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The second of a two-part series on the BCCI’s plans to set up a much-needed women’s Indian Premier League

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Good Evening [%first_name |Dear Reader%],

Last week, I watched the trailer of Shabaash Mithu, the upcoming biopic of Indian cricket captain Mithali Raj. It’s a movie that has been in the works since September 2017, just after India reached the final of the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup. It then took over two years for the makers, Viacom18 Studios, to announce in December 2019 that actor Taapsee Pannu will play Raj in the movie.

Two more years and a pandemic later, Raj announced on social media in December 2021 that the movie will be released in February, just ahead of the 2022 ICC Women’s World Cup.

February and the Women’s World Cup have come and gone, but there’s still no sign of the movie apart from the trailer, which was released on 21 March. The trailer says the movie is “Coming Soon”, with no new release date announced.

In a way, this is pretty par for the course when it comes to women’s cricket in India. For instance, a women’s Indian Premier League has been in the works for over a decade. “Hopefully”, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the tournament will see the light of day next year. And so, we wait, in hope.

Last week, I wrote about why India and Indian cricketers really need a women’s IPL. In case you missed it, I’d suggest you read it first here. Today, in the second and final part of this series, I write about whether a women’s IPL makes business sense.

The business case for a women’s IPL

Less than two months before BCCI president Sourav Ganguly told the media that the board hopes to launch a women’s IPL next year, he had said this in an interview with Sportstar:

The Women’s T20 Challenge will again be back this year in the month of May. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to host a bigger women’s IPL once the number of women players goes up.

Ever since the idea of a women’s IPL was first mooted over a decade ago, this has been one of the most common arguments against organising one—the lack of depth in women’s cricket. It’s a pretty flawed—and lazy—argument.

Because India already has a large enough talent pool for a women’s IPL.

There were 37 state teams that took part in the Women’s Senior One Day Trophy 2021-22 in October-November. Unsurprisingly, the mighty Railways won the title. Then, in December, 60 of the best cricketers from the domestic circuit were divided into four teams for the Women’s Challenger Trophy. This served as an audition ahead of India’s squad announcement for the 2022 Women’s World Cup.

So, there. You already have a pool of 60 players who are either good enough to represent India or close to it. If you add a pool of 20-odd overseas players, you have enough personnel for at least four women’s IPL squads of 20 players each.

“There has always been enough strength for four good teams,” says Snehal Pradhan, former India cricketer-turned-media professional. “The talent existed in 2010, and it exists in 2022. The more opportunities that talent gets, the better that talent will become year-on-year, which is exactly what we saw in the men’s IPL after the first few years as well.”

This is an important point. When the men’s IPL was launched in 2008, there weren’t enough good Indian men’s players to have an eight-team league. But the BCCI decided to go ahead with the tournament anyway. “There were teams that had shockers in terms of players who were just not ready for it,” says Joy Bhattacharjya, who was the team director of the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise from 2008 to 2014.

Remember, there’s a huge gulf between domestic and international cricket. But thanks to the IPL, domestic cricketers got to rub shoulders with top-quality international players. They went for camps, faced Dale Steyn in the nets, got access to top coaches and physios... The point is, you can’t wait for the standard to increase. If you say that women don’t have 40-50 good players, you still bite the bullet and say, fine, maybe the first few matches will be up and down. That’s okay. You have to accept that.
Joy Bhattacharjya

Right, so, you’ve got the players. But does a women’s IPL make sense business-wise?

A lot will depend on what happens during the media rights auction for the IPL’s next five-year cycle (2023-2027), which will take place in June. While it has been revealed that the BCCI has set a base price of Rs 32,890 crore (US$4.3 billion) and is rolling out four rights bundles, it’s not clear whether the women’s IPL, if and when it is launched, will be a part of it.

If the BCCI decides to club the women’s and men’s broadcast rights, then it’s a matter of what percentage of the total rights value it chooses to ascribe to the women’s IPL. If you even consider 5% of the Rs 45,000 crore-Rs 50,000 crore (US$5.9 billion-US$6.6 billion) figure that is being touted in the media, that’s Rs 2,250 crore-Rs 2,500 crore (US$297 million-US$330 million) or Rs 450 crore-Rs 500 crore (US$59 million-US$66 million) per year from media rights. “That’s a serious number,” says Bhattacharjya. “You can easily do a women’s IPL in that much.”

