On January 16, cricket’s apex governing body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), announced Viacom18 as the broadcast partner for the Women’s Indian Premier League (WIPL). Viacom18 won the media rights — both TV and digital — for ₹951 crore for five years (2023-2027) beating Disney Star which made a minuscule bid for streaming rights.
Broadcasting industry experts, sports marketing veterans and experienced media buyers agree that Viacom18’s bid is impressive given that WIPL is a brand-new league whose team franchises will be in place only at the end of January. WIPL’s inaugural season will be played in March with five teams.
The tidy sum for WIPL’s media rights may look promising, but the league is not without its share of challenges, and not all of them are linked to advertising or viewership.
For starters, the biggest challenge for Women’s IPL will be the actual quality of the league. “If the product is not good, no amount of marketing noise and surround sound can salvage it. Whether it’s the World Cup, India-Australia series or men’s IPL, people turn up to watch the games for the best players in the world. The question for women’s IPL is whether there is enough Indian talent to be spread across five competitive teams,” says a sports marketing expert, declining to be named. Much like IPL, only four international players will be allowed per team in the women’s league, he adds.
Secondly, the first season of WIPL will be played only in Mumbai. That immediately limits the ability of the franchises to build their audiences in respective home states. Teams are able to create fans when they play both ‘Home and Away’ matches, that is, build a loyal base on home ground and also play in other cities.
Not just that, new women’s team owners may face a brand-building challenge as the window of opportunity between winning a franchise at the end of this month and the league starting in the first week of March is very narrow. It’s a bit hurriedly put together league without sufficient time to create buzz around franchises or the tournament itself, says a broadcast sector executive with experience in cricket telecast.
Women’s IPL may be ill-timed too. In March, most companies wrap up their financial year and covet a good report card. Given the macro-economic headwinds affecting businesses, several companies are already holding back their advertising expenditure in the last quarter of the financial year. Indrajeet Mookerjee, president, South & West, Dentsu Creative India, says that brands have turned cautious in spending on ads. “News of layoffs is rampant among companies in some sectors and, globally, the economic outlook is grim. In such a scenario, brand sponsorships and associations may take a backseat. So, unless you have a launch planned for this time of the year, you will avoid spending,” he says.
Above all, instead of placing a bet on the unproven WIPL, advertisers may allocate their budgets to the time-tested men’s IPL to be played in April. “Instead of burning cash on WIPL, they will wait for a tournament that gives them significantly greater value,” says the sports marketing executive.
Since it will be the first edition of WIPL, the broadcast partner will need to create viewership too. It may be heartening to note that Women’s ICC T20 World Cup final in 2020 was watched by nine million fans in India. To be sure, even for men’s IPL, a significant share of viewership in India comes from women. Of the total IPL viewership, women account for between 30% and 40%.
Mookerjee says not all may be lost for the women’s league in terms of advertising. Brands targeting women, especially those that resonate with women’s empowerment, may ride on the new league.
There may be other advertisers too who may want to cut deals with the league when it’s still in its infancy and inexpensive. “As it becomes popular over the years, the same property may become very costly and out of reach for brands. If they buy now and the property does well, there will be a significant upside for them,” says Mookerjee.
The fact is that the league is launching during a bad phase of the financial year. But as the seasons go by, more teams are added to WIPL and new stars are born, it may become a fad for everyone to ride on.