Even as Mumbai Indians were named the champions of the first-ever Women’s Premier League (WPL) in Mumbai’s packed Brabourne stadium this Sunday, industry observers are hailing what they believe to be a new era in women’s cricket.
The fact that the final has seen tickets completely sold out within hours, unheard of in Indian women’s cricket, is testament to this.
For much of the tournament’s first season, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) made entry for the games free for female fans, while male fans had to pay a nominal ticket price of Rs 100 and Rs 400. For the final, the tickets were priced at Rs 250, relatively nominal compared with IPL tickets that are priced at Rs 3,500 and above.
Stark differences to the IPL notwithstanding, media industry experts maintain that the property has gotten off to a flying start as is evident from the social media buzz and fan response.
Bhairav Shanth, co-founder at ITW Consulting says, “WPL viewership across rural viewers is very strong and regional languages saw robust viewership numbers, which is heartening. This means that the WPL has gained popularity among audiences which were not previously consumers of women’s sport. Women viewers have seen a growth compared to the IPL accounting for 47% of the viewership, compared with 43% in previous editions of the IPL (as per BARC insights). We can expect that digital viewership is around the same.”
Viewership data on JioCinema is still to be published by Viacom18.
Jigar Rambhia, COO of sports management firm Sporjo, remarks that the positives from the WPL so far outweigh the negatives, which is encouraging.
“These kind of packed stadiums are unheard of in women’s cricket. The game between Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians at DY Patil Stadium saw an audience of 31,000,” says Rambhia.
He also points out that all the teams were able to sell the available slots for brand logos on their jerseys, demonstrating advertiser confidence in the property.
Viacom18 roped in over 35 sponsors for the broadcast. The event also participation from marquee brands such as Tata, CEAT, Lotus Herbals, Dream11, World Gold Council and Joy Personal Care, as well as a few local brands.
The other area where the league has impressed is in the quality of play, which has been far better than women’s cricket tournaments in the past.
Observers predict that in a few years, viewers will not only recognise names like Harmanpreet Kaur or Smriti Mandhana but also lesser known personalities. As per the Brand Endorser Report by Hansa Research, Mandhana has already become one of the most popular sports personalities in the country, excelling against some of her male counterparts on parameters like personality, energy and fitness.
The report places the stylish left-hander above popular male cricketers such as Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw.
Dhiraj Malhotra, CEO at Delhi Capitals, says the season has been a learning experience for all stakeholders.
“There is certainly a huge interest in women’s cricket as we have received a fantastic response for sponsorships. Though sponsors have been conservative, we believe we can demand more in terms of pricing as the league grows older. The tournament has certainly met our expectations from a financial standpoint, and has provided fantastic entertainment as well,” says Malhotra, pointing out that the league enabled the franchise to engage with both, female viewers and women-centric brands.
On the flip side, however, Rambhia observes that the TV viewership and ratings are fairly poor as compared to the stadium audiences.
As per data from BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), the first 14 matches saw a reach of 67.8 million, a relatively low number, according to Rambhia, considering that the men’s IPL sees an average reach of well over 400 million.
That figure, he also admits needs to be viewed in light of the fact that the IPL is over 15 seasons old.
What also impacted the first season was the short preparation time before the league. Fifteen days is not enough to market a new property.
“It doesn’t matter how big your brand is, or even if you’re the best brand out there, it is important to advertise. IPL continues to advertise despite the growth it has seen all these years. Next season, marketing for the WPL should begin at least two months in advance,” Rambhia suggests.
This year the WPL was played only at two venues in Mumbai. Moving forward, Shanth suggests that the league hosts matches across cities.
“This will help in not only increasing fan engagement but will also take the property to smaller centres, boosting popularity for the league,” he notes, adding that there will also be more opportunities in the future in terms of merchandising and engagement initiatives.
According to Santosh N, managing partner at D and P Advisory, it would be unreasonable to compare the current value of WPL with the current value of IPL.
He explains, “Comparing the WPL current valuation with the value of the IPL in 2007-08 would make more sense. But it should be noted that the WPL is currently played with only five teams, whereas the IPL had eight teams initially. Also, the media rights and title rights for WPL are lower than the equivalent numbers for IPL at inception. This makes it difficult for the WPL to command a valuation similar to that of the IPL in 2008.”
However, he expects that the WPL will show steady growth in terms of viewership and fan engagement, and with the right strategies and investments, could become a significantly more valuable property in the future.