Bhattacharjya hopes the BCCI, the richest cricket board in the world, will bankroll the tournament. “Today, the IPL is paying for everything in Indian cricket. So, why should the IPL also not contribute towards making women’s sport viable in the country?”

This is something Pradhan also hopes for. In a piece for Cricbuzz on the ideal model for a women’s IPL, which I recommend you read, she wrote that ​​the BCCI “could offer to subsidise certain franchise costs for the first three to five years”. Like the fees each franchise pays to state cricket associations for the use of their stadiums for matches. This is just one of the operational costs of an IPL franchise.

Pradhan expects the rights fee for a women’s IPL franchise to be a minimum of Rs 25 crore (US$3.3 million). With five or six teams, as is being planned, that’s a minimum of Rs 125 crore-Rs 150 crore (US$16.5 million-US$20 million) worth of revenue in franchise rights fees for the BCCI right there.

As mentioned in part one of this series, telco Reliance Jio had paid Rs 12 crore (US$1.5 million) for the title rights of the Women’s T20 Challenge in 2020. That tournament had only three teams and four matches. A six-team women’s IPL would presumably have 30 round-robin matches, two semi-finals, and a final. Considering pure multiples, that’s ~Rs 100 crore (US$13.2 million) per season for the title sponsorship of a women’s IPL. If you consider even Rs 50 crore (US$6.6 million) coming in from other official sponsors, that’s at least Rs 150 crore (US$20 million) per season in central sponsorship.

Whatever revenue the BCCI earns from the IPL (broadcast + sponsorship) is shared with the franchises. For the men’s IPL, the BCCI gave the franchises 80% and kept 20% for the first three years, 70:30 in the next three years, 60:40 in the next three years, and 50:50 from the 10th year.

Assuming a conservative revenue estimate of Rs 450 crore for broadcast and Rs 150 crore for central sponsorship, that’s Rs 600 crore in revenue per season (~US$80 million). Assuming the BCCI uses the same formula as above, 80% of Rs 600 crore—Rs 480 crore (US$63 million)—would be shared with the franchises for the first three years. Assuming there are six franchises, that’s Rs 80 crore (US$10.5 million) per franchise.

The business opportunities for the women’s IPL look to be significantly positive and hopeful, says Namrata Parekh, co-founder and director of Meraki Sport and Entertainment, a sports marketing and consulting agency. She believes that the popularity of the men’s IPL will lend itself to a women’s IPL, especially when it comes to viewership trends.

The 2020 Women’s T20 Challenge reportedly garnered 105 million unique viewers and a total of 5.34 billion viewing minutes. This was up from 71 million unique viewers and 2.2 billion viewing minutes in 2019. In comparison, the first week of the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) men’s football tournament had recorded 3.42 billion viewing minutes.

More recently, the India-South Africa match at the 2022 Women’s World Cup last month, which had resulted in a narrow defeat for Mithali Raj’s team, recorded 1.7 million concurrent viewers on streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar towards the end. The average ISL game never goes beyond 500,000-600,000.

In fact, 48% of the men’s IPL’s viewers are women, according to media agency Wavemaker India. And even though the men’s IPL is leaps and bounds ahead of all leagues in India in terms of viewership, Parekh points out that sponsorship opportunities in the tournament are finite, expensive, and saturated to a point. “The introduction of a women’s IPL just opens up a host of opportunities for brands who would have otherwise missed out on the [men’s] IPL wave because of either smaller pockets or category blocks,” she says. “Also, it’s safe to assume that there will be pricing differences, which means cost effective buys for brands and, therefore, more sponsors from far more diverse industries and categories.”

However, Jigar Rambhia, National Director – Sports and Entertainment Partnerships at Wavemaker India, believes that the BCCI has a lot of work ahead to make something like a women’s IPL a success.

Over the years, we have seen multiple leagues across sports coming up and not necessarily every one of them has seen the kind of success IPL has seen. Also, currently, the viewership of women’s cricket in general is not comparable to men’s cricket, which means BCCI will need to promote the WIPL in a similar manner they did and have been doing with the men’s IPL.

