India’s WPL aims to be a game changer for women’s cricket | Sports

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The inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) kicked off in Mumbai on Saturday, and while the season may be just 22 days long, it could set women’s cricket on a very different path.

“This is perhaps the most transformative tournament women’s cricket has ever seen,” said ESPN’s Melinda Farrell, a leading authority on women’s sports.

The five-team tournament follows a fast-paced T20 format with matches lasting around three hours. The Delhi Capitals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gujarat Giants, Mumbai Indians and Lucknow-based UP Warriorz will compete till March 26.

The money already invested is attractive. About $580m was spent on acquiring the five franchises in January. The broadcast rights were sold to Viacom18 for $117m over five years, a deal that is the second highest per game in women’s sports in the world, behind only basketball in the United States.

“Such sums are both a sign of the strength of women’s cricket but also an opportunity for further changes to come,” said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in France.

“Investors in sport are recognizing that people are already very engaged in it, which, with better leadership and management, could provide greater returns in the future,” he said. .

In February, the Indian conglomerate Tata group was announced as the sponsor of the title for the first five years, and although the amount he paid was not disclosed, it is considered substantial.

“The more money that comes into the sport, the more money there is to develop players, create infrastructure and build tournaments,” Chadwick said. “Money is not the answer to every problem, but in this situation, it definitely helps.”

Women’s cricket is on the rise

The WPL was born at a time when there was a growing interest in women’s cricket around the world.

In 2009, just over 2,000 fans watched the Women’s World Cup final between England and New Zealand in Sydney. The 2020 T20 World Cup final, however, saw 86,000 people pack the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“That shows the interest in going to the games, let alone watching it on TV,” Farrell said. “The last T20 of the World Cup in Australia broke his -all records for attendance and viewing figures. There is a global boom in women’s cricket, and that translates into huge interest.”

There are now more competitions for women. In 2021, The Hundred was born in England, an even shorter form of the game than T20 with only 100 balls. It is designed to attract new audiences who may find the traditional five-day trial format too long and slow.

Eight teams played in a round robin league format, which saw a total attendance of 271,000 last year. In Australia, the 2021 final of the Women’s Big Bash attracted 535,000 viewers.

In Pakistan, another cricket-loving country in South Asia, there is also interest.

The WPL “is a great initiative that will put more eyes on women’s cricket”, said sports reporter Umaid Wasim of Dawn, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

“Just like men’s leagues around the world, this will see similar women’s leagues spring up globally with Pakistan looking to host a similar tournament later this year,” he said.

Mumbai Indians' Amelia Kerr plays a shot during the Women's Premier League (WPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Gujarat Giants and Mumbai Indians
Amelia Kerr of the Mumbai Indians plays a shot in the Women’s Premier League [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

The WPL will be the biggest and most lucrative women’s cricket tournament. The February 13 auction saw nearly 1,500 women compete for their 90 spots – 18 in each franchise. India’s Smriti Mandhana earns the most after Bangalore offered her around $413,000. Ashleigh Gardner and Natalie Sciver of Australia and England, respectively, are the most valuable foreign players at $390,000 each.

These amounts can be game changers for female gamers everywhere.

“For a sport that is still amateur or semi-professional in many countries, these are impressive amounts,” said Farrell. “It makes cricket look like a viable career for young women and girls. It ensures that they can look at cricket as a full-time career, and this will raise the standards as they can focus on cricket full-time.”

There is already a plan for success. The Indian Men’s Premier League (IPL) started in 2008 and has grown to become one of the most popular, lucrative and influential domestic sports competitions in the world.

In June, the IPL, which has grown from eight teams to 10, sold its media rights for five years for just over $6bn, competing with the likes of the English Premier League and the US National Football League. Salaries are also high with England’s Sam Curran the top earner with around $2.24m.

“Indian Premier League cricket has for a long time been setting the train for men’s cricket around the world,” Chadwick said. “Now it’s time for the women’s version to do the same .”

“The passion for the game in India, along with the country’s willingness to push the boundaries of production and consumption, is perhaps the main force that has moved cricket into the 21st century,” he said.

The financial benefits available in India mean that players often prioritize the IPL over their national teams.

In February, England test captain Ben Stokes played his country’s final test against New Zealand in Wellington with a knee injury. Despite England preparing to face arch-rivals Australia in June, Stokes immediately made it clear he would play for the Chennai Super Kings between March and May when he earned around $2m.

With the sums available in the WPL, players are likely to see the tournament as a priority.

“There is a window for the three tournaments with the IPL, Big Bash in Australia and The Hundred in England, which is currently closed,” Farrell said. “But there has to be a balance between franchise tournaments and international cricket because that is the essence of the women’s game.”

The WPL is expected to be an important part of the game calendar.

It’s too early to say whether the WPL will “become the dominant form of the game, but if it does, it won’t be a surprise,” Chadwick said.

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