What will it take for full pay parity in cricket?

In a historic decision last week, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced equal match fees for male and female cricketers. Until now, women representing India earned one-third of what the men made from Twenty20 matches, one-fourth in Test matches and one-sixth in ODIs. India is the second country after New Zealand to bring parity on this front in cricket.

Indian women cricketers have earned recognition through superlative performances on the cricket field in recent years, the 2017 World Cup being a major milestone. India lost to England in a thrilling final, but the spirited performance by the women in blue gave us new youth icons. Just weeks ago, a controversial run-out by Deepti Sharma brought male and female fans together as a confident Indian team held its head high on a topic that has divided the men’s cricketing world for decades.

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The 2022 women’s World Cup attracted 1.64 billion video views across digital channels of the International Cricket Council, becoming the third-most digitally-engaged global cricket event ever. This was a big momentum shift since the 2017 edition, which had garnered just 100 million views. Women’s cricket in India may be beginning to get its due through the pay packet as well, but that’s also because of the luxury of being run by the world’s richest cricket body since 2006. In several other sports and nations, the struggle for parity has been much longer and continues (see chart). Even for Indian cricket, the latest move is only the first step in a battle that is far from over.

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Only a Beginning

Parity on match fee, though a momentous decision, is a long distance away from bridging the yawning gender gap in cricket. For starters, women cricketers play significantly fewer matches, which means they will still make much less. (Indian women have played just four Test matches since 2014.)

Let’s see how. If the latest equal fee structure had applied to matches played by both Indian teams since 2019, even the second-best-graded men would have out-earned the top-graded women in overall earnings by as much as four to eight times, Mint calculations show. Apart from fewer matches played by women, that’s also because the value of annual contracts for women players is nowhere near the amount men get, despite growth in the last few years. That disparity will remain: 7 crores, 5 crores, 3 crores, and 1 crore being the annual fee for four grades of male cricketers, and 50 lakhs, 30 lakhs and 10 lakh being the three grades for women.

Inequalities Galore

A sportsperson earns through various channels apart from just regular matches and annual contracts. Franchise-based tournaments and brand endorsements give male stars a cult status, which women players still struggle to achieve. This affects overall earnings. The women have a long and tedious journey ahead before they can match all aspects of their male counterparts’ fortunes.

Male cricketers have been able to mint massive money from the Indian Premier League (IPL). The women are expected to join only next year, 15 years after the male IPL’s launch. While the dollars and fandom will follow, it may take some time to reach the same status and eyeballs. The prize money in global tournaments also has wide disparity. At $10 million, the overall pot in the 2019 men’s ODI World Cup was 186% higher than that in the 2022 women’s version ($3.5 million). Just the winner of the men’s event alone made more ($4 million).

Popularity Jinx

Similar disparities exist in other sports, too. The National Basketball Association (NBA) prize money for men is about 45 times higher than for women. In golf, women’s tours have a prize money nearly 80% lower than the men’s. For administrators, it’s simple business: women’s games don’t generate as much interest and revenue as their male versions, so they earn less. Parity advocates say it’s a chicken-and-egg problem.

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“Once more people get to watch us, the more they will queue up at the stadiums and that’s how you can generate more revenue,” then India captain Mithali Raj had said in 2019.

But over 40% of the audience in the last three IPLs were already female, according to BARC India. Advertisers cannot ignore this demographic any longer. The BCCI’s first move shows intent to invest more in the women’s game. Hopes are pinned on the upcoming women’s IPL to churn greater commercial value and more grassroots investment to prop up young talent. The decision by the BCCI to close the pay gap may be a first step, but as the money starts trickling in, the board should hopefully bring in even more parity measures.

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