Can cricket be now called both gentleman and gentlewoman's game

The 2020 women's T20 world cup is scheduled between 21 February and 8 March in Australia

MUMBAI: Cricket is termed as a religion in India and it’s said that the game unites Indians better than any religion can ever do. However, the game despite being dominated largely by the men, has lately seen growth and steady performance of the women’s cricket team that has turned the eyeballs of the audience as well as advertisers towards them.

The growth story has become quite evident since the day Indian women’s team entered into the finals of the world cup against England organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2017. The Indian team failed to clinch the title but was hailed for the overall performance, post this there was no looking back for Indian women’s team as it won all the following matches.

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the 2017 world cup final match between India and England at Lords in London clocked over 19.5 million impressions on television. This was the most-watched women’s sporting event in India so far. Meanwhile, BARC’s 2018 data reported that the cricket alone drew 93 per cent of sports viewership among other sports in India.

Moreover, the ICC claimed that over 180 million people around the world watched the women’s world cup and its official Twitter hashtag was the most ever used for a women’s sports final in 2017. Perhaps being optimistic about the overall growth of women’s cricket, ICC decided to organise the upcoming women’s T20 world cup as a standalone event rather than bundling it with men’s T20 world cup like earlier tournaments.

The surge in audience TV impressions and social media engagements are evident that women’s cricket is proving its mettle and perhaps, the advertisers have started perceiving it as an asset that could be leveraged for brand promotion, be it through a campaign or official sponsorship. The brands such as CEAT, Uber, RedBull, and Vaseline among others have already been cashing on the women cricketers’ popularity.

Despite being doubtful about the substantial growth of women’s cricket viewership, IPG Mediabrands’ Initiative chief executive officer Vaishali Verma said: “There is a lot of conversation happening around it and believe there would certainly be a growth in viewership of women cricket. This has been built up over the last couple of months and should definitely be better going forward.”

Meanwhile, the international council with an aim to celebrate womanhood, has scheduled the final match of the T20 world cup on 8 March 2020 on International Women’s Day at Melbourne Stadium, which is likely to see a huge crowd with at least 200 dignitaries. The tournament that begins from 21 February will have knock-out matches with each team playing four matches along with one semi and final match each.

The Initiative CEO further said, “Cricket has been established since ages and it’s unfair to compare men and women cricket as has become an established format, whereas the latter has been flourishing in the recent past. There’s definitely surge in audience viewership with respect to women cricket and it has become a niche category as compared to a few years ago.”

With an aim to promote women’s cricket, BCCI has also increased the player’s fee as it revised the Grade A contract from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 50 lakh and Grade B from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh. Meanwhile, Indian women cricketers such as Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Jemimah Rodrigues have also started to become prominent faces in global cricketing events.

To support his fellow mates of the same industry, the Indian captain Virat Kohli had launched a campaign called #JerseyKnowsNoGender to gain more momentum towards women’s cricket. Kohli urged his fans to support the female team by wearing the Indian jersey ahead of the T20 world cup and also nominated the sportsperson from various spheres to take up the challenge in a video message shared on his official Twitter account.

With the rising popularity of women cricketers, the brands have started roping the women cricketers as official brand ambassadors due to their exemplary performance in every match. For example, The Indian T20 format captain Harmanpreet Kaur has achieved a title of ‘highest score by a woman cricketer in the knockout stage of ODI world cup’, scoring 171 (not out) against Australia in 2017.

Meanwhile, the opening batswoman Smriti Mandhana was named the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year 2018. The One Day International (ODI) captain Mithali Raj was the only cricketer to achieve the highest score in the T20 format before retiring, she even had surpassed Indian batsman Rohit Sharma in this feat.

The women team’s T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur has bagged a sponsorship deal with CEAT, a leading tyre company, along with Nike and ITC’s juice brand B-Natural. In this regard, ITC’s vice-president marketing services Shuvadip Banerjee said: “Harmanpreet embodies some of the values that challenger brand like B Natural, hence the choice and fit to make her an ambassador.”

Batting for equality in cricket, Banerjee also said: “If KL Rahul, Rohit or Virat can deliver, so can Harmanpreet and many others from the women’s cricket team such as Mithali, Smriti and etc.”

The Indian T20 captain is currently an ambassador of B Natural in the Punjab and Haryana markets. “Harman will gain attraction across the country especially because she’s representing Indian women’s cricket and giving a lot of importance of looking at this particular tournament this year. Probably, we may make her pan India ambassador of B Natural considering the popularity she gains in the upcoming event as it’s a game of finance,” ITC’s vice-president marketing services added.

Meanwhile, Smriti Mandhana, the fastest run-scorer in all formats, has registered brands to her name such as Hero, Bata’s sportswear Power, Vaseline among others. Moreover, Mithali Raj is not only a skipper on the cricket pitch but also on a commercial pitch, when it comes to sponsorship, in terms of fee per endorsement. She promotes the US-based cab aggregator Uber and also Australian diamond brands called Rio Tinto’s.

Dentsu Aegis Network chief executive officer Anand Badhkamkar said: “Brands' first priority is traction, they bankroll on any event or person considering the viewership and popularity of the person/event. However, with the increasing audience impression and women cricketers’ fame brands are ready to spend but seek a good return from the investment they have put in for the campaign and advertising their product.”

He added, “The sudden change in the perception towards women, cricket has changed due to the power of women and the popularity of the game in India. ICC organising the women’s T20 world cup separate from the men’s tournament is itself becoming an important event and something to be proud of with women cricket.”

While adding feathers onto the cap, Raj, Kaur and Mandhana has also made into the Forbes India Celebrity 100 List of 2019 as women cricketers; they were added into the list as a sub-category among sports personalities given their rising popularity and performances.

The current women cricket team, who has brought the women category to glory, is also being seen as a social media icon with an increased number of followers on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. And, the brands have also been trying to get the leverage this social media fame. In this regard, Smriti Mandhana, who has active 1.6 million followers on her Instagram page, has been roped as an influencer by brands. In 2019 alone, she promoted brands like DBS Bank, OnePlus, Greenply, Vivo, and CricBuzz on her Instagram page.

Agreeing to the fact that momentum for women’s cricket has grown in recent years, Madison Media’s senior general manager Chirag Shah said: “This primarily has happened on the back of good performance of women’s cricket team and scheduling of the game. Similarly, Steller performance by players like Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jemmia Rodrigues in the past season has further given a huge boost to the sport.”

He added, “Currently most of the brands are associated with sport only for the broadcast part in terms of spot buys but I see there is a great opportunity for brands targeting females especially progressive women to leverage the popularity of women cricketer by associating with the game in a holistic way.”

Is it the new high for women cricket or the good is yet to come? This would only be decided going forward with viewers’ traction and brand attraction towards the game. The question lies in how well both domestic and international cricket body is going to transform the so-called gentleman’s game into gentlewoman’s game. As the action speaks louder than words – this quote has worked quite well for the women’s cricket team as their performance has put them in a niche category.

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