Indian Premier League Cricket Plans Women’s Competition

ItThe Super Bowl of Cricket, the Indian Premier League is preparing to launch a women’s version of the game. Organisers are looking for ways to increase the popularity and profitability of this third-most-watched sport event.

Board of Control for Cricket in India — the sport’s governing body conducts the wildly-popular men’s edition of IPL whose broadcast rights will be fought over by media titans including The Walt Disney Co. and Inc. — wants to auction broadcast rights of the women’s games and its six league teams by early next year, BCCI head Jay ShahBloomberg interviewed her in Mumbai.

“At the moment, there is strong interest in media rights,” Shah said, adding that he was hopeful the owners of men’s IPL franchisees would bid for women’s league teams too. The association, he said, wants to bolster women’s games too — a format that typically gets overlooked in the otherwise cricket-crazy nation of almost 1.4 billion people.

Shah’s game plan to bolster diversity is underpinned by pure business savvy as he looks for more niche ways to monetize the 15-year-old sports franchise. The IPL was worth $7B and attracted 600 million viewers last season. It trails only Premier League (or National Football League) in terms of eyes, according to BCCI.

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An auction of broadcast rights of the men’s league in June is likely to draw bids of more than $5 billion in a heated contest that could include Amazon Prime Video, Walt Disney, Sony Group Corp. and Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd.

As long as cricket continues to be played in each alley of India, IPL’s popularity will keep increasing, according to Utkarsh Sinha, managing director at Bexley Advisors in Mumbai.

“IPL is one of the stickiest media properties available, and heavyweights will slug it out to get media rights to it,” Sinha said. “It is probably the first format globally designed with commercials and profits in mind.”

Cricket’s niche formats

BCCI is relying on the auction’s success to bankroll subsidiary niche formats like the women’s cricket league. The fight for IPL’s five-year broadcast rights underscores the jostle among media behemoths to win eyeballs in the largest consumer market that’s still open to foreign firms but has proven tough to crack even for the likes of Netflix Inc.

Amazon announces its intent to offer live sports in India on its platform, which includes cricket at the end of April. Reliance’s Viacom18 Media has received funding in excess $1.8 million from James Murdoch as it prepares for the bidding process.

BCCI increased the minimum price for IPL to $4.2 billion because of high demand. Shah also stated that the BCCI has successfully sold all 2022 sponsorship spots with backers.

The online auction format for the men’s league in June itself is new to BCCI and underscores Shah’s attempts to modernize the 94-year-old cricketing body’s style of functioning. The online auction format allows bidders to pitch either for broadcast rights and live streaming rights. These rights were previously sold by BCCI in closed bidding.

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“The decision was taken to double the reserve price for media rights after assessing the rising interest in the game,” Shah said. “We also decided to go for an e-auction this year to make the process transparent and to ensure maximum participation.”

Cricket has a longer season

The cricket control body for India, which accounts for about 80% of the sport’s global revenue, is working with International Cricket Council to increase IPL season’s window from the current two months on the sporting calendar. A longer window can mean more matches and better revenues.

Part of the board’s share of the money raised from the franchise is spent on state-level cricket associations, setting up infrastructure for the sports, and other expenses, including pension and fees for the players.

Shah said that online streaming would overtake the broadcast soon and dismisses chances of any viewer fatigue — one of the biggest risks for any sports event. Online streaming accounts for only 30% of the game’s viewership but is on a strong footing after pandemic-led movement curbs forced people to watch more content over the internet.

Shah is positive that the forthcoming auctions will generate a great deal of income.

“There will be a strong four-cornered fight for the media rights of the game,” he said, referring to Amazon, Viacom18 Media, Disney, Sony. “The more money we raise, the better it gets for cricket as we will be investing it all back.”

Sanjit Das provides assistance

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