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WPL 2023: The opportunities and challenges for Viacom18 in the inaugural year

Experts speak about the possibility of the brand-new WPL fairing out well for Viacom18, observation about the Indian market with regards to watching women's cricket, challenges for the league, and more

With less than a month left for India’s first Women’s Premier League to be held, experts believe that Viacom18 will have to double down its efforts on marketing and build the audience for WPL to generate ROI on its investment in the property. 

Viacom18 won the WPL media rights for Rs 951 crore (Rs 7.09 crore per match) for 2023-2027 period. The acquisition cost that Viacom18 has invested, is 1/50th of what the men's IPL was sold for.

Hema Malik

As per Hema Malik, Chief Investment Officer, Mediabrands India, "Viacom18 is currently at a stage where they are building the platform. We have been hearing news and updates every day whether it's about acquiring digital rights for IPL or what they did with FIFA. So, they are clearly connecting content from content to make it a strong entertainment and sports platform. So, from that point of view, WPL is great for the platform."

Furthermore, she went on to state that the whole pricing is going to be extremely competitive to build the reach and make an audience connect. Jio is investing and they will go all out to make WPL a big property from a marketing and pricing standpoint, she said.

Sandeep Goyal

Sandeep Goyal, MD, Rediffusion, said that WPL will turn out to be a good property. It may not break even in the first year, but it will gradually gain momentum.

“Memories are short. In 2008, when the men’s IPL started, while Sony, the official broadcast, managed to sell all the sponsorships, its retail inventory was short by at least 40% for the first match. So, one has to have the patience to build new properties,” Goyal added.

Jigar Rambhia

Jigar Rambhia, COO, Sporjo, also said that Viacom18 has got a great deal with the Women’s Premier League.

"I am sure they will make sure that there is enough marketing muscle behind this property to make it work. While they may not make money in the initial years, it will surely be a profitable business in the long-term,” he added.

Ramsai Panchapakesan

Ramsai Panchapakesan, Senior VP and National Head - Integrated Media Buying, Zenith, said that women's cricket started almost five years back, and women’s cricket is not new to the country. 

"IPL as a league opens up a plethora of opportunities for the brands to ride on. Another interesting fact - the last edition of men’s IPL was viewed by more than 190 million women in the country, both OTT and broadcast put together. Lastly, sporting events are gender agnostic and hence the broadcasters will apply their maximum might to promote the game and drive audience for WPL," he stated.

Srinivas Rao

As per Srinivas Rao, Chief Investment Officer, Wavemaker India, Viacom would have definitely looked at it from a long-term investment point of view. While they might not be able to get the traction they are looking for in the first year, it might work out well over the next few years.

Karan Taurani

On the contrary, Elara Capital’s Karan Taurani said that in the first year, it would be tough for Viacom18 to generate enough ad revenue from the property. According to market sources, people are anticipating WPL ad rates to be around 3-6% of the men’s IPL. 

“I don't see a big potential for a very big revenue generation here because if you look at FIFA, which is a very large compelling property, that generated an ad revenue of close to Rs 200-250 crore. So, for Women's IPL which is very small in nature and just beginning, in the first couple of years, the owner of the media rights will have to take a hit in terms of hefty losses unless you see some kind of build-up towards the property, franchise and players. A lot of campaigning and advertising is required to make the women cricketers very famous in the eyes of the consumers,” he added.

According to Wavemaker India’s Rao, WPL would definitely open up a newer set of audiences to cricket in general, some good initial matches could create a lot of excitement. Finally, everything could depend on how the franchisees, broadcasters and the BCCI approach it. If they invest generously in building up this property in the initial years, WPL could rub shoulders with Men's IPL in the next few years. 

“Men's IPL and WPL are at completely two different stages and the latter will bring its new audiences. The Indian women cricketers started to get enough exposure, now they have their own social media handles and even movies are being made on them. So, that is how the whole Indian women's cricket teams’ popularity is growing,” seconded Mediabrands India’s Malik.

Challenges in Viacom18’s way to make the most from WPL

Concept of ‘women in cricket’ will take some time to get established

As per Mediabrands India’s Malik, firstly, the concept of ‘women in cricket’ will take some time to get established.  Secondly, it is very close to the IPL and the situation is such that there is limited money in the market, so, women's IPL will have a number of challenges. 

Create awareness on a mass basis

Elara Capital’s Taurani highlighted that one of the biggest challenges for women this IPL season is to create mass awareness for this property. 

“Another challenge is to spend a lot in terms of marketing. Also, advertising rates are not going to be at a hefty premium, so there could be a situation of cash burn this year. Another challenge is the acceptability of women's cricket, it is a new concept. It could work either way, it can take off and work favourably for the audience or it could not pick up at all even after two to three years,” he added.

Speaking on similar lines, Sporjo’s Rambhia pointed out that marketing and awareness are the biggest challenges for the brand-new league. It is sure to be compared to the men’s IPL but such comparison wouldn’t do it any good, especially the comparison with a 15-year-old property of men’s cricket.

Stadium audience engagements will be limited to the closest proximity cities of Mumbai

Zenith's Panchapakesan stated that the matches are being held in a single ground in Mumbai. This may be a bit of a challenge to scale up and create a buzz of women’s IPL association at a hyper-local level. Also, stadium audience engagements will be limited to the closest proximity cities of Mumbai.

Consumers and advertisers' excitement will not be at par with men's IPL 

According to Elara Capital’s Taurani, it's a new concept that has still not been tested. 

“We have seen a lot of international tournaments but the viewership in stadiums or on TV has been very low. So, we have not seen a great response from women's cricket as such but IPL is a different property, it is cricket and entertainment both put together. I am guessing that over a period of time, if marketing efforts are done in a proper way, you will see a lot of women getting attracted to cricket,” he stated.

Furthermore, Taurani went on to state that the consumers' and advertisers' excitement will not be at par with men's IPL because both are very different properties and there is a huge gap in terms of advertisers' interest or rather the budgets which are there. 

“So, maybe a very small portion of the advertisers' budget would be spent on the women's IPL to really try out new things or brand launches or campaigning around products which are appealing to female audiences,” he added.

No big challenge if people don’t keep huge expectations

As per Wavemaker India’s Rao, as long as no one has huge expectations in all aspects, there won't be any big challenge. In fact, it's a big opportunity for women's cricket to establish itself as a viable advertising option. The only challenge could be not enough advertisers coming forward to bet on it.

He concluded by saying that the WPL is going to be a big opportunity to establish women's cricket, in fact, it could open up avenues for other women's sports as well. The first edition could be the defining moment for WPL. If it is successful, the sky would be the limit.

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