Indepth: Women’s IPL - Great possibilities, but will it excite brands & draw eyeballs?

Photo credit: Pickled Stardust on Unsplash
Photo credit: Pickled Stardust on Unsplash

Viacom18 recently bagged the global media rights for Women’s IPL for Rs 951 crore ($117 million) for a period of five years. The Reliance-backed company beat the likes of Disney Star and Sony. The rights comprise linear (TV), digital, and combined (TV and digital).

A new era for women’s cricket

What does it mean for the Indian sports ecosystem in general and women’s cricket in particular? Will brands be as enthusiastic as they have been towards the men’s IPL? Let’s understand this and more from a cross-section industry stakeholders. All of them are united in their opinion that it is a positive development.

While the women’s IPL will be a new frontier for brands, they feel that it heralds a new era for the Indian women cricket.

This means another addition of a big property in cricket, and might lead to a new paradigm in the way women’s cricket will be consumed going ahead, says Amol Dighe, CEO, Investments and Business Development, Madison Media. He adds that it is a positive step for the game.

While terming the move as a great thing, Dhruv Warrior, National Creative Director, FoxyMoron (Zoo Media Network), says that the BCCI has been making strong moves to support women’s cricket and this is clearly reflected in the pay equity policy they’ve implemented.

“My hope is that now new talents in India will be discovered and we will see the on-field performances get even better. If that’s the case, then not only should we see more exciting matches, but there will be a new fan-base following the WIPL. I hope that the WIPL gives grassroot development of athletes and academies (specifically for women), the impetus it needs to grow even more. Finally I hope that the WIPL kicks off a new era of women’s cricket globally. The IPL has had a key role in unearthing new talents, bringing a brand-new inventive style of play to the game of cricket and has brought a lot of action and excitement to the game of cricket. The WIPL holds the same potential.”

“This is great news,” exclaims Angad Singh Manchanda, CEO & Co-founder of Chimp&z Inc, adding that it actually brings women’s sports in India to the forefront and that it will help create a fan-following for the lady heroes of the sport.

“India loves its cricket and this is a very good way to help get the sport to the audience across the length and breadth of the country. I am happy that an entertainment giant like Viacom18 will be broadcasting the sport and making it a part of every Indian’s life,” he adds.

Lloyd Mathias, Angel Investor, Marketing & Business Strategist, agrees that it is a positive and big development for the women’s cricket world. “How it will play out in the next five years will determine the future success. Its future will be determined if there is sizeable viewer interest and excitement,” he adds.

According to Mathias, IPL was not just a male-oriented game as it appealed to the entire family, right from cheer girls and the whole concept of entertainment, the pre-match part, celebrities and models anchoring the shows, etc. “Today, IPL – both men and women – has become a pan-family event. I’d see women IPL also taking off well, though It will be a relatively a smaller fraction of what the men’s IPL is. To start with something like even 10% of the viewership from the men’s IPL will be a good move,” he adds.

Shekhar Banerjee, Chief Client Officer and Office Head - West, Wavemaker India, too, thinks that it is a good addition to the format, giving the kind of traction they have received globally. “So we expect it to be a good aggregator of audience. It’s not going to radically change the landscape. It is a good addition to the current ecosystem and infrastructure,” he adds.

Hima Bulusu, Associate Director - Key Accounts, TheSmallBigIdea, feels that it is fabulous news for Indian cricket. “IPL has changed the way Indians consume cricket and expanding this franchise is nothing but good news. Cricket fans will now get fresh matches, teams and players packaged in the very same familiar and entertaining format.”

For women’s cricket, the media rights being sold to Viacom18 for a substantial value of Rs 951 crore is a heartening sight. It will go a long way in assuring prospective teams of the value of the women’s IPL, believes Paroksh Chawla, CEO, ITW Catalyst.

“From the fans’ perspective as broadcasters of the men’s (digital only) as well as the women’s IPL, Viacom18 may focus on engagement as they did during the FIFA World Cup, with features like Hyper Mode which gives fans a unique perspective into their favourite sport, similar use of technology to boost fan engagement could be great for the sport,” he adds.

