To call this Women’s World Cup a revolution for the game would not be an overstatement. It has been watched by over 50 million people with the TV audience up 80% on 2013. On Sunday, at Lord’s, there will be more than 26,000 people in the ground.
“It has exceeded all expectations,” Steve Elworthy, the Women’s World Cup tournament director told ESPNcricinfo. It certainly has.
When Elworthy and his team, the same people who worked on the Champions Trophy, began the planning for the Women’s World Cup they had one major aim: to sell out Lord’s for the final. “We thought that would be a massive statement,” he said.
Not only have they achieved that but four weeks before the showpiece finish, Derby was sold out for the opener when the two finalists met. Then it was sold out again for the match between India and Pakistan. Long before they got to Lord’s, the tournament was gaining plenty of interest.
Elworthy put the increased awareness down to three major things: the intent by the organisers to stage this tournament in the same way as they have done men’s major events, the facilities used and, ultimately, the cricket.
“We wanted to make sure the women’s game was delivered on-par with the men’s game. So the transport, the logistics, business-class flights, the same per-diems as the men. It’s all on parity in terms of operational delivery,” he said. “And then using first-class county grounds put it at a different level because they deliver first-class facilities all throughout the year. But the quality of the cricket is what’s changed people’s minds. We’ve just made sure that the wraparound is good.”
An upset on the first day, where India beat England followed by a nerve-jangling win for South Africa against Pakistan ensured the opening weekend generated interest so that even when more one-sided contests played out, fans were following a narrative. That meant even though this World Cup was being played at the same time as a Test series, a T20 competition and Wimbledon, it has continued to engage.
“It’s punching above its weight,” Elworthy said. “There’s the British Open this weekend, there was Wimbledon, there’s a T20 Blast. We are still getting interest. If you think of it as a standalone product, it’s doing incredibly well.”
Interestingly, it is doing as well among male supporters as it is among female with a 50-50 split in the tickets sales. “When you think of a Women’s World Cup, you might think you will just target women and young girls but the number of dads we have seen with their daughters and families coming through has been great,” Elworthy said.
Perhaps more noteworthy is that almost a third of the fans attending matches are under-16s and that is the demographic the tournament organisers most wanted to catch. In order to grow the game across genders, they believe they need to reach out to as many young people as possible and so have distributed 10,000 bats and balls, of which 4,500 will be given away at Lord’s during the final, to give people a feel of playing cricket.
“One of the key elements of getting young kids to play is the correlation of them picking up a bat and ball and then converting them into using it. It tells me maybe we’ve got 10,000 new people who are going to play cricket. The conversation rate is incredibly high – it’s well over 80% if the people actually experience playing that they will continue.”
So whatever happens between England and India on the field, this Women’s World Cup can be declared a massive success off it. It may also be a pioneer because it could set the standard which future events have to match up to. If it were up to Elworthy the next event, which is due to be held in New Zealand in 2021, would only require minor tweaks to ensure it fits into its proposed window.
“This was going to be initially 24-game tournament with two groups of four and then a knockout stage but then it was changed to one group of eight. So the next step is to make sure that if it’s the same format, there is enough time to play a full round-robin set of games and not have four matches on one day,” he said.
Given the massive upsurge in television viewership, he would also like all matches televised globally by the major broadcaster and not streamed, as was the case this time. Initially, the ICC were only going to have cameras at 10 matches but then decided to shoot at all of them and offer a streaming service for the other 21, with reduced numbers of cameras. Elworthy hopes that was only the beginning. “Ideally you want all 31 games broadcast. If this is the pinnacle of the women’s game, that has to be the next level of thinking.”