The media rights auction for the Women’s Indian Premier League (WIPL) is scheduled to take place today and will see participation from broadcasters such as Disney+ Star, Viacom18 and Sony-ZEE. According to media experts, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is likely to earn between Rs 1,100 and Rs 1,200 crore from media rights sales for the 2023-27 period.
Given the kind of viewership Indian women’s cricket and sports have garnered in recent years, media insiders expect high interest from advertisers and viewers. In fact, the last fixture of the recent India-Australia women’s cricket series saw a packed DY Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai. The overall cumulative global dedicated TV audience for the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup was 104.8 million, with Indian channels delivering a majority share, as per data from ITW Universe. It was also the third most digitally engaging event behind the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 and ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021. The ratings for the Women’s T20 Challenge, the precursor to the WIPL, have grown threefold between 2018 and 2020 — from 0.3 to 1.3.
There is a huge appetite for cricket in India that shows no signs of slowing down, particularly with streaming penetrating deeper into tier-II and III markets, says Bhairav Shanth, co-founder of ITW Universe. “Women’s cricket audiences have grown over the last five years to be around 10-20% of the size of the men’s game, which considering the size of the cricket audience in India, is quite huge in absolute numbers. Ad rates are around a sixth of the IPL; so taking into account the number of games and the strategic importance for some broadcasters and streaming platforms to have such programming in their portfolio, we expect the media rights to be in the range of around 10% of the IPL on a per-game basis,” explains Shanth.
It is expected that all the broadcasters who vied for the men’s game will throw their hats into the ring during the auction. For broadcasters that have invested in the men’s IPL, the WIPL is a logical extension. Navin Khemka, CEO, MediaCom South Asia, points out that if a broadcaster gets both the properties in its kitty, it can offer advertisers great value. On the other hand, for a broadcaster that hasn’t invested in the men’s IPL, this is an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door. “By virtue of being a premium property, the IPL also allows the broadcaster greater access to both potential advertisers and media agencies,” he adds.
One factor that will impact both viewer and advertiser interest is the talent pool, observes Sandeep Goyal, MD, Rediffusion. “Most sponsors will want to know whether there is a talent pool of enough good quality players for the cricket to be watchable and sticky. The class of the players will determine the viewer interest and that will guide the media pricing,” he notes.
Khemka asserts that many brands will want to associate with the property to gain a positive rub-off from the association. It’s also a good prospect for brands who want to be part of a premium cricket property like IPL but don’t have big budgets to spend on the existing men’s tournament. “This is an event that is perhaps ahead of its time, but it is also about empowering women and supporting women’s sports, and brands will want to be part of that journey,” he maintains.
Some marketers too are encouraged by the success of women’s cricket over the past couple of years. Angelo George, CEO, Bisleri International, whose company recently associated with franchises like Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Titans, says, “Over the years, men’s IPL has been admired globally. And now, with women’s cricket witnessing enthusiasm from cricket lovers, it would be great to see how the WIPL leverages the current popularity of the IPL ecosystem connecting brands and consumers.”
Many contend this is also the time for women’s brands to get on the WIPL pitch. In 2019, for instance, cosmetics brand Lotus used the IPL to launch its range of sports sunblock. Jigar Rambhia, COO of Sporjo, a sports management firm, has a slightly different take: “If the break-up of viewers is similar to the existing IPL audience, what is stopping a male-focussed brand from advertising at the WIPL? Ultimately, if the advertiser is able to reach its target audience, they shouldn’t care if it is a men’s or women’s game.” Rambhia, a former head of the sports business at Wavemaker, adds that the BCCI needs to go all out to market the tournament, much like it did for the men’s property. A good marketing campaign for the WIPL will bring in the viewership and the advertisers, and will help create a successful property. The tournament’s first season is expected to take place in March this year.