Concerns remain over India’s women’s cricket league

MUMBAI, 25 Feb 2023:

India is on the cusp of launching its first women’s cricket premier league but the funding behind the initiative pales in comparison to the men’s league – and there are concerns it will struggle to bowl over the local audience.

The Women’s Premier League is due to start on March 4, having drawn in US$500 million of investment as big firms bought up the five competing teams – a fraction of the spending seen in the men’s Indian Premier League (IPL).

The five teams in the WPL will play a total of 22 matches March 4-26 in the city of Mumbai.

Overseen by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the sport’s governing body, the WPL will serve as the warmup act to the IPL.

The WPL attracted around 30 major investors, a number of which own clubs in the IPL.

Purchasing a team in the WPL will set a company back some US$112 million, a figure overshadowed by the eye-watering US$550 million a men’s club can go, noted Karan Taurani, senior vice president of the Indian capital market company Elara Capital.

Although the price tag for a women’s team represents just 15% of the average men’s team, it almost doubles the amount seen in the men’s league at the launch of the IPL in 2008.

TV rights reveal an even more disproportionate share of funds.

Viacom18, a joint venture between Paramount and Reliance Industries that holds all the rights to the IPL, paid US$114.8 million to broadcast the WPL for the next five years, far lower than the US$6 billion paid to show the men’s league last year.

Taurani puts this down the limited reach that women’s cricket has in India, with an estimated following of some 20 million in a country of 1.4 billion. In comparison, the IPL is followed by around half a billion people.

“We believe this investment can pay rich dividends only in the long term, provided women’s cricket attracts a mass following in India.”

The gender pay gap is another issue underpinning the inequality in India’s cricket. When the IPL was launched in 2008, each team had a salary cap of US$5 million.

The WPL, on the other hand, will have a salary cap of US$1.5 million, according to the BCCI.

Of the 87 women players due to start in the WPL, Indian cricketer Smriti Mandhana is due to be the highest paid with a salary of US$410,000. The minimum salary, however, goes as low as US$12,000.

The creation of the league represents a step forward in the professionalisation of women’s sports in India. Until now, female athlete’s main chance of gaining a reputation was to make the national team.

But despite the barriers and scant investment, women in India are increasingly expressing their interest in learning how to play cricket.

“Many talents come from such poor families, we want such people to grow, sometimes we have to fight with families to let them come forward,” said GS Harry, director of a cricket academy in New Delhi.

The academy came to life over 20 years ago, and while it may be in need of a renovation, it has witnessed generations of parents bringing their children to classes.

“The women’s cricket league is a nice initiative to motivate players like us, perhaps I could reach up to that level within 2 years,” said Sumitra Sahni, a student.