With a few weeks to go for the 2020 edition of ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia, we take a look at the evolution of women’s cricket into a cult and a brand.
Women’s cricket has been around for over two dozen decades. Over the years, even though the game evolved in form and strategies, the commercials didn’t match up as the popular format remained male-dominated. Even though names like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, and Sachin Tendulkar, slowly entered the realms of popular discourse, being noticed by people and brands alike, their female counterparts didn’t get as much commercial attention. Where women’s cricket stands today seems to be an inflection point with endless possibilities for brand associations, broadcast as well as players.
Arrival of Women’s Cricket
It was in the 1970s that the imperial game found a way to get concretised in the Indian ecosystem. Formation of the Women’s Cricket Association of India was a key moment in history. In 2006, the BCCI took over the organisation to become the primary body to handle all cricketing affairs. This was another key moment as it helped level the playing field. However, there was a lot more to be done for women’s cricket to become mainstream.
Arguably, cricket enjoys undisputed popularity in India. As the visibility curve of the game continues to grow, it is expanding to include inclusivity in its fold. One of the most prominent spaces where the phenomenon is apparent is Women’s Cricket. The reason behind it can be attributed to the fact that nearly half of the viewers of cricket in India are women.
Viewership numbers recorded by BARC for 2018 indicate that women form 48% of cricket viewers. From 295 million, the viewership grew to about 342 million in 2018.
If they love to watch the game, why not encourage them to play as well? Turns out, both aspects go hand in hand.
The iconic 2017 Women’s World Cup Final between India and England had garnered a viewership of 39 million impressions.
Data further suggests that most people tune in to watch Women’s Cricket during the World Cups and during the tournament, the highest viewership is recorded during the matches played by the Indian team.
The acceptability of Women’s cricket remains a tricky subject in India, despite visible laurels. This can be attributed to the stigma around women sportspersons. This phenomenon can be understood with ease if one were to look at its depiction in the movie Chak De! India. Every player in the storyline came with their baggage of stories and struggles.
The Brand Angle
Recently, an advertisement by B Natural did a similar job. Featuring the legendary Harmanpreet Kaur, an Indian cricket all-rounder player, the narrative put forth the story of a girl who wanted to play a sport meant for boys. She persevered against the societal norms and found her way to the Indian jersey. With inspirational visuals, the brand was able to find marketing connect that was fitting for them as well as the cause. Thus displaying brand power. The campaign put the 30-year old player on a larger stage acknowledging the growth and spunk of the sport.
If one were to look at the ways brands support the game, highlighting their stories is just one of them. A big chunk of the mix is through sponsorships.
Smriti Mandhana has become a household name today. Her journey to getting here highlights the role brands play in supporting a sport. Her introductions across the spectrum mention her as a Red Bull athlete. The brand’s tagline, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’, makes it fitting for sports marketing and the brand leveraged that well.
Associations with Hero Motocorp and Bata have added to her brand value, same as Mithali Raj with Uber and American Tourister. Tracing steps backwards, one can see how support gives them visibility, facilitating the building of their own, personal brands.
Last year, the International Cricket Awards were sponsored by CEAT. Mandhana was one of the awardees, along with Virat Kohli. Recognising and appreciating talent is another way for brands to contribute to the mix.
Getting the athletes to interact with people on non-sporting topics is another key aspect. Here, the audiences get to see different facets of their beloved sportspersons, forging stronger connect. An example of this could be Vaseline’s campaign featuring Mandhana where she opens up about her skincare regime.
Every time a brand gets associated with a player, it helps them get visibility, which translates to thousands of people looking up at the sport as a lucrative career option. This is something brands have successfully done with men’s cricket and it would interesting to see how things unfold for women’s cricket in the times to come.
The World Cup trophies were recently unveiled at Melbourne by Kareena Kapoor Khan and Katy Perry has announced her performance at the Women’s World Cup final. Multiple digital assets have been doing rounds online, featuring key players and their excitement to be a part of history.
The efforts being put in by Tourism Australia and ICC to create a buzz around the tournament to have a jam-packed stadium for the finale on International Women’s Day are bound to impact the way enthusiasts and brands perceive women’s cricket.
The recognition of Women’s cricket as a sport by fans and brands alike have put the sport on the spectrum of the big leagues. How ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, commencing on February 21, 2020, further contributes to this development will be indeed interesting to see.