Women’s IPL to bring long-due recognition for women in cricket: Are advertisers game?

Women's IPL

There’s a new dawn set on India’s cricket. So far, brands and fans have been skewed towards men in cricket and women cricketers are an untapped mine in the brandverse. With Women’s IPL gaining momentum, we speak to experts to find out all about its prospects. 

The recent sight of the Under-19 women’s team storming the pitch waving the tricolour, grabbing the first World Cup for India’s women’s cricket team – has warmed our hearts. However, only a handful of brands like Blissclub, Aditya Birla Capital, and Boost celebrated their victory. 

In the last two-three years, there have been massive strides towards equality in sports. Last year, in yet another historic move, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had announced equal match fees for its centrally-contracted women and men players in a bid to tackle gender discrimination. In October 2022, BCCI announced the launch of Women’s Indian Premier League (WIPL).

With Indian women cricketers getting equal pay & women’s IPL gaining momentum, Social Samosa speaks to advertising and research agencies to find out what lies ahead for women cricketers in the brandverse. Is WIPL a new advertiser opportunity that brands and agencies need to take seriously?

Numbers that paint a positive picture

The decks are finally clearing for women’s cricket in India and the sports marketing ecosystem is ripe for change. 

WIPL is already attracting premier stakeholders. As per BCCI, the recent auction of five WIPL teams – Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, and Lucknow generated Rs 46.7 billion, which means that each team was sold for around Rs 9.3 billion on average. 

Leagues and biddersWinning bids (In Rs)
Ahmedabad – Adani1289 Crore
Mumbai – Reliance912 Crore
Bangalore – Diageo901 Crore
Lucknow – Capri Global757 Crore
Delhi – DC Franchise810 crore

The media rights of the inaugural league has been bagged by Viacom18 for Rs 951 crore for the period – 2023 to 2027. So, every ball will carry almost Rs 3 lakhs of broadcast value on it.

These aggressive bids reaffirm stakeholders’ faith in the future of women in sports.

“The Women’s IPL media rights being sold at such high value, is the very testament that Indian Women Cricketers have been fast gaining popularity across masses in India and is considered today as a formidable force in world Cricket and team to reckon with,” says R. Venkatasubramanian – President and National Head – Investments – Havas Media Group India.

After a successful bidding round for the franchises, BCCI has now invited bids for title sponsorship. 

The Indian audience is also warming up to watching women in sports and there’s a growing appetite worldwide too. 

Market research and data analytics firm YouGov’s global report says that among urban Indian sports fans, almost an equal proportion of men and women sports fans prefer women’s sports over men’s (51% females, 49% males). However, when considered by age, there is significantly more interest in women’s sports among the younger generation compared to the rest, with more than half (56%) of 18-24 years saying so.

So, with WIPL spinning off, India’s sporting ecosystem will see new behaviour patterns in consumers. 

However, despite women athletes’ success on ground, the brand ecosystem undervalues them in both money and media terms. According to a study done by the University of Southern California, the disparity in sports sponsorship is stark across the world, with women’s sports receiving just 0.5% of all sponsorship monies. 

WIPL has the potential to attract more brands and help women cricketers become their own brands. 

“Women’s sport/cricket has never seen many brands betting big on it. This is largely driven by the lack of huge viewership numbers which everyone is used to and associate with when it comes to Men’s cricket. However, with the buzz around pay parity, more insights into Women’s cricket through expert commentators and better on-field performances, there could be hope in the sport bringing in newer viewers and thus higher viewership numbers, which could eventually help brands being more open to this opportunity. And this could take some time,” says Srinivas Rao, Chief Investment Officer, Wavemaker India.

Brands that have paved the way for women in cricket so far and can get onboard this year

In the past, a few Indian brands have taken a leap towards inclusivity in sports and supported women in cricket. 

This year, BCCI and Mastercard, the title sponsor of all international and domestic men’s and women’s matches, had partnered to launch #HalkeMeinMattLo (don’t take it casually) campaign as part of their ongoing endeavour to support gender equality on and off the field.

In 2021, ICC announced that it signed a six-year partnership with the Bank of America, which included a commitment to investing in women’s cricket.  

From the big FMCG brands of India, HUL’s Boost and Coca-Cola’s Powerade have also extended their support to women cricketers during the T20 Cricket World Cup. Boost partnered with World Cricket Championship to launch an online game with women cricketers and Coca-Cola’s #PowerHasNoGender celebrated young female cricket and their hardships. 

Seasoned players like Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, and a few others, have also been approached by a few brands such as Puma, Vaseline, Red Bull, CEAT, Hero to be a part of their campaigns. 

As per Hansa Research Brand Endorser Report, Mithali Raj’s social media ranking is the same as Indian film actors like Aishwarya Rai, Jhanvi Kapoor, Vijay Deverakonda; while Smriti Mandhana’s likeability ranking is almost 80% making her one of the top most liked sportsperson in India. 

The data proves, says Pravin Nijhara, CEO of Hansa Research, that women cricketers can definitely add value to brands as endorsers.

