Last week was big for women’s cricket in India with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) scooping up a record Rs 4,669.99 crore at the auction of the five team franchises for the first season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL). This follows the media rights auction the previous week when Viacom18 sealed a five-year deal for Rs 951 crore.
As the various stakeholders gear up for the inaugural WPL season, experts say the first step for the broadcaster and BCCI to create fan and advertiser interest would be to package the property right. For broadcaster Viacom18, the focus will need to be on bringing in the existing fan base for women’s cricket and then work on building the numbers, says Paroksh Chawle, CEO at ITW Catalyst, a sports consultancy. “We may see some big names come on board to help popularise the league as well as putting proven stars like Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma at the centre of the marketing strategy. There also needs to be smart programming that educates the viewers about the women’s game, its stars and their legacy without being patronising or heavy handed,” he suggests. Crisp broadcasting along with new features like ‘hype mode’ and ‘multicam’ that were used during the FIFA World Cup should be the way forward.
“At Rs 7.09 crore per match, Viacom18 might look at WIPL and IPL investments in totality and not individually. With digital streaming likely to be free, there will be dependence on ad sales and for that to be viable, we exp-ect that 10-second slots may be priced anywhere between Rs 1.5 and 1.75 lakh,” says Nikhil Vyas, founding partner, ITW Universe, noting that the network’s marketing team will likely position Jio Cinema/Voot as the home of IPL and WPL.
Digital game plan
Ad rates for WPL are still expected to be a fraction of what the existing men’s property commands, which is in the range of Rs 18-19 lakh per 10 seconds. According to media agency leaders, Jio Cinema’s ad rates for the men’s property this year may be between Rs 200 and 300 CPM (cost per thousand impressions).
The streaming platform faced a few issues in the early days of the FIFA World Cup broadcast last year, but experts say it would have learnt from its mistakes. According to Jio Cinema, the FIFA World Cup saw over 125 million viewers on the platform during the tournament. Going by this figure for a football tournament, industry observers expect the WPL, by virtue of being a cricket property, to command far higher viewership. “The strategy of free streaming is good to bring in viewers. As Viacom18 already has the streaming rights for the men’s IPL, I expect the network to cross promote both properties and get advertisers and viewers on board,” says Aejaz Khan, CEO, Makani Creatives.
If last week’s franchise auctions are anything to go by, existing as well as new brands are already showing interest in WPL. However, given that women’s cricket brings in fewer eyeballs than the gentleman’s game, some advertisers will be cautious and take the wait and watch approach. Karan Taurani, senior vice-president, Elara Capital, points out that since the media rights were sold at Rs 200 crore per annum, it may take at least two years before Viacom18 can recover by raking in this kind of ad revenue. Noting that the key lies in turning the women cricketers into household names, he explains, “Most viewers tend to back the teams in which their favourite stars are playing. Therefore, it will be important to create a fan following for women cricketers like we see for established male stars. This is true for content across genres. Even if you look at shows such as KBC or Bigg Boss, their anchors are larger-than-life celebrities. In women’s sport, we have done this reasonably well in tennis and badminton, but it needs to happen for cricket too.”
At the end of the day, a lot also depends on the quality of cricket. Sandeep Goyal, MD at Rediffusion asserts, “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. WPL will need big hitting and close finishes to take flight.”