Viacom18 winning the media rights for the Women's IPL suggests that there is a growing interest and investment in women's cricket in India, maintains Rohit Bansal, Founder & CEO, Super4.

According to him, this could lead to increased exposure and funding for the sport, which could in turn help to improve the standard of play and attract more talented players. “Additionally, the women’s IPL being broadcast on a major media platform could help to raise the profile of the League and the sport among the general public, which could lead to increased interest and participation in women’s cricket. Overall, it is a positive development for the Indian cricket ecosystem,” he adds.

Will it excite brands?

It will be interesting to watch how brands will react to the women’s IPL. Experts are of the opinion that WIPL opens up a brand new world of possibilities, especially for women-centric brands.

Amol Dighe thinks that women’s IPL is an opportunity for many brands to associate themselves with the game, especially female-oriented categories. He feels that some brands that could not do too much with the men’s IPL can activate their brands here through on-ground and on-air activities as well.

“The digital medium will be a big addition. Even traditional categories which have been active on men’s IPL can look at this as a good-impact opportunity. Also, it’s a short tournament of 22 matches, so it will not require a huge investment and brands can sample and experiment with the property at the same time,” opines Dighe. 

He further notes that viewership for the women’s cricket has already established the fact that cricket in India is not only consumed by men alone. “IPL is a great example of that. So, I think that barrier has already been broken. Women’s cricket is played as competitively as men’s. This seems like a good opportunity for women-centric categories and brands.” 

On the other hand, Lloyd Mathias feels that brands will adopt a wait-and-watch and cautious approach and see how it plays out before deciding on long-term associations. Brands will be reasonably positive towards women’s IPL, but obviously not to the level of the men’s IPL, a property that is almost 15 years old, he says. While asserting that women’s IPL may not reach that level, he, however, feels that people will show an interest, especially women-centric brands will be keen.

According to him, over the last two years, women’s cricket has been getting more popular. People are familiar with a couple of women cricketers. It is a good sign.

“Advertisers will be pretty okay about it. At one level there is this danger of overdoing cricket. Whereas in the past it used to be a few months, now it is a 12-month calendar. But, everyone will wait and see how the IPL for women will play out,” Mathias adds.  

Brands’ response will be extremely welcoming and heart-warming, feels Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head, Parle Products. “We want our brands to be seen wherever there is an audience. If some particular show is doing well, I want to be seen there because I am able to see a certain reach in that market. As an advertiser, we also feel that advertising on women’s cricket is also going to give good results,” he adds.

From an advertising and marketing perspective, brands will see a whole host of opportunities arise, maintains Dhruv Warrior. What’s unique here is that the stories, narratives and experiences brands can create for their fans will no longer be skewed towards a male-dominant audience, he points out.

“Herein lies the real opportunity to create new communities online, to explore topics that haven’t been spoken about much before, to create brand-new work and to even shape the culture of cricket through a female perspective. There will even be an opportunity to create new products, such as for example skin care products made specifically for female athletes. I think brands will definitely sense the opportunity and embrace it, taking the lead while other brands will wait and observe before committing to the WIPL. The truth of the matter, however, is that all of this is tied to what happens on the field and how the athletes perform. My sincere hope is that the women’s IPL will get the traction it deserves from brands and advertisers alike,” adds Warrior.

Rohit Bansal has a different take on this. He feels that it is difficult to predict exactly how brands will respond to women's IPL, but it is likely that their enthusiasm will depend on a variety of factors, including the level of viewership and engagement the league generates, as well as the overall economic climate. “However, with the growing popularity of women’s sports and the increasing recognition of the value of diversity and inclusion, it’s possible that brands may see women’s IPL as an opportunity to connect with a new and potentially valuable audience. Additionally, with the increased media coverage, the WIPL may serve as a platform for brands to be associated with women’s cricket and show their support for the development of the sport,” explains Bansal.

