OPINION: There Will Be Losers As Well As Winners From The WPL

UPDATE: This piece was updated on 26/01/2023 in the light of further information about the distribution of TV money in the first 5 years of the competition.

The 5 successful bidders for the Indian WPL franchises have been announced by the BCCI, with teams set to be based in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Lucknow.

Collectively they have bid about half a billion pounds for 10-year franchises – i.e. around £50 million per year. It’s a lot of money, so we have to ask: is it sustainable?

It bears repeating that these are businesses – they aren’t doing this as an act of charity – they need to make that money back; and that might be an issue going forwards.

In the short term, the BCCI have agreed to give 80% of the TV rights income back to the franchises for the first 5 years of the competition; but after that, the franchises are going to be on their own, and will need to recoup their investment from sponsorships and merchandising.

Barclays title sponsorship of England’s (men’s football) Premier League is reckoned to be worth about £40m per year – i.e. 10 million a year less than the WPL franchises collectively need to generate just to break even on their initial investment. (And that’s ignoring operating costs, which will likely be non-trivial.)

So that’s the kind of ball-park the franchises are playing in, in the medium term – and it isn’t going to be easy money to find. The attraction of women’s sport to sponsors right now, mainly rests on the fact that it is “good value” (i.e. cheap) – but this will not be. Whoever takes on these sponsorships is going to need seriously deep pockets – much deeper pockets than we’ve seen in England or Australia for women’s cricket to date.

It’s a huge challenge that the franchises have set themselves up for, and my guess is that while most of them will muddle through, some will struggle financially to break even on their investment and won’t survive.

Women’s cricket used to be a nice cosy world – that’s all changing now, with the promise that the top players will benefit to the tune of (literally) millions.

But if the franchises can’t bridge the gap between what they’ve agreed to pay to the BCCI and what they can persuade the sponsors to pay them, it could all end in tears very quickly. Welcome to the jungle, folks – there will be winners and losers… and the losers will get eaten.