The women’s premier League (WPL) might have taken time to materialise, but it’s finally upon us, and the ladies in blue seem to have got what they deserved, including money. Even before its commencement, the WPL has already been dubbed the second-richest franchise-based cricket league in the world across genders, after the Indian Premier League (IPL), as per BCCI secretary Jay Shah, and the third-richest franchise-based women’s league in the world across sports, after WNBA and Women’s Super League.
On January 16, the media rights for the first five seasons of the league were acquired by Viacom18 Media for Rs 951 crore—which translates to roughly Rs 7.09 crore per match. Although these numbers are small compared to the men’s league (the broadcasting rights for IPL stand at upwards of Rs 48,000 crore for the next five years), market leaders say it’s a good start. Add to it sponsorship money, ticket sales and other commercial revenue opportunities, and a single game might well bring in over Rs 12 crore just for the teams playing.
On January 25, the five teams were bought for a cumulative amount of Rs 4,669.99 crore. While Gujarat Giants was sold for Rs 1,289 crore, the highest, Mumbai Indians went for Rs 912.99 crore. Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Capitals and UP Warriorz were sold for Rs 901 crore, Rs 810 crore and Rs 757 crore, respectively.
In fact, the bidding for teams of the WPL broke the records of the inaugural men’s IPL in 2008, as per BCCI’s Shah.
Then came the player auctions on February 13. Like the inaugural auction of the IPL, the auction for the women’s league, too, saw big names go for big money with analytics taking a back seat. With a purse of Rs 12 crore for each team, Smriti Mandhana was the first to be bought and the most expensive one to boot, at Rs 3.4 crore (28.3% of the total purse), to the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Australian all-rounder Ashleigh Gardener was the most expensive overseas purchase, going to the Gujarat Giants for Rs 3.2 crore.
Again, comparing this to the first men’s IPL auction in 2008, the numbers are relatively small. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) dished out Rs 9.5 crore for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. England all-rounder Sam Curran is now the highest-ever money-earner for an IPL auction at Rs 18.5 crore ahead of the 2023 edition. This was after the 2010 IPL auction saw Shane Bond (Kolkata Knight Riders) and Kieron Pollard (Mumbai Indians) getting Rs 4.8 crore each and a year later, Gautam Gambhir (KKR) breaking the bank to earn a mind-boggling Rs 14.9 crore.
The pay packets of WPL players may pale in front of these IPL icons, but if the upward trend is anything to go by, money is expected to start flowing into the environment, say analysts.
Meanwhile, Tata Group bagged the title rights for the tournament. Although the financials of the deal were not revealed, a sports analyst says it will be 3-5% of what the company is paying for IPL. Tata Group replaced Vivo as the title sponsor last year, for which it paid around Rs 670 crore for a two-year sponsorship deal (2022 and 2023), or Rs 335 crore per year.
It’s a win-win situation for all the stakeholders concerned, say analysts. “The fact that teams in the WPL have been sold, players have been auctioned and media rights have been secured is a very positive sign for the league’s prospects. It suggests that there is significant interest and investment in women’s cricket,” says Santosh N, managing partner of D and P Advisory, a valuation services provider and boutique transaction advisory firm.
As per Santosh, the biggest winner here are the players. “The WPL has the potential to provide female cricketers with a higher earning potential, which could further increase their visibility and status within the sport. By creating a professional league for women, the WPL could potentially attract more female fans and encourage more girls to take up cricket,” he adds.
But what’s in store for the brands, considering it is a very fresh property? As per experts, WPL will offer brands the opportunity to align themselves with a cause that is seen as progressive and socially responsible, namely, the promotion of gender equality in sports. In particular, brands that target women and girls, such as fashion, beauty, and personal care brands, could find the WPL to be a particularly relevant platform for promotion. Additionally, brands that focus on health and wellness, or on promoting diversity and inclusivity, could also find the WPL to be a good fit.
In terms of where the action is going to be, both TV and digital are likely to play important roles in the coverage and promotion of the league. Digital media provides an opportunity for brands to reach younger audiences and engage with fans through social media and other digital platforms. “At the same time, TV broadcasts can provide a more traditional and wide-reaching form of advertising that can be particularly effective for building brand awareness,” adds Santosh.
However, considering that viewership for women’s cricket in India is still just a small fraction of men’s cricket viewership, ad rates will be significantly lower. WPL is still a new property, and many factors can affect ad rates, including the quality of the matches, the popularity of the players, size of the target audience and the level of interest from fans. An Indian victory at the ongoing ICC Women’s T20 World Cup can also transform women’s cricket and positively impact the WPL in terms of ad rates.
“The current WPL will be more of a discovery mechanism to get to a base ad rate for future seasons. Having said that, assuming similar TV ad inventory of 2,300 sec per match like in IPL, ad rates should normally be north of Rs 2 lakh for a ten-second slot. Ad rates in IPL matches range from Rs 15-18 lakh per a ten-second slot. But it should be noted that the ad rates for IPL are still below the break-even threshold,” says Santosh.
Going ahead, to make the WPL a success, experience will need to be drawn from IPL. A similar playbook can be followed here. First and foremost is league promotion by the cricketing board. That can be done through a variety of channels such as social media, TV ads, and other marketing channels. Advertisers will also need to be made aware of the league’s target audience and the potential for growth.
“Also, the league should focus on attracting the best players and providing a world-class experience for players and fans,” adds Santosh.
Sandeep Goyal, MD, Rediffusion, agrees: “The broadcaster’s role is sequential and consequential. The tournament can be promoted and hyped up, but the cricket has to be compelling to watch,” Goyal told FE recently.