Hima Bulusu is also of the opinion that WIPL creates a new opportunity for brands. “IPL has been our answer to Superbowl. The best brands have competed with their best ads during the IPL. Women’s IPL creates yet another unique opportunity to reach the audiences. While it is 100% true that women cricket players aren’t as well known as the male players, but the format and the entertainment the franchise of IPL promises will be an undeniable attraction to brands. Where else would they get such an amazing mix of audience that is across states, gender, religions and class,” says Bulusu.

Angad Singh Manchanda feels that brands should take WIPL more seriously. According to him, IPL has been a game that’s been more about men; it’s been focused on men and brands have been using it as a platform to promote their products across the board. “Beauty brands have taken centerstage at many IPL competitions and they have benefited greatly from the association. It is time for brand managers to start taking women’s IPL sport seriously and look at it as a more reasonable investment to start with and have the first movers’ advantage. Agencies should be pushing more brands towards the game and pitching more associations around the game, it’s high time the women players of the sport get their due screen time,” he adds.

A brand new world for brands

The very mention of cricket conjures up images of men sweating it out on the field for their moment of glory. It has long been perceived as a man's game. We have to see how advertisers will react to the very notion of women’s IPL. Will there be a kind of spill-over impact? Will we see women-centric brands learning toward women’s IPL? 

While it opens up a brand new world for brands, it could also lead to the development and nurturing of female cricketers. 

Dhruv Warrior is certain that women-centric brands will seize the opportunity. In fact, he feels that brands can set the tone for women-specific advertising.  

“As someone who works in advertising, and as an avid sportsman myself, I am excited by the notion of the women’s IPL. I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of people like me too, who are looking forward to it. I’m certain that women-centric brands will seize the opportunity. In fact, these brands can set the tone for advertising specifically to women during a major sporting event. We’ve already seen how brands like Nike have made a conscious pivot towards advertising to female and LGBTIQ+ audiences. It would be great to see the same happen for Indian brands across all categories as the work/advertising that should come out will be fresh and unique. As I said, the WIPL has the potential to grow the game across the board; this includes business and marketing, too,” Warrior explains.

Angad Singh Manchanda is sure that we will definitely see that women-centric brands make the first move as this is their most logical investment as a brand as they can make heroes out of the best women in the sport. “However, I’d like to see a lot of brands that are targeted at men start advertising in this game as the investment returns will be a lot higher when investing in a game that hasn’t gone mainstream yet, but will be as it’s cricket. It’s all about the ROI at the end of the day, and that’s where this will become a great investment opportunity for brands. Hoping the IPL board also understands this and keeps the investment favourable for the brands at least in the first season,” he points out.

The fact that this is definitely a first-of-its-kind “women’s” league doesn’t mean that only “women-centric” brands will appeal to the audience, says Hima Bulusu. “The first movers to the women’s IPL are going to be cricket fans, across genders. Then will be people who want regular entertainment every evening, So, keeping that vast audience whose attention is up for grabs, advertisers and brands will want to capitalise on this situation,” he says.

“In India cricket is a religion. In the past one decade we have seen the evolution of other sports as well. Now in cricket, especially the men’s cricket, we almost have an overkill with series and world cups and T20, etc. So there is a problem of plenty,” feels Krishnarao Budha, adding that the government is now promoting various other sports as well.

Krishnarao feels that we need a lot more support from governments to nurture other sporting events. “So, it is time for women's cricket to also flourish. Over the last four to five years the scintillating performance of some players in some of the global sporting events such as the recently concluded Asia Cup has created a spur among the Indian audience. India as a nation seems to be getting attuned to witness women's cricket. There is definitely a certain amount of excitement from women’s IPL. There is going to be some excitement exactly on the lines of the IPL.” he adds.

The reaction of advertisers to the women's IPL may vary, but it is likely that many will see it as an opportunity to connect with a new and potentially valuable audience, asserts Rohit Bansal. “The women's IPL can be a platform for brands to be associated with women's cricket and showcase their support for the development of the sport. As for the spill-over impact, it is possible that the increased media coverage and viewership of the women's IPL could lead to increased interest in and support for women's cricket in general. It could also lead to more opportunities for female cricketers and coaches, which could have a positive impact on the sport overall. Some women-centric brands will surely lean towards the WIPL, as it provides them an opportunity to connect with their target audience, which is primarily women. Brands that cater to women's beauty, fitness, and lifestyle, for example, may see the women's IPL as an opportunity to align themselves with a sport that is becoming increasingly popular among women and to connect with female fans,” he explains.

