By Andy Frombolton
When the men’s IPL launched, it was bringing a new product (T20) to a large existing (fanatical) market, whereas the WIPL is the complete opposite i.e. it’s bringing a recognised product to a small established fanbase (with the expectation that interest and demand can be grown).
So, whilst launching the IPL wasn’t without risks (only KKR made money in the first few years), the IPL investors could look to other countries (the English and Australian T20 competitions) for reassurance that existing fans could be won over to the new format. As to finances, franchise owners were guaranteed their share of the central revenue (broadcast and tournament sponsorship) which could be supplemented by prize money and local revenue (share of ticket sales, merchandise and team sponsorship). Hence, there was a shared common objective to ensure the tournament’s success (thereby growing the shared revenue pool), and a franchise-level objective to assemble a successful team to both maximise your chances of securing prize money and also engender supporter loyalty for the new teams.
The WPL therefore faces slightly different challenges with its far-lower starting point in terms of fanbase, and considerably more uncertainty regarding the size of the future market. Data from the US, the UK and Europe shows steadily-building viewing figures as more women’s sport is broadcast, but extrapolating recent growth to make forecasts about future audiences is perilous. Will consumers of women’s sport be as dedicated / obsessive as many followers of men’s sport are? Will male viewers prove as willing to watch women’s sport as women are men’s (particularly if there’s an alternative men’s game to watch)? And most important of all, will the Asian market behave in the same way?
In the UK, some reporting has adopted an almost romanticised view of the franchise owners’ motives – as though they’re driven by a deep love of women’s cricket. The reality, of course, is that they are business people, not philanthropists, who seek to monetise an under-exploited market. (If they thought they could make more money developing women’s football then that’s where they’d be investing all their money.)
So whilst it’s fun for we writers in the UK to draw up fantasy team lists comprising our favourite players and blithely assume that the same names will be on each owner’s ‘wish list’, their decisions won’t be driven by reputation or affection but solely by facts, data and risk/return analysis.
We also need to recognise how unimportant we (English fans) are to the project’s success. Looking at viewing figures for the 2020 IPL, the domestic Indian TV audience for the opening game was 200 million, whilst the UK audience averaged 168,000 and peaked at 234,000. At approximately 1% of viewing figures, UK interest in the IPL is both a statistical and financial irrelevance (with Australian, South African and New Zealand viewing figures even less so), and there’s no rationale to believe that the WIPL will be any different. The only market which really matters is the Indian market. And next will be target markets which are perceived to offer far greater growth potential such as Bangladesh and Thailand, and beyond them South America, USA and eventually China.
Consequently, for these 2 reasons, we may be over-estimating how many international players are going to be involved.
There are only 3 reasons to have overseas players in your domestic team:
- Performance. An overseas player is considerably better than any domestic equivalent. These are your premium players.
However, having internationals plugging the gaps simply perpetuates current weaknesses and the BCCI will be keen that the WIPL develops talent for the national team. Any recruitment will come with an expectation that teams rapidly develop domestic replacements for future seasons.
- Star quality / totemic. A player whose star appeal / marketing impact goes beyond the objective value of their on-field performances.
Although there are many players who current fans might deem ‘greats of the game’, they are largely unknown to the new target audience. However, starting from a low recognition point also brings benefits, as teams can shape who gets to become a new hero. Consequently, relatable players (“I want to be her” (cricket skills) or “I want to be like her” (image, life style)) might find themselves selected above players with better stats, simply because of their potential marketing appeal to the domestic (Indian) market.
- Strategic signings. Would the level of interest in any country increase in proportion to the number of players selected? On the one hand, it’s unlikely that UK interest would increase dramatically if there were e.g. 10 English players involved instead of 5, yet having e.g. 2 Thai players involved could mean the difference between ‘no interest’ and ‘significant interest’ in that market. Canny teams with an eye on the future may therefore pick more than one associate player.
Quite simply, the WIPL launch doesn’t need overseas players in the same way that the IPL did. Most of the new target audience doesn’t know much about women’s cricket and even less about most of the individual players. Also, the tournament is short and hence teams don’t need much contingency for injury or rotation.
Therefore, just because each franchise is allowed a maximum of 6 overseas players from the ‘established’ nations, my prediction is that the sensible ones won’t recruit that many. Why pay for 6 when you could instead pay a premium to guarantee getting your 4 priority international players, whilst also paying your domestic and associate players more (thereby engendering their loyalty)? Assuming they remain fit, these 4 will play every game – so why pay 2 internationals to carry drinks? And if a team really felt that it needed another international player they could still stick to this basic strategy and recruit a ‘cheap’ proven player (such as a Tess Flintoff or Tara Norris), who could ‘do a job’ if required but would recognise the career benefits of simply being ‘in and around’ the tournament. Moreover, having now seen the reserve prices for the shortlisted players, it’s reasonable to predict that many have simply priced themselves out of contention – especially if there’s a bidding war for some of the top players which leaves a smaller-than-planned budget to complete the squad.
Also, making money on the WIPL requires teams to build brand loyalty which is greatly facilitated by having the same international players return each year. Unfortunately, this might work against older players (however talented).
So, what types of players are best placed to win contracts?
To win games, you need to put big scores on the board, but only 10 batters strike consistently at >120 at international level, of whom only 2 are Indian (Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma). There are then 11 batters who strike at 110-120, of whom only 1 (Jemimah Rodrigues) is Indian. So, any team would want 2 of the top 8 non-Indian strikers and might consider a third player from the second group if they also bring something with the ball, keep wicket or are a dynamic fielder.
Similarly, teams need bowlers with the proven capability to remove the best batters, since if you take out a team’s top 3-4 batters it becomes almost irrelevant who the next batters are (since none of them score at much more than SR100).
In women’s cricket, slow bowlers are generally more economical than faster ones, but with respect to strike bowlers no single ‘type’ of bowling dominates – it’s all about the individual. And a quick deep dive quickly differentiates which bowlers routinely take out the best batters and whose figures are flattered by ‘cheap’ lower-order wickets.
My ‘Top 20’ internationals (who gets picked after this depends which teams secure the services of these players):
(I’m assuming Harmanpreet Kaur, Mandhana and Deepti Sharma will captain 3 of the franchises)
- E. Perry (captain)
- S. Devine (captain)
- B. Mooney (wk)
- A. Healy (wk)
- D. Wyatt
- G. Harris
- A. Jones (wk)
- S. Dunkley
- A. Capsey
- G. Wareham
- M. Schutt
- S. Ecclestone
- S. Glenn
- D. Brown
- D. Dottin
- A. Kerr
- T. McGrath
- A. Gardner
- C. Tryon
- H. Matthews
And if I was selecting a team …?
- Wyatt (SR 125, no weakness against any type of bowling, great outfielder)
- Mooney (SR 125, superb fielder but should keep wicket)
- Dottin (batting SR 123, also ‘top 10’ strike bowler)
- Ecclestone (superb bowling SR, equally effective at any stage of an innings, massively-undervalued batter)
- (Associate) Chantham (Thailand)
Auction day is going to be a fascinating day!
So, it didn’t go exactly as you predicted Andy!
* All the teams used all 6 of their Overseas picks
* Wyatt, King, Bates, A. Jones, Wolvaardt didn’t get gigs. Plenty more left out
* Strange auction prices, seem to be either really high (bidding war) or low (picked up at base price) with not much in between. Which is not really how we wanted it to go
* All teams look good, some pundits think UP Warriors strongest
* Difficult to predict as can’t tell how well Internationals will adjust or how well Indian domestic players will do
* Fancy another article to break down how it went?