Dhiraj Malhotra is a veteran in the cricket operations ecosystem. Having worked with IPL franchises, the BCCI and ICC, he is now the chief executive of Delhi Capitals.
In a chat with Sportstar, Malhotra sheds light on the franchise’s newest acquisition, the Women’s Premier League (WPL) franchise, and also spells out the challenges for the league.
How do you look at WPL as a property, both from a franchise perspective and the market view?
If you see, women’s cricket in particular, and women’s sport, in general, is on the way up. Yes, it is a gamble. We don’t know where it will be in five years from now. Our prediction is that it will be much bigger than it is now. If you look at the ICC, their overall focus is women’s cricket. For the Commonwealth Games, the only cricket there was, was for women. They are pushing more for women than men’s cricket at the Olympics. The U-19 women’s World Cup has just started.
There is more focus on women’s cricket. We are hoping that the league will further help the development of the sport. Our analysis and our market research has said that it will be the next big thing.
From an established IPL franchise perspective, can you look at converting the WPL franchise into a standalone property?
We can afford to take the punt, thanks to the new media rights cycle that we have got. We know that we have the backing of the central pool from the BCCI (from IPL) which allows us to take a slightly bigger risk than people who are not a part of the IPL. That’s definitely a strong point.
Having said that, we also believe, in the next 5-10 years, it will grow. If you look at men’s IPL, for the first seven-eight years, people did not make money. But the road map was very clear. We knew that you would end up breaking even and making money. This kind of revenue no one expected but that has happened. So, we are hoping that it is the same curve for women’s cricket.
Is there a likelihood that the Delhi franchise can break even in five years?
I don’t think we will break even in the first five years. It will be tough. We are looking at a ten-year cycle.
But it’s also about being part of the cricket fraternity, the cricket ecosystem through which we will be able to give back. If you see the kind of caliber that Indian men’s cricket is at thanks to the IPL, we are hoping that it will have the same impact on women’s cricket.
The Delhi Capitals also own a couple of franchises in other men’s leagues. Is this a more attractive propery?
It is because it is Indian. That’s our core.
We have got other teams to market ourselves and our brand there. What we have done is converted a lot of fans in South Africa and Dubai to support our team in Delhi, so there is a lot of synergy there.
But this of course, since it’s an Indian league, we are very happy and privileged to be a part of it.
Does the economics add up?
Not really. It was not just a business decision. It was more of a conscious decision. We all went with eyes open, fully aware that it will be tough to break even. But we all think it is worth the risk.
The WPL model will obviously boost the overall women’s cricket set-up in India, right?
It will help the game. It will help the young Indian girls to rub shoulders with international stars… be it Indian or Australian or English. The same what it did to young Indian men players to share the dressing room with Virat Kohli.
Do you think a certain kind of new brands will be associated with this property?
Hundreds! I see a lot of brands getting involved with sports, that weren’t there earlier. You saw at the bidding process, there were so many brands you hadn’t heard of. Other than the seven IPL teams, there were so many brands that you hadn’t heard of making strong bids.
What are the challenges from the management and operations perspective considering the tight deadlines you have for the first season?
We are very lucky that this year, the BCCI is running the league, so we don’t have to get involved in operations - the running of the matches, the stadiums, etc. But we need to get the right coaches and trainers. This being women’s cricket, we need to do a proper background check.
The main priority will be building a strong team. The main focus will be on scouting. The capped players, everyone knows. It’s the uncapped players who will make the real difference, so that does make us a little nervous. The timelines are really short and tight. The team we build now is for the next few years, so that’s a little worrisome.
Are you looking at integration of coaching staff from IPL or a standalone coaching team for WPL?
It’ll be tough this year because it’ll It’s back-to-back this year (the WPL and the IPL). Also, this year is the first time in four years that the IPL is coming back to being home and away.
For us at the Delhi Capitals, this is as good as a fresh start because our first year was 2019 and then Covid hit. We need to get back the fans and build a fanbase and home support. It will be tough to integrate support staff fully. We may have one or two individuals involved in both the support staff teams. But in terms of the head coach, we will definitely have an independent person.
In the longer run, will you prefer a home-and-away league?
Definitely. The BCCI is saying that going forward, it will be home and away.
This year, because none of us have the time, the BCCI has been magnanimous in helping us run the tournament. We all want home-and-away in the future, otherwise it will not have the same spirit.
Where do you see the Delhi Capitals WPL franchise and the tournament five years down the line?
We are hoping we can call it something like Delhi Capitals Women.
I see it growing strength to strength. The advantage is that all five teams will be strong to make sure the caliber doesn’t diminish. I see it being a great competitive tournament. It will depend on how the fans receive it. and how the regions take it because women’s cricket is still in its nascent stage. We did have recent international matches against Australia that went full. We are hoping that percolates with WPL as well. The marketing and development is completely on us.
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