Not only marketing it well, BCCI may also have to explore the possibility of bringing in innovations to the game to make it more exciting for the viewers. Ultimately, any league will attract advertisers only if the league does well.
Jigar Rambhia

One can only hope the BCCI goes the whole hog if it does indeed launch a women’s IPL. If it’s going to succeed, it can’t be something the BCCI treats like an experiment or something it’s doing on the side. It’s clear that a women’s IPL has the potential to become a powerful league that can add completely new demographics to cricket if it’s executed well.

Both Pradhan and Bhattacharjya think a women’s IPL deserves a separate window in the cricketing calendar, rather than shoehorning it with the men’s IPL. For one, it would be criminal to make the women play afternoon matches in the Indian summer before the men’s games at 8 pm. This would also be a logistical nightmare for organisers at the stadiums.

“It’s very difficult for any event manager to sell two tickets for the same day,” says Bhattacharjya, who’s currently the CEO of Prime Volleyball. “Because it’s almost impossible to get people out of the stadium before the second match. And if you sell a double-header ticket with a women’s match at 3 pm and a men’s match at 8 pm, people won’t be allowed to leave before 8 pm if they wish to. If you leave, you can’t come back in.”

And if the women’s matches are held at different venues but at the same time as the men’s games, the men’s IPL will just eat everything up in terms of viewership and ratings, he adds.

A separate window will also give men’s IPL franchises that decide to set up a women’s team more visibility outside the six-to-eight weeks of the men’s IPL, which is a big challenge right now, says Pradhan. “With 33 matches, if you add a couple of double-headers, you’ll be done in a month. You could have a really neat tournament that will have a voice of its own. It will get publicity of its own. No other event will want to clash with it because it is an IPL.”

While the BCCI plans to give the 10 men’s IPL franchises the first right of refusal to buy women’s teams, Bhattacharjya would love to see six different owners come in. “If there’s a women’s team, I want that women’s team to be the A-team for a particular franchise. And I’d love to see more people invested in sports in India.”

There’s no dearth of possibilities. But for any of them to come to fruition, the BCCI needs to get the ball rolling. Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have a women’s IPL. It’s clear that it can be a sustainable business.

What are your thoughts on organising a women’s IPL and how it should be planned? Do write in to me at [email protected]

Quick singles

🔵⚽️💰 An investigation by German publication DER SPIEGEL and the journalism network European Investigative Collaborations has thrown light on alleged violations by Premier League club Manchester City. The violations are related to illegal payments for underage players, inflated sponsorship deals, and hidden salary payments to former manager Roberto Mancini. The Premier League has been investigating the club for three years, but chose not to comment. [DER SPIEGEL]

📱🏏🤑 Indian fantasy sports unicorn Dream11’s revenue grew by 53% to Rs 2,554.4 crore (US$340 million) in the year ended March 2021, compared with Rs 1,670.2 crore (US$220 million) in the previous year. The company’s profit grew over 3X to Rs 327.1 crore (US$43 million), up from Rs 104 crore (US$137 million), during this period. Dream11 was last valued at US$8 billion in November 2021. The Indian fantasy sports market is estimated to become a US$22 billion industry by 2025, up from US$4.6 billion currently. [Entrackr]

🎮📱💰 Meanwhile, Dream11’s rival Mobile Premier League (MPL) is reportedly in talks to raise funding from a number of investors, including cryptocurrency exchange FTX. This would be an extension of its Series E round, which valued the company at US$2.3 billion in September 2021. MPL has reportedly informed potential investors that it plans to launch play-to-earn and NFT-based games later this year. [TechCrunch]

📺🚫 And in the you-can’t-make-this-up section, the Advertising Standards Council of India has asked the IPL to withdraw or modify an ad featuring former India captain MS Dhoni after a road safety organisation lodged a complaint against it. The ad shows Dhoni, playing a bus driver, stopping the bus in the middle of a busy road to watch the IPL. The Consumer Unity and Trust Society said in its complaint that the ad glorifies the violation of traffic rules. [The Times of India]

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That’s all from this edition of Moneyball. I hope you enjoyed it. Please write to me at [email protected] with any feedback (good or bad) and suggestions for topics to write on.

Take care.


This newsletter has been discontinued. But you can read The Stack which includes our newsletters around cleantech, fintech, personal finance and e-commerce in India!