An explainer on why companies and advertisers may be betting big on women's IPL

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The Story

₹951 crores.

That’s how much Viacom18 — the media house jointly owned by Reliance Industries — is shelling out for the privilege to broadcast the women’s IPL from 2023 to 2027. If you do the math, you’ll find that it works out to ₹7 crores per match.

Everyone’s ecstatic. Because that actually makes it the second-highest deal in the world for a women’s sports league. At the top is the 25-year-old women’s basketball league (WNBA) in the US. So such a highly valued deal for a tournament that hasn’t even had a ball bowled yet is quite something.

Which begs the question — why on earth would Viacom18 splash so much cash? Especially when the women’s IPL is kind of in a proof-of-concept phase.

Well, let’s put some things into perspective. See, in 2008, when the media rights to the IPL were sold for the first time, Sony shelled out ₹11 crores per game. It won the bid for a 10-year period. And if you think about it, a T20 league of massive scale didn’t exist globally. The twenty-over format was just catching on. So you could argue that even the men’s IPL was just a proof of concept back then. No one knew if people would fall in love with it.

But it quickly became hot property. It became the benchmark for T20 leagues across the world. And, last year, Viacom18 had no qualms in shelling out a staggering ₹58 crores per match for the IPL rights. And mind you that was just for the digital rights aka streaming. If you add what Disney Star paid for the privilege of TV rights, then it hit a mind-blowing ₹116 crores per match.

So you could argue that the women’s IPL is a heck of a lot cheaper.

And then, there’s the matter of the soaring popularity of women’s cricket. Just a month ago, the Australian women’s team came over to play five T20 matches. The stadiums were packed to the rafters. Sure, the tickets were free. But some of the stadiums weren’t in the city centre. People had to brave the traffic and commute. And they did. It was a beautiful sight. More than 47,000 people showed up to a game.

OTT viewership also hit a peak. While some accounts say 11 lakh people had tuned into Hotstar for the women’s game, I’d wager it was more than that. And apparently, that was the highest viewership a women’s game received in 2022. There is simply no question that people are tuning in to watch the game.

But Viacom18 still needs to make money, right?

Unfortunately, that could prove a bit more challenging. You see, according to a report by Kotak Institutional Equities, Hotstar’s (the digital arm) advertising revenues for IPL 2022 were only around ₹15 crores per game. And the subscription revenue stood at ₹16 crores per game.

So it does look like quite the loss-making proposition.

Also, if Reliance decides to stream it for free on the JioCinema App as it did with the recent football world cup, then it won’t earn any subscription revenue either. They have to bank on advertisers coming through. But how many companies will choose to advertise heavily in the first-time event where you have no clue how many eyeballs you’ll get? Or the demographic you’re catering to? There’s really no playbook.

And don’t forget, the global economy is in a state of flux. Everyone’s tightening their belts. So attracting advertisers could be quite the challenge.

Unless…we see the entry of brands that typically don’t jump in during the IPL.

See, the IPL is typically a male-dominated viewership. And most of the ads during the games cater to that demographic too. For instance, the audience for the fantasy gaming app Dream11 is made up of only 30% women as per Similarweb data. Maybe even Cred falls into that boat. Now with the women’s IPL, you might see startups like Mamaearth or Sugar who haven’t gone this route take the plunge. Especially since you’d assume that an ad spot isn’t going to cost ₹14 lakhs like in the men’s IPL. It’ll be way cheaper.

And for other brands or companies, it could be an opportunity to show that they care.

What do we mean?

Well, during the IPL, you’re peppered with ads by legacy brands such as Garnier Men and Fogg deodorants. They’re solely targeting men. But you might have brands now that would advertise simply to support the women’s game. And Joy Bhattacharjya, former team director of the IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, thinks that the women’s IPL could see ads dominated by the likes of Whisper and Horlicks Women.

So you could see a completely different set of advertisers on screen for two weeks in March 2023.

But whatever the reason, brands might benefit greatly from it too. Because there’s a high probability that it’ll be the women who’re tuning in to the tournament in big numbers.

Just look at a similar short-form women’s cricket league called The Hundred in the UK. Nielson Sports crunched the viewership numbers and found that 36% of the people who tuned in were women. For context, the men’s T20 tournament (like the IPL) attracts a female audience viewership of just 27%.

And even in India, there are signs of something similar happening. Let’s rewind to March 2020. The ICC T20 Women’s World Cup was underway. India was taking on Australia in Melbourne and emotions were running high. And as per IndianTelevision, out of the 1.88 billion minutes viewed, nearly 42% of those eyeballs came from women. That’s quite crazy!

So yeah, it does seem like more women are interested in watching and supporting women cricketers. And that key audience is what brands might pay a little extra for.

We’ll know in a couple of months.

Until then…

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