Few women’s cricket’s ‘game-changing’ moments have been as seismic as the Women’s Premier League
The Women’s Premier League is a quantifiably seismic moment for cricket, the ripples of which will touch every aspect of the women’s game.
This week’s announcement of the five initial Women’s Premier League franchises being sold for US$572.78 million marks a significant point in the history of all cricket. It is a recognition of the worth and money-making potential of the women’s game as well as a poignant moment in the journey towards gender parity. With teams going for an average price of nearly US$115 million, the WPL is set to be the second-most expensive cricket league in the world, men’s or women’s.
While by now every sport fan is, by now, used to ridiculous numbers being quoted around sporting franchises, individuals and tournaments, it is still a dizzying amount of money for women’s sports. On top of what the franchises have been sold for, it was announced earlier this month that Viacom had agreed a US$116 million deal with the BCCI to broadcast the tournament for the next five years. That is an average of US$1 million per match with the current five franchises.
Only the WNBA and Women’s Super League can claim more expensive broadcast deals in women’s sports. With sponsor deals still yet to be announced, the WPL could be worth nearly US$1 billion by the time it starts later this year.
But more than that, it shows a level of expectation rather than hope that the league will make money. There is significant risk involved with investing those sums, and the willingness of the owners to take that risk shows a certainty of a return on investment. As a starting point for a new franchise league, the possibilities for what it could be worth in the years to come are astronomical.
It makes you wonder, with all these financial possibilities and incentives, why the BCCI dragged their heels for so long over actually starting the league? Women’s cricket is a viable financial product and, hopefully, this precedes a long-overdue realisation in many of just how lucrative it is becoming.
Extrapolating to the impact the WPL and the investment in it could have for the women’s game around the world, it is hard to see it being any less significant. While it is still unknown what player salaries will look like, the consensus is that those who pick up a deal in the auction, rumoured to be in early February, will become the wealthiest female cricketers in the world. On top of players being paid for their skill, labour and brand, the implications of this will be felt by national boards across the globe.
Even with pay rises set to come in this year, the highest-paid women’s Hundred players are paid a fraction of what their lowest-paid male counterparts are. This is despite the women’s competition being an essential part of the Hundred’s brand. Last summer, when only the men’s competition was underway, the tournament looked bare and far short of the product it had been the previous year, until the women’s competition started.
If the salaries offered in the WPL are far higher than that of the Hundred, and indeed other national franchise leagues, boards will be – hopefully – further pressurised to increase those salaries in some proportion with the going rate elsewhere. However, the biggest impact will be felt by those boards who have not yet reached a point in domestic and national professionalism where a large pool of players are able to make a living from playing cricket.
While losing players to the franchise circuit has been a long-debated problem for the men’s game, it can be even more profound for the women’s game. There will be a chasm far greater than has emerged in the men’s game between what a player can earn in the WPL and other franchise leagues, and what they can earn playing international and domestic cricket. With a lot of players still struggling to make a living from their current contracts, the attractiveness of jumping ship altogether may border on a necessity for some.
Even among England and Australia, the two nations with the best infrastructure for women’s cricket, the precedent for earning potential the WPL could set may far outstrip what national boards are able or willing to pay their players. It is an issue the women’s side of the game has had coming for a while, as evidenced by Deandra Dottin’s decision to retire from international cricket last year, but the scale of what the problem could look like is fast emerging.
As has been, repeatedly, emphasised for years, investment leads to development. In the chicken-and-egg terms that women’s cricket is often spoken of, there should be absolutely no doubt which is which. It’s slightly jarring that while the men’s game fights suggestions that its worth is purely financial, for the women’s game in most conversations its monetary viability is all that matters.
From that standpoint, the potential of such a huge investment to filter out into the rest of the women’s game is huge. It is an over-made point by now that young girls seeing cricketers who look and sound like them playing cricket on TV will drive participation at grassroots level, as well as an expectation that one day they could do the same. But it is no less important. Given that associate nations players have also been given a set place in WPL sides, its impact has the potential to be truly global – with the obvious and important caveat that it is extremely unlikely players from Pakistan will be able to play in the tournament.
Amid the past few years which have been littered with “game-changing” moments in the women’s game, few have been as tangible as this and none as seismic. Putting a true reflection on the worth of the game and laying down a massive marker for its potential is a moment that hope and potential, become expectation which in turn, when the tournament starts, will become a reality.