“With its debut, women’s IPL can change the course of women’s cricket in India. We can anticipate an increased rise of both viewership and marketing interest in sports. It will be interesting to see the different categories of brands, especially the women centric brands looking to associate with women’s cricket which was not done before,” Nijhara tells Social Samosa. 

With BCCI’s increased focus on women in cricket and bringing sports investment and specific deliverables such as viewership, involvement, infrastructure, and skill development, brands must follow too. With a push from sponsors, women in sports can flourish. 

Venkatasubramanian of Havas is confident that WIPL will open a new audience base of women/girls who are continuously seeking new-age products and are actively pursuing sports and fitness as part of their lifestyle.

“WIPL is a huge boost to women’s cricket in India. This will set up a new marketing platform for the brands and marketers to launch and engage with their Key TG in a meaningful manner. Brands like Hyundai, Coca-Cola and other brands who have already signed up top leading women cricketers will find this as an exciting opportunity to engage. Brands specifically targeting women will have a great platform to showcase their products & services, and a fantastic opportunity for Brand activation and connect, which can be taken to a new level,” says Venkatasubramanian.

What advertisers want

Advertisers chase numbers and they would be looking for eyeballs and Return of Investment (ROI) when they invest in WIPL. 

On several fronts, the women’s cricket team has already created enough noise. The ICC Women’s World Cup had a cumulative global television audience viewership of 104.8 million, with Indian channels delivering a large share of the total audience. Not only television, digital viewers are getting added to the ecosystem and exploring new formats. As per reports, WWC garnered 1.64 billion total video views on digital platforms. 

Not just across the globe, within our country more people are embracing sports as CWC22 was aired in 4 languages including Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, and Kannada. 

Interestingly, the most watched social media video from highlights was on Facebook from the India v/s Pakistan match. The most popular video on Instagram Reels also captured a heart-warming moment between the Indian players and the Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof, meeting her baby Fatima.

Karan Taurani, Senior VP – Research Analyst, Elara Capital believes that Women IPL is a good initiative to target a larger audience pool by leveraging on the strength of an existing franchise. 

“However, the potential of WIPL to garner a scalable viewership is an uphill task, in our view, as it also may come around the prime time slot wherein women audience are sticky about fiction-based shows and may move toward WPL, only if women cricketers become bigger stars in terms of name and fame,” says Taurani in a report.

As per Hansa Research’s IPLomania study, 80% of IPL viewers are male and 20% are female. These numbers could change as women take to the pitch in March 2023.  

“WIPL will undoubtedly see an interest in viewership and hope an increase in female population interest in sports viewing too,” says Nijhara. 

Brands who advertise this year will also have a first mover’s advantage.

“With the recent buzz around equal pay, and consistent performance of women’s cricket team and some individual stars making a mark, could lead to a big opportunity for brands to take high ground on this. While this could be too early for us to say this, but it could well be a long term bet and whoever comes in could have an early mover advantage,” says Wavemaker’s Rao.

The Role Of Marketing

Marketing holds the power to shape public discourse to a large extent. When men’s IPL was launched in 2007, it was followed by a huge marketing furore. Brands across categories fought to buy an advertising spot during the match, leading to an increased demand for it and celebrities also contributed to raise awareness.

In 2008, IPL compared itself to religion and introduced various teams with a title song ‘Karmayudh.’ 2009 was about capturing how cricket unites India and how it can often be a shared viewing experience with a campaign titled ‘Ek Desh, Ek Junon.

Later, IPL’s marketing strategy evolved from positioning it as a sport to a festival. Celebrities and sports stars took to the streets and sang their team’s theme songs. IPL’s catchy jingle Jumping Jhapak got people grooving to the tune. Over the years, the broadcasting partners of IPL have come up with many creative campaigns, which have celebrated India’s love for sport. 

For women in cricket, Star Sports has already been pushing the audience to give more due recognition to women in blue when they celebrate cricket. 

At its nascent stage, brands can also help women’s IPL reach more fans and shape up fan culture. 

“However, WIPL is at a nascent stage and it is too early to say about the categories of advertisers as a lot more will depend on the kind of team development, celebrities involved and other big marketing initiatives planned around the time of WIPL,” says Nijhara. 

Future Of Women In Sports 

Researchers at the Rediffusion Red Lab reached out to 24 clients and 17 media buyers to gauge sentiment and vibes around WIPL, which predicts a positive future for the league. 

“In 10 years, the League will be as good a money-spinner as the Men’s IPL. The sale of the  teams for such large amounts, and the media rights too, point to the BCCI being onto a good thing. The tiny minority that said yes felt that it is all speculation – the league is never going to be even a fraction of the men’s version,” said the report penned by Rajendra Gupta, Chief Growth Officer, Rediffusion.

Women cricketers definitely have what it takes to bring new audiences for brands. Now, brands need to follow the same route as they did in 2007 for Men’s IPL and unleash a marketing blitz. With broadcasters finally taking the step forward, brands and audiences need to follow and marketing can play a huge role in helping women cross this stepping stone. 

The WIPL will start from March 3, 2023 onwards.