By Alokananda Chakraborty
Harmanpreet Kaur’s series-winning knock of 143 in England on Wednesday evening was a towering moment for Indian women’s cricket. But the icing on the cake came a day later when reports surfaced about BCCI starting a women’s IPL (Indian Premier League). BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has reportedly written to state boards saying the board is expecting to start the first season early next year.
Party poopers, however, have several questions: In theory it’s great news, but where are the viewers? Will they find enough advertisers to justify the commercial aspect of a television spectacle? Do they have enough players to form a certain minimum number of teams?
But a majority of the experts associated with cricket say the questions are irrelevant for several reasons.
First, viewership. As per available data, 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. The cumulative broadcast hours stood at 10,308, including live coverage, repeat telecast and highlights, which was a significant increase from 3,974 hours for the 2020 edition held in Australia. The total viewing hours — that is the amount of time the matches were actually watched by TV audiences — were 215.2 million, up 47.4% from 2020.
Apart from English, the 2022 broadcast coverage was delivered for the first time in four other languages — Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
The 2020 edition of the Women’s T20 Challenge (WT20C) had 5.34 billion minutes in viewership in India.
That’s a 2.45 times rise over the 2019 edition; 105 million unique viewers tuned into the three-team league compared to the previous season’s 71 million viewers.
Opinion is, however, divided on advertiser interest. A senior media executive who was associated with the men’s IPL earlier, said the response may be tepid. Adds Sandeep Goyal, managing director at Rediffusion, “Much will depend on the hype and promotion. Earlier the likes of Lever put brand Boost on women’s cricket. Not a skincare brand or a haircare brand. Women-centred brands like L’Oreal or Garnier will need to take a leap of faith. So far that is missing.”
Others are more hopeful, saying the calibre of the players and the level of audience engagement has moved several notches higher. Mohit Hira, co-founder, Myriad Communications & venture partner, YourNest Capital Advisors, says, “While the consumer goods companies are likely to advertise, it’s also an opportunity for a lot of direct-to-consumer and e-commerce companies to get a wider reach. Even categories like automobile and financial services, which have traditionally appealed to men, should find the women’s IPL worth advertising on…after all, everyone needs new consumers.”
Joy Bhattacharjya, former team director of the IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, and CEO, Prime Volleyball League, says, “You would be making the biggest mistake if you straightaway compare it with the men’s IPL which is over a decade old. It’s the biggest sports spectacle in India and in four years of launch it was among the top 5 globally.”
Bhattacharjya says India has “pretty decent domestic players and don’t forget we will have international players also”. “The truth is this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. While it won’t be perfect, holding it back for lack of players would be stupid. You can see what IPL has done to the men’s version. Our local players now have great coaching, trainers and physios, so you have these amazing players. In the end, if you play more games you will have better players. Plus you have the lessons from the men’s version…”
About advertiser interest, Bhattacharjya says huge negotiations are already on over team acquisition: “Don’t you already have a Hero on Smriti Mandhana’s bat?”
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