Viacom18, one of India’s leading entertainment networks, has today (January 16) been announced as the exclusive domestic rightsholder for the first five seasons of the Women’s Indian Premier League (WIPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament.

Viacom18 secured both global TV and global digital streaming rights, having bid the equivalent of $116 million in total – around $866,000 per match.

The figure, which also equates to $23 million a year, is the second-biggest sum ever paid by a media outlet for broadcast rights to a women's sports property behind only the current $52.5-million-per-year agreement between tennis' WTA and international sports streaming platform DAZN.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) governing body began the tender process for finding a domestic rights partner on December 12, with a deadline for submissions of December 31.

The cycle will run from the opening edition of the franchise competition in March until after the 2027 WIPL.

In terms of its existing portfolio in cricket, Viacom18 holds exclusive domestic digital rights for the 2023-27 men’s IPL cycle, with rights on that front parcelled out via an e-auction in June last year. The network is paying just over $3 billion in total for those rights.

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Outside cricket, in late December, the network secured exclusive rights across the Indian subcontinent to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris through a deal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The agreement covers India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Companies looking to buy WIPL franchise slots, meanwhile, have until January 21 to buy that invitation to tender (ITT), which was made available last week (January 3).

The WIPL, which was confirmed in October, will follow the Women's Hundred in the UK and the Women's Big Bash League in Australia as major domestic tournaments for female cricketers.

The inaugural edition of the tournament will take place in March, before the start of the men’s tournament late that month, and is likely to initially contain five teams.

Roger Binny, president of the BCCI, has said: “I would like to congratulate Viacom18 for bagging the media rights for Women’s IPL for the period of five years … It was only apt to get our own women’s T20 league and give the fans more of women’s cricket. I would also like to congratulate the BCCI leadership and its workforce for a successful media rights process and wish them the very best for the first edition of the Women’s IPL.”

Arun Singh Dhumal, chair of the IPL’s governing council, added: "It gives me immense pleasure to welcome Viacom18 as our official digital and television broadcaster for the Women’s IPL.

"The faith of all our bidders for this process also testifies that they see value in investing in this property which will only be growing with each passing year.”

It has been reported that franchise slots will be allotted to the successful bidders through an auction on January 25 and those potential franchise owners will need to have a net worth equivalent to roughly $120 million.

The appetite for women’s cricket in India and a full WIPL has hit a high following a sequence of good performances by the Indian team in global competitions in recent years. Last year, the team won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

Meanwhile, the Glazer family, owners of English Premier League soccer giants Manchester United, are reportedly looking into the possibility of buying a WIPL franchise.

Cricbuzz has cited Phil Oliver, chief executive of the Desert Vipers – a team from the ILT20 men’s franchise league in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) already owned by the Glazers – as confirming the news.

He is reported as saying: “Having bought into the ILT20, it is natural for us to look into other cricket opportunities around the world, including the Women’s IPL.

“I can’t reveal the details of how far we are in that process, but I am happy to say that we are looking into all opportunities … The Indian market is of interest to us.”

The Glazer family, through its Lancer Capital company, was unsuccessful in bidding to acquire an expansion slot in the men’s IPL, when two were awarded in late 2021. Lancer Capital bid for both the new Lucknow and Ahmedabad franchises.

Cricbuzz has said that over 20 interested parties have bought the ITT documents, including most of the owners involved in the men’s edition.

The Glazers bought the Desert Vipers in December 2021.

In terms of the six-team ILT20, that competition is also making its debut this year and is being staged in the UAE between January 13 and February 12.

Late last week, Sunset+Vine, the UK-based television sports production and media company, secured host broadcast rights.

Sunset+Vine is providing all accompanying host broadcast services, producing live coverage of each of the matches and the opening ceremony.

It has said two production teams are on-site to capture all the on-field action as well as a 30-minute pre-game show, and a highlights package of the same length.

There will also be reports, features, news, and interviews “from within the six-team camps throughout the tournament …”

Sunset+Vine will also be working with Zee Entertainment, the global rights partner for the ILT20, on language commentary for Hindi and Tamil viewers.

Mubashshir Usmani, general secretary of Emirates Cricket, said: “Sunset+Vine has extensive experience in cricket broadcasting as they have worked on multiple World Cups and major competitions … We are certain that Sunset+Vine will capture the exciting cricket on-field beautifully."

Jeff Foulser, Sunset+Vine’s chair, added: “We're thrilled to be adding the DP World ILT20 to our cricket portfolio. The opportunity to create a strong broadcast identity for this high-quality League and their partners for the first three seasons is one that we relish."

Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images