what this means for women’s cricket in India. But, just for perspective, let me give you a couple of numbers. The five teams have fetched the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or BCCI, Rs 4669.99 crore and the media rights have sold for Rs 951 crore. This makes the WPL the second biggest T20 league in the world behind the Indian Premier League.
The WPL is significant because in it we finally have the recognition of the commercial potential of the women’s game. To me, it’s also a significant step towards gender parity in cricket.
Now, when it comes to cricket in India, we’re fairly used to insane numbers but with those that I mentioned earlier the WPL is behind only the Women’s NBA basketball championship in the US and the Women’s Super League football tournament in the UK in terms of broadcast deals in women’s sports. We don’t know the sponsor deals yet but the WPL could well cross the billion-dollar-mark by the time it starts in March.
The franchise owners are some of India’s top conglomerates, which shows how much confidence there is in the league.
You almost wonder what took the BCCI so long to launch the women’s league!
The WPL is the second good step in recent times in Indian women’s cricket. Not too long ago, it brought women cricketers’ match fees at par with the men. It was a strong step forward in terms of making sport gender equal.
The match fees for a one-day international is now Rs 6 lakh, a six-fold increase, and the Test match fee is Rs 15 lakh, an almost four-fold rise. Of course, there remains a huge gap between the central contracts of men and women. A male cricketer in Category A gets a Rs 5-crore contract while the same for the women is Rs 50 lakh. Hopefully, this imbalance will be corrected soon too.
It’s obvious that investment and commercial viability leads to development of the sport – it’s what happened in the men’s game. And that’s what will happen in the women’s game too.
Young girls will see our women cricketers as idols and that will drive participation at the club and grassroots level. It’s from there that the future Mithali Rajs and Jhulan Goswamis will emerge.
Current domestic players are set to benefit the most, playing alongside India and international veterans.
There is something about the T20 format that helps the game to develop. Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League, or WBBL, was the first major tournament to boost women’s cricket. The 2020-21 edition saw significant success with viewership touching 200,000 per match. This made the WBBL the fourth most-watched domestic league in Australia, behind the men’s Big Bash League, Australian rules football’s AFL and the rugby league’s NRL.
Brands such as Nike and KFC partnered with the WBBL and 16 broadcasters from across the world picked up the rights to broadcast it.
What I believe is that the WPL will very likely benefit the IPL too. How? We already know that the IPL has a huge female viewership. With the women’s tournament, the interest in it will increase and spill over to the men’s tournament further, thus boosting viewership even more.
Let’s look at the Women’s T20 Challenge, the precursor to the WPL. It was a women’s T20 league held between 2018 and 2022 and featured three teams in a round-robin group followed by a final. The 2020 edition had 5.34 billion minutes of viewership in India and 105 million unique viewers tuned in compared to the previous season’s 71 million viewers. So, there is a rise in awareness and interest. This should make sponsors and advertisers very interested.
Is cricket moving away from being male-dominated to a more balanced reality? It seems so, but the process would be slow.
The IPL increased female viewership by an estimated 60%. With the WPL, this would change further. Besides, the expansion is likely to come from audiences that include teenage to young women. This is a highly lucrative audience for brands to pursue. Also, you can imagine the frenzy the games will spark on social media.
A women’s equivalent of the IPL tournament was long overdue. It will deliver sellout crowds, massive TV audiences and, most important of all, raise the profile of our women cricketers and the women’s game. You simply can’t go wrong with it.
Thank you all for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at email@example.com. Catch you again soon.