In a weekend match between the Gujarat Lions and Delhi Capitals, the former made 105 in their designated 20 overs, only to find that the Delhi Capital chased it down in just 7.1 overs, without losing a single wicket — a world record of sorts in women’s cricket.
The wrecker-in-chief was the opening batter of Delhi, Shafali Verma, who scored an unbeaten 76 in just 28 balls with 10 boundaries and five sixes.
Who would have imagined two weeks back, that the first-ever franchise cricket league in India will go down in history books for having exhibited such a high level of cricketing brilliance. And this is just on the field.
Steady Increase In Interest
Ever since its birth in early March, the Women's Premier League has slowly witnessed an increase in popularity, evident from the steadily increasing number of spectators at the stadiums (D Y Patil in Navi Mumbai and Brabourne in Mumbai), as well as TV advertiser interest.
Most cricket lovers were sceptical about the idea of women playing franchise cricket in India after the country has set an unshakeable precedent with the men’s IPL.
No wonder interest levels were low, and the first few matches went to just about 30 per cent crowd attendance.
Come Week 2 and this has massively changed.
There is a rush for tickets, with social media posts about fans requesting tickets from their peers for sold-out matches, along with a general buzz around the WPL, that is creating new heroes and new fans.
Teething Troubles Solved
The stadium experience itself has changed to make match viewing an easy and convenient affair.
For the first few matches at Brabourne, online booking patrons had to exchange their virtual QR codes at Azad Maidan, from where the stadium is a good 15-minute walk in a city that doesn’t boast of perfect weather or walkways.
Ironically, the exchange counters opened barely 1.5 hours before toss, leading to unnecessary queuing.
Book My Show, the ticketing partners of the WPL, woke up to this reality and one week into the league, simplified this process by letting you scan your QR code right at the gate and proceed to your seat, pretty much like watching a movie.
“I was wondering what the point of a QR code is if I need a physical ticket to enter. Finally, it’s all good now,” says Mumbaikar Francis D Sa, who has started following cricket ever since the WPL started.
Carnival Of Cricket
With more spectators coming in, franchisees are also gearing up for better entertainment. While the first few matches saw neutral crowds, there are now cheerleaders, dhols and fans in team jerseys making for a colourful and entertaining match experience.
“I never believed I would have the same experience as the IPL, but I’m so pumped now. I live in the suburbs and every weekend, I plan to come down for the matches,” says Dikshika Yadav, a student and new-found fan of the WPL.
WPL In Your Neighbourhood
In an attempt to increase the popularity of the WPL across the country, the organisers are holding on-ground events, mall activations and trophy tours.
In Mumbai, film actress Vani Kapoor flagged off a tour of the city from Marine Drive to R City Mall in the northern suburb of Ghatkopar by a bedecked car bearing the WPL trophy. The tour was repeated in Bengaluru a few days later.
By engaging a captive audience with contests, giveaways and entertainment programmes, the country is coming under some clever marketing gimmicks that furthers the cause of women’s cricket.
“On-ground activations are the best way to create customer connect. You go back home with memories of having won yourself a limited edition jersey, and in the evening, watch the match on TV. Next thing you know, you are booking tickets to watch a live match. It’s a complete 360-degree cycle," says Mac, head of EBlitz Creations that does on-ground events for the WPL.
Creating Household Heroes
Part of this 360-degree cycle is also the interest in advertisers, especially those for women oriented-brands to invest in the league and build new campaigns featuring WPL players.
A week into the WPL, Tanishq has launched a TV ad featuring, for the first time, women cricketers from the Royal Challengers Bangalore team.
In the daily print media, cosmetics brand Himalaya featured full page ads with women cricketers, capitalising on their popularity, and of course creating new household names while unlocking revenue streams for women cricketers.
Advertisement breaks during the match telecasts, mostly featured the sponsors of the five WPL teams — but there appears to be a new realisation that more women might be watching the live television and app-based coverage, and most ads are skewed towards them. A good sign for women’s sports in general.
From on-ground performances to cross-country buzz around the WPL, women’s franchise cricket by all accounts, has passed the popular acceptance test and is here to stay.
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