How India can revolutionise women's cricket | FT Scoreboard
The IPL transformed cricket from a game struggling to find a future to one of the most valuable sporting assets in the world. But while top men's players have become millionaires, women players have struggled to make ends meet. The launch of a women's league could be life changing for India's women cricketers but also change the game around the world
Produced by Tom Griggs and Annesha Ghosh, directed by Sidrah Fatma Ahmed, filmed by Omar Adam Khan and Petros Gioumpasis, edited by Darren O'Mahoney and Richard Topping, graphics by Russell Birkett, additional footage by Getty.
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We've been crying out in the women's game for the women's IPL to start.
It is as competitive, it is as skillful, and I think to me that's really significant.
This is where the audiences are. This is where the money is.
Commercial opportunity of the women's IPL is huge, but it's not going to be profitable from day one and it's not going to be easy.
So the IPL turned cricket from a game where people were fretting about whether it had a future, about whether it was in terminal decline into one of the hottest sport properties in the world.
I think it has dramatically changed cricket for the better. First and foremost is attention spans were getting shorter and shorter. Here comes a nicely packaged format, three hours, evening games, night games, so you finish work, you turn on the television or you go to the ground. Every ball is exciting. So there's action all the time.
No other sporting league in the world has been able to achieve what IPL has achieved in about 14-15 years.
I think it's quite remarkable even when you compare it with any of the other leagues in the world, because it is among the top leagues in the world, in terms of actual dollar value.
You have hundreds of millions of people tuning in to watch matches, which you can't say about many other sports taking place elsewhere in the world. So for broadcasters getting a piece of the IPL is a game changer, especially if you're an international broadcaster looking to come into India.
There's a fan base who really feel attached to franchises, who feel a sense of ownership of their team, and actually this sort of gives an opportunity to diversify into women's cricket.
Women cricketers in India have always played very good cricket, completely away from public glare. And I think what they have clearly lacked is public adulation, the kind that men's cricket has always enjoyed in this country.
So the BCCI announced recently that they were going to provide equal match fees to men and women player. That was a really important step in order to show that they're serious about making sure that women have the same opportunities as men when they're playing at the highest level.
There's a lot of talk about equal pay in women's sport in general. For me it's equal opportunity and I think that's what we're now starting to see in women's sport is that women and girls are getting more opportunity to do the things that young boys or young men were doing from maybe a younger age.
My name is Sakshi Thakur. I'm a bowling all-rounder.
We're kind of making girls learn the hard way because they've not had the opportunity to play in front of many crowds... in front of, well... on TV consistently. That's what the game has needed. We've needed to push it on quickly.
It's obviously a bigger challenge to commercialise the women's game in the same way as the men's game. And so it's important to have perspective on this.
Take England, for example, just look at the growth of the women's Premier League in England in terms of the viewership, in terms of the deals, in terms of the value. And then think about how that's translated into England's success at the Euros this summer.
There's just a lot more talk about women's sport. And for the first time I heard the narrative of there's a game of football tonight and it wasn't women are playing football. It was just a game of football.
The main difference between the women's IPL and men's IPL is that it was easier to commercialise and make money right from the word go. In the case of women's cricket, it is a little bit of an unknown territory.
Frankly speaking, we are not looking at the commercial aspect to begin with. We are wanting to create a great property out of this tournament. We are wanting to give opportunities to our women cricketers.
The attitude towards women in India has been changing, but very slowly. India still tends to be a traditional, rather conservative society where women are expected to get educated, have a career until they get married. But after that, they should just make home, look after their family, and not really think very passionately about their careers.
That is what the society at large would expect of women, but things are changing because financial pressures are increasing. Women are becoming more assertive. Attitudes have started changing, but very slowly.
My name is Preeti Raj Chauhan.
If the women's IPL doesn't work out for whatever reason, whether this season or in later seasons, it'll be a blow, it'll be a big disappointment. But it's not going to stop the rise of women's cricket in India, which is happening one way or the other.
Profits would eventually come. We are very sure of that, given the interest that we have got with regard to franchises from the media groups and from the sponsorship point of view.
There are things that you can draw from, which is essentially what is happening to men's and women's sports around the globe. Whether it's basketball, or soccer, or whatever, so that also gives you a good indicator of where it might land, but the sentiment is definitely positive.
Better marketing around women's cricket creates a virtuous cycle. So you get more fans interested and more people tuning in to watch the matches or going to the stadiums, right? That in turn gets broadcasters interested. Broadcasters are willing to spend more money on the rights to broadcast those games.
Then you get advertisers interested, because they want to get the eyeballs that are watching the matches. Then you get the sponsors who want to put money into the teams. That finds its way to the players, the top level players, and then ultimately that then trickles down right into the grassroots where these teams, in order to stay competitive, need to start investing in the next generation of talent. And that's the kind of virtuous cycle that we can hope to see in the coming years.
Certainly for young kids and young females, you can't be what you can't see. And the fact that there's women on TV now doing things as special as what the guys are doing, I think is really inspiring.
So Australia and England are at the top of the rankings for women's cricket around the world. And that's because they've done more until now to build up leagues, to put in the money, to grow the infrastructure and the ecosystem.
I'm quite hopeful that this tournament will go a long way in making our team more competitive. We've seen them performing exceedingly well in the recently held Commonwealth Games, then in England series, and then in the Asia Cup. And I'm quite hopeful it will make our team better. And they will make sure that whatever our men's team has been able to achieve, they achieve more than that.
I think with the women's IPL there is a good chance that India become one of the bigger powerhouses over the women's game. With that as well you get more opportunities in overseas player to go and play in these tournaments. So I think there's benefits to be had for everyone.
Playing cricket in India is crazy. But when I say crazy, it's incredible. It's like nothing you'll experience anywhere else.
When you come to India, you can feel the energy around cricket like nothing else. It gives you such a pulse of the country.
And the fact that if we can go over as overseas players and be a part of that, then it's only going to increase my exposure as a player. It's going to increase my ability because there's more opportunity to play in front of crowds and under pressure. And that's exciting.
I think the combination of the national and the international, that balance I think is most important.
The international tournaments like World Cup and television broadcasting of women's games, it's very exciting to see.
The growth of women's cricket in England and Australia is great, but in order for women's cricket to succeed on a global level, India needs to be at the centre.