January 25, 2023 marked the beginning of a new era in women’s cricket when the BCCI opened
the bids for the Women’s Premier League (WPL) franchise ownerships. All expectations were exceeded as the winning bids for the five teams added up to approximately INR 4670 crores.
While the Indian Premier League (IPL) is always associated with big money, the men’s league has played a big role in revolutionising cricket in the country right from the lowest tier by making cricket look a more lucrative profession for the young boys. The WPL will ignite the cricket dreams in many girls the same way. Some of the franchises have already been running cricket programmes and tournaments for young girls. Others have a diversified sporting presence and are investing in multiple areas.
Fans can be assured that the teams in the Women’s Premier League would have a professional and experienced setup behind them to produce a high quality tournament. Here’s a look at the various sporting ventures of the five WPL franchises:
Mumbai Indians (Indiawin Sports Pvt. Ltd)
The owners of the most successful men’s IPL franchise - Mumbai Indians - came up with a bid of 912.99 crores to get a team for their home city. But this is not the first time the franchise has ventured into another cricket league. They also own MI Cape Town in SA T20 and MI Emirates in International League T20 (ILT20).
MI has been actively involved in the development of cricket at the grassroots level in Maharashtra. Since 2019, the franchise has been organising the MI Junior Inter-School Cricket Tournament. The first edition itself saw the participation of over 50 schools in the U-14 Boys and U-16 Girls categories. The aim of the tournament, according to the franchise, is to provide exposure and experience of playing competitive cricket to young players, both boys and girls.
A known face who has been involved in the MI Junior competition is India’s U19 star Hurley Gala. She won the U-16 girls’ tournament in 2020 with her school St. Columba. Hurley was picked in India’s squad for the inaugural U19 T20 World Cup, but missed out on playing due to an injury. It will be interesting to see whether the Mumbai Indians go after the pace prodigy in the players auction.
Delhi Capitals (JSW GMR Cricket Pvt. Ltd)
JSW Sports and the GMR group, the joint owners of the IPL franchise Delhi Capitals, successfully bid 810 crores to get a WPL team for the capital.
The franchise has been running the Delhi Capitals Academy to provide cricket training to boys and girls across age groups. It also runs the DC Junior League for young players in Delhi NCR.
While both the owners of DC run cricket teams in overseas leagues - Pretoria Capitals in SAT20 (JSW) and Dubai Capitals (GMR) - the JSW group is a major stakeholder in the wider Indian sports ecosystem.
JSW Sports was formed in 2012 with the aim to make India “a global sporting powerhouse.” It runs the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) to train talented athletes for the Olympics and also manages several Olympicans like Neeraj Chopra and Bajrang Punia. Amongst the cricketers, they are associated with Jemimah Rodrigues and it will not be surprising to see the Indian star batter become the face of the franchise come auction day.
Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)
The much loved team from Bengaluru will now also have a women’s side, after putting in a bid of 901 crores.
RCB had famously tried to organise a mixed-gender T20 match in 2019, which was ultimately denied permission by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) that was then overseeing the BCCI’s functioning.
The proposed match was part of RCB’s campaign to promote their sports drink and advertisements featuring some of the biggest stars of Indian women’s cricket - Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj and Veda Krishnamurthy alongside the then RCB and India captain Virat Kohli - ran during the ad breaks in the IPL.
After winning the Bengaluru-based WPL franchise, RCB chairman Prathmesh Mishra revealed that they had not ventured into other leagues to reserve funds for the Women’s League in India.
“At the core of Diageo (RCB’s parent company), is the value of gender inclusivity that embraces diversity in the broadest possible sense …. We held back all our investments in overseas teams to own a team”.
Ahmedabad - Adani Sportsline Pvt. Ltd
The Adani Group finally made its foray into Indian cricket with the highest bid of 1289 crores. Their Ahmedabad-based team has been named Gujarat Giants.
The business powerhouse started its sports arm - Adani Sportsline - in 2019 and its affairs include managing sporting talent and running teams in various Indian leagues including the Pro Kabaddi League and Ultimate Kho-Kho. The group also owns the ILT20 team Gulf Giants.
They have already named Raj as a mentor and advisor of the team making their intention clear for the upcoming season.
Lucknow - Capri Global Holdings Private Limited
The Lucknow team was bought by the Non-banking financial company (NBFC) Capri Global for a bid of 757 crores. This would be their first foray into the women’s game, but the company is not inexperienced in the sports world. It owns teams in the ILT20 (Sharjah Warriors) and the Ultimate Kho Kho league (Rajasthan Warriors).
The hundreds and thousands of crores that have been shelved out by the five franchises have silenced the cynics who questioned if there was money in women’s cricket. In the hour following the team auction, all the successful bidders came out to assert that they see a lot of potential in the game and want to be involved in its growth.
The women’s game in India will benefit tremendously from the onset of the WPL, not just by the monetary influx, but also with the professionalism and structure that highly experienced franchise setups would bring. But nothing can be bigger than the dreams it will give wings to.