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Tracey Holmes for The Ticket and ABC Sport

Women's Premier League bids sees India hit cricket's future into the stratosphere

Let the journey begin. They were the words of one of the most powerful men in world cricket this week when more than $800 million was forked out at an auction for just five franchise licenses in the soon-to-be WPL, a women's version of India's lucrative IPL cricket league.

Jay Shah, the honorary secretary of the BCCI, cricket's governing body in India, could not hide his delight at the franchise auction bringing in more than double the amount hoped for.

Without yet seeing a ball bowled, Viacom18 recently bought the rights for the first five years of the competition for $170m. Add in team and league sponsors and the BCCI is already looking at a billion dollar product.

"Today is a historic day in cricket as the bidding for teams of inaugural #WPL broke the records of the inaugural Men's IPL in 2008," Shah tweeted.

"This marks the beginning of a revolution in women's cricket and paves the way for a transformative journey ahead not only for our women cricketers but for the entire sports fraternity."

Next will be February's player auction, featuring women cricketers from around the world who have registered interest in playing in the March tournament.

Each franchise is allowed up to seven foreigners, with a team salary cap of $2m for what's expected to be a four week competition.

International stars such as Australia's Tahlia McGrath, named this week as the ICC's (International Cricket Council) T20 player of the year, can expect to be paid several times more than teammates if selected.

World's fourth richest man offers top bid

The name Adani is recognisable in Australia due to the company's mining interests in Queensland, but one of the group's lesser-known businesses is Adani Sportsline, with its growing portfolio of sports investments.

Owner Gautam Adani generates plenty of headlines — both positive and negative. This week has been no different. The company that bears his name is at the centre of a report accusing the it of "the biggest con in corporate history", a claim the company denies and has threatened legal action against the report authors, Hindenburg Research.

The impact from the claims has wiped a substantial amount of Adani's net worth, seeing him slip from being the third richest man on the planet to the fourth. It didn't stop him making the highest bid for a WPL license — $223m. Adani's team will be based in Ahmedabad.

The next three bids were won by owners of already established IPL teams looking to expand their appeal. They are the Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals, and Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Despite numerous other IPL teams vying for a license, the final franchise was won by Capri Global Holdings, which will base its team in Lucknow.

Mumbai Indians (MI) owner Nita Ambani is not only India's richest woman, she is also a high-profile philanthropist known for her commitment to women's empowerment.

"India's women cricketers have always made the nation proud in the global sporting arena — be it the World Cup, Asian Cup or the recent Commonwealth Games," Ambani said.

"This new Women's League will once again shine a global spotlight on the talent, power and potential of our girls. I'm sure our MI team will take the Mumbai Indians brand of fearless and entertaining cricket to a new level altogether."

It's also an interesting side note that Ambani's husband is Mukesh Ambani, owner of Viacom18 that now holds the rights for the WPL and the IPL.

Could cricket challenge football's dominance?

Until now football has dominated the women's sporting landscape in terms of global reach and growth but the T20 form of cricket is spreading, and its popularity is growing.

The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup had a combined audience of 1.12 billion viewers. Live viewers per match doubled from the 2015 edition, averaging around 17.3 million viewers.

By contrast, the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup in New Zealand in 2022 recorded 1.64 billion video views, a 45 per cent increase from the 2020 T20 World Cup, and sixteen times larger than the 2017 World Cup played in England.

Fan engagement doubled from 2020 to 2022, with around one in five being women, meaning there is plenty of growth if the WPL ignites the fan base. In India alone more than half the population of 1.4 billion is female.

Also, since October 2022, national women's players in India have been paid the same amount as their male counterparts, helping turn around traditional views about sport for women into something that is now seen as a viable career option.

Players in the Indian national team can earn $5,400 per T20 match, $10,800 per one day game, and $28,000 for a test match.

And then there's the Olympics ...

Cricket bosses have been lobbying for the sport's inclusion in the world's biggest sports event. The International Olympic Committee is big on sports proving they promote gender equity, and the WPL fits that model.

India is also keen on hosting an Olympic Games, perhaps as early as 2036, and Mumbai Indians owner Nita Ambani happens to be an IOC member.

BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, has also recently been appointed to the committee overseeing international cricket's efforts for Olympic recognition.

The stars appear to be aligned, according to Annesha Ghosh, the co-producer of the Financial Times documentary 'Women's Cricket Revolution' that looked at the potential of the game in India.

"[The WPL] is a significant bolster for cricket's inclusion in the Olympics," Ghosh told The Ticket.

"There are so many factors that the WPL brings into play…one of the Olympics' key markets is India … it all comes together quite nicely for the IOC and the ICC.

"The launch of the WPL has taken the world by storm, you had Variety [magazine] reporting on the WPL media rights and franchise bids the day the Academy Award nominations were announced so that tells you the interest is quite real … not just in India."

If the WPL follows the same trajectory of the men's competition, the IPL, the dynamics of women's sport will be significantly reshaped.

When you next hear somebody say there is no value in women's sport, please feel free to invite them into 2023 with a calendar full of world class events — the WPL in March is just the latest.

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