W Power 2024

Why owners Diageo gave RCB a free hand to buy a WPL team

Owning a women's cricket team is in keeping with the company's focus on inclusivity and diversity, despite threats of financial losses in the early years, says senior management

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Mar 6, 2023 12:50:34 PM IST
Updated: Mar 6, 2023 01:16:33 PM IST

Why owners Diageo gave RCB a free hand to buy a WPL team The WPL teams are likely to start generating revenue from Day 1, but, like any business venture, there is a time commitment in order to see profits Image: Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images
Months before the Women’s Premier League was even announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), the Diageo India-owned cricket franchise, was firming up plans to own one of the teams. And when the BCCI invited tenders, its global headquarters, based in London, gave the India team the carte blanche to go ahead and buy one.    
“When we presented our proposal to the global board, the diktat was clear—just go and get the team. There was not one question on the money,” says Rajesh V Menon, vice president and head, RCB.   

RCB, which has the likes of Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell playing for its men’s team, tabled the third-highest bid with Rs 901 crore, and has bought prolific batter Smriti Mandhana with Rs 3.4 crore, the most expensive pick in the auction, to lead its side. The investments are staggering considering that the teams are unlikely to make any profits in the early years, as has been seen historically with teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the men’s franchise cricket tournament that started in 2008, which recorded mounting losses in its early years.  
“The WPL teams are likely to start generating revenue from Day 1, but, like any business venture, there is a time commitment in order to see profits,” says Bhairav Shanth, co-founder, ITW Consulting, a leading sports management and consulting company. According to media reports, the eight IPL franchises had reported a cumulative loss of Rs 315 crore in FY10, and the first time all franchises went in the black was only in 2018, buoyed by a steep rise in the media rights.   
“Diageo invested in India in 2014. It’s the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by any British company in the F&B space. We have 44 plants in the country. It shows how we are invested in the India story,” says Prathmesh Mishra, chief commercial officer, Diageo India, and chairman, RCB. In addition, says Mishra, diversity and inclusivity are at the core of Diageo’s business philosophy. “When I joined as head of sales, commercial, in Diageo in 2017, my team had only nine percent women. Today, it has gone up to 23 percent.”   
The company has extended the principle to the field of sports by fashioning the ‘Sports For All’ vision, which enables an increased participation of women at all levels of cricket. Its roadmap includes building icons to inspire the next generation, scouting talents in the hinterlands, organising competitions at multiple levels and leveraging the existing fan base to amplify women’s cricket. “So, owning a women’s team is core, and close to our purpose,” says Mishra.    

“Gender is one of the biggest suppressions in global history. And correcting it is in line with the agendas of the best companies of the globe. Diageo is certainly one of the best companies when it comes to inclusive practices,” says Harish Bijoor, brand consultant expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “Its move to own a WPL team will give the brand positive strokes.”

Also read: How Brand WPL will be built over the long term
Incidentally, in 2019, the franchise had approached the BCCI with a proposal to host a mixed-gender exhibition T20 match that would feature the likes of Kohli and Harmanpreet Kaur, but were turned down.   
A number of cricket franchises in India has expanded their global footprint by picking up teams in foreign T20 leagues. The Reliance Group-owned Mumbai Indians and the JSW-GMR-owned Delhi Capitals, for instance, have a franchise each in the UAE-based ILT20 and the South Africa-based SA20 leagues. “But we pulled ourselves back when it came to investing in those leagues. We didn’t even take a tender,” Menon says. “We were aware that the WPL was in the horizon, waited for it, and started working backwards.”  
Six months ago, even before the WPL was announced, RCB recruited former India player Vanitha VR as a scout for women, and a panel was constituted to look at options for a head coach should they win the bid for a women’s team. “Having Ben Sawyer as our head coach was not a random or sudden decision,” Menon further says, adding that even their men’s team had a 22 percent female support staff.  
The team has also made headlines by appointing tennis legend Sania Mirza as its mentor, the only WPL team to rope in an athlete from outside the sport. During a press conference in Mumbai on Saturday, captain Mandhana recalled how, when she was young, her mother was inspired by Mirza’s exploits and had asked her if she would be interested in taking up tennis. “If we can inspire some more moms and young girls, we are home,” says Menon.     

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