WPL 'biggest thing' in women's sports after sensational start

UP Warriorz franchise owners promise bigger show in future after hectic launch of inaugural edition

Mumbai Indians players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2023 Women's Premier League at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on March 26, 2023. AFP
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They say good things come to those who wait. For women cricketers, it came in the form of the Women’s Premier League T20 tournament.

The demand for women's franchise cricket in India has been steadily growing, and the Indian cricket board finally fulfilled the wishes of fans earlier this year by launching a cash-rich tournament that rivalled the best in the world.

The five teams were auctioned off for a total of $572 million, while the media rights for the tournament fetched another $117m. The top player salary in the WPL was $415,000, making it the second most valuable women's sports league in the world after basketball's WNBA.

The UAE's Mahika Gaur came close to being signed up during the player auction, only to be denied by an administrative oversight by the Gujarat team that bid for her as they had already filled their overseas quota of players.

On the field, the cricket was equally enthralling. Last month, Mumbai Indians beat Delhi Capitals by seven wickets in a thrilling final at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium, which was nearly full to its 20,000 capacity.

The team that finished behind the two finalists was UP Warriorz, who were beaten by Mumbai in the eliminator.

The franchise was bought by Capri Global Holdings for a little over $92 million. For Rajesh Sharma, managing director of Capri Global, the season was a huge success.

“The season has been fantastic for UP Warriorz. Yes, we would have loved to be in the final and lift the trophy, but a top-three finish is by no means a small thing. The season has been a landmark one in women’s cricket, and we are glad that we could play a part in it,” he told The National.

More than 10 million viewers watched the final on broadcast rights holders Jio Cinema, underlining the potential of the product.

The opening week of the tournament had a collective reach of over 50 million. While it has a long way to go before it can catch up with the popularity of the men’s Indian Premier League, Sharma believes there is no point comparing the two tournaments and insists the WPL will carve a niche for itself.

“They are both very different entities. I would not want to compare experiences at this point. Though I’d like to say with certainty that we are here to stay. In my view, this is the biggest thing happening in women’s sports in particular and sports in general at the moment.”

While Sharma said WPL is “a great investment for us”, he did wish there had been more time to prepare for the inaugural season. The franchise owners were announced at the end of January and the tournament began in March.

“Everyone involved in the tournament, from the fans to the players and the other stakeholders really enjoyed their time.

“However, the only aspect which resulted in discussion has been the scheduling. This year there was hardly any time to plan and we hope we will get a better opportunity to plan in the future. The WPL has been extremely well received by everyone and that augurs well for the future of the sport.”

After the final, veteran Indian batter Harmanpreet Kaur had said: "So many people were asking when will the WPL come and that day is here, and we are so happy and proud."

For women’s cricket, their day in the sun has truly arrived.

Updated: April 18, 2023, 10:14 AM