Audience for WIPL

Women over the recent years have started watching men’s IPL. What kind of viewership can we expect for the women’s IPL? Will we see more women viewers or will it be a blend?

Everyone agrees that women’s cricket will flourish. If the WIPL becomes a hit, it will change the fortunes of many young aspiring sports women in the country.

Angad Singh Manchanda is certain that audiences from across the spectrum, irrespective of gender, will be drawn to the WIPL. “Entertainment is what the audience likes; the audience craves and the IPL format is proven to be one of the most entertaining sports formats in world history. It’s going to be a definite winner and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up becoming the second-most-watched sports event in the country. Gender-specific or not, everyone will be drawn to the sport as it’s got a feeling of belonging attached to it from the city, state, and locality perspective. Can’t wait to be on the other side of the women’s IPL and see how it has changed the consumption patterns of Indian audiences and their sports content consumption,” he adds.

Dhruv Warrior takes us back to the the performance of team India in the 2017 and 2020 world cup, along with the record-breaking attendance in the final. That made people realise the potential that women’s cricket holds.

“Those two finals played a big role in ensuring the women’s IPL came to life. I think people are definitely going to tune in to catch the games, and as such the first few games have a very important role to play in determining and shaping the success of the league. The audience watching will be mixed, as it should be. We need everyone to back the WIPL because it’s fans who drive the development of the game. More viewership and more fans means more brands and advertisers getting involved. When we inject more money into the system, everyone, in theory, should prosper. But most importantly, women’s cricket will grow and develop. And in my mind that is the most important thing. There are thousands of young girls and young women out there who must dream of taking the field and playing at the highest level possible. If the WIPL is a big hit, the positive effects it will have can change the future for many,”  Warrior explains.

“IPL has been viewed in every household in our country over the years. Men, women, children, everyone has followed and been entertained by it. That is the beauty of sport; it unites people across age, gender, class and religion. The women’s IPL, provided it has a good roster of players and quality content, should see a similar blend of audience,” says Hima Bulusu.

Amol Dighe believes that it will be more of a blend in spite of cricket still being a male-dominated game. If the game is good, he adds, it will be watched by both the genders. “How much percent males vs females, etc. will only be ascertained when the actual tournament happens. It’s difficult to arrive at a rating estimate as of now. But if we look at the recent India VS Australia women’s T20 Series, there was no significant difference between male and female viewership. That’s a good trend to have,” he adds.

Cricket is a religion in India, given the fans’ enthusiasm and the way cricket is consumed by the Indian audience, points out Rohit Bansal.

“Considering that men’s IPL has garnered a massive 361 million viewership in IPL 2022 showcases how huge the traction for the IPL sport is. It's difficult to predict exactly what kind of viewership the women's IPL will generate but we believe that since it’s the inaugural season the viewership could possibly be high. Although the viewership depends on a variety of factors, including the level of promotion and media coverage the league receives, as well as the quality of the play on the field. The growing popularity of women's sports and the increasing recognition of the value of diversity and inclusion suggests that there may be a significant interest in the women's IPL among both men and women,” Bansal observes.

Over recent years, he adds, there has been a growing interest among women in watching men's IPL, and it is likely that this trend will continue with the WIPL. According to him, the women's IPL will be a great platform for women cricket enthusiasts to experience the thrill of live cricket, the same way men have been doing for years now. This league will give an opportunity for the women to see their idols and heroes play the sport live, which will attract a lot of female fans, he adds.

“It is possible that the Women's IPL will see a blend of both men and women viewers as the league progresses and gains popularity. It can be said that viewership for the women's IPL may not be as high as the men's IPL initially, but with time it might increase,” Bansal concludes.


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