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Matthew Williams | Women’s IPL should be at forefront of plans for Cricket beyond Covid

SportBusiness Sponsorship reporter Matthew Williams argues that the development of a women's IPL should be made prioritised in order to take women's cricket to the next level.

Matthew Williams

As a cricket lover, the opportunity to interview three key decision-makers from three notable names in the sport was particularly exciting to me.

During our three-part ‘Cricket beyond Covid’ video interview series, I found Clare Connor, Jake Lush McCrum and Richard Gould to be highly engaging on a range of issues, including how relationships with sponsors may be adapted post-Covid-19 and on the question of Indian Premier League (IPL) investment in The Hundred.

Part 3 of the interview really showcased Clare’s passion for supporting the continued growth of the women’s game. You can watch Part 3 in full here.

One point of discussion was the potential development of a full-scale Women’s IPL to run alongside the men’s version.

Since the IPL’s inception in 2010, the idea of a women’s competition has been mooted and discussed on several occasions.

It has made tentative steps towards fruition in the past couple of years with the launch of the Women’s T20 Challenge which, in 2018, involved a one-off match in Mumbai between the IPL Supernovas and the IPL TrailBlazers.

In 2019, this was expanded to include a third team, IPL Velocity, with a round-robin style tournament held over 6 days in Jaipur, to coincide with the IPL 2019 men’s play-offs.

Potential for growth

New Zealand all-rounder Sophie Devine competed in both editions as part of the Supernovas squad and recently voiced her support for a fully-fledged Women’s IPL which, she believes, would significantly improve the standard of the women’s game around the world.

This would, of course, complement the commercial development that would surely arrive with the successful creation of a full-scale Women’s IPL.

The men’s IPL far supersedes other cricket franchise leagues commercially. The foundation of the huge interest in cricket in the Indian market is manifested in a five-year global media rights deal with Star Sports which nets tournament organisers, The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) an average of about $510m per year.

The potential to incorporate and develop the women’s game through this framework is surely too strong to ignore.

Momentum can’t be lost amid challenging climate

It seems steps are being taken with the development of the T20 challenge, but it is important to recognise the upward trajectory of the women’s game and capitalise on that.

And there is plenty to build on. The Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India drew a crowd of 86,174 to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with India’s live viewing hours for the tournament recorded at 86.15 million, representing a 152-per-cent increase over the comparable figures for the 2018 tournament.

The growing appetite for the game in India is was summed up in a story told by Rajasthan Royals’ chief operating officer, McCrum during Part 3 of Cricket beyond Covid.

He recalled how the IPL’s youngest ever half-century scorer, Riyan Parag–a  rising star in his own right –  requested a picture with India national team star Smriti Mandhana while watching her play in the T20 Challenge.

Amid the Covid-19 outbreak and its implications for the sports industry, concerns have been raised about the risk of women’s sport being one of the areas to suffer as revenues are reduced and budgets scaled back.

In recent times we have seen cricket and other women’s sports take huge strides in commercial terms. Broadcasters are now awake to the audiences drawn by major women’s sports competitions and media rights for those properties are no longer simply added on to deals for men’s events.  In the same way women’s sport is attracting new sponsorship from brands which understand it creates a means of reaching new audiences with new and different messages.

That is why it is doubly important that women’s sport is not left behind as the world and sport eventually moves away from being so dominated by the Pandemic.

This is especially true in sports like Cricket where the potential for further development is emphasised by the numbers through the gate at the MCG in March.

The Hundred and the Big Bash point the way for the IPL to follow

Fellow T20 Franchise League, Australia’s Big Bash, has already taken the step to integrate women’s teams into each of its franchises.

The fact the ECB’s Hundred will launch with both men’s and women’s squads representing each organisation and fully fledged men’s and women’s versions running alongside each other is a major step forward.

As cricket does move beyond Covid, the development of a Women’s IPL should be identified as a priority, with the Indian market holding the key to the long-term growth of the women’s game on a global scale.

As Connor puts it during Part 3 of our interview, the game would ‘explode’ with the successful implementation of the IPL.

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