Minnesota Has One Whole Professional Basketball Team And They’re Selling Tickets

Did you know Minnesota has a professional basketball team? It’s true, one whole team. They’re based in Minneapolis, they’re called the Lynx, and I have a half season package to see them 8 times this year! So should you, because summer without hockey is hard, and there’s no way you have anything better to do with your time than watch Maya Moore own everyone on the court.

One of the things I love about the WNBA, in fact, is that they have a dedication to showmanship that does double time as a community-focused way to introduce new fans to the sport. If you go to a Lynx game, you’ll be reminded – whether you know it already or not – to stand up until the first Lynx point is scored. Their half time activities range from charmingly mundane during the regular season to genuinely entertaining during the playoffs. And then, of course, there’s the game itself: fast-paced, athletic, fun, and full of tense moments.

The WNBA is also at an interesting point in its life as a league. Their commissioner of five years, Laurel Ritchie, stepped down – very soon after the NBA’s Adam Silver offered some ill-timed criticism of the league’s progress. Even a league that’s 20 years old is not immune from the questions of profitability and sustainability that routinely plague women’s sports. The offseason’s also brought some good news, though. Diana Taurasi, fresh off a year spent playing in Russia (and sitting out the 2015 WNBA season), is back with the Phoenix Mercury. The Lynx will enter the year defending a championship. It all starts May 14th, and I will personally be there with bells on.

Also, God, the farmer’s market starts again the week before. Cabin fever is real.

Women’s Winter Classic: Let’s Look Beyond The NHL

We here at Watch This have been advocates of women’s hockey being seen on its own merits for awhile now, so the debate about the admittedly poorly executed Winter Classic (the NWHL/CWHL one, mind) is certainly relevant to our interests. The “Winter Classic” as a phrase and as a hockey concept is really the NHL’s own marketing invention, and has been increasingly explicitly a marketing bid in recent years: more outdoor games, less big-name/historic locations, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because marketing can be useful and women’s hockey in particular would benefit from larger institutions throwing their marketing weight behind it – but it does mean that you really can’t decouple the lackluster “Outdoor Women’s Classic” from the influence and background of the NHL’s Winter Classic brand.

When I (that is me, Elena) heard the news that a women’s Winter Classic was going to happen – but only sort of! individual tickets wouldn’t be sold! also it was last minute and not heavily advertised! – I just sort of sighed. Putting on an event in itself isn’t enough to guarantee profit or attention; the NHL knows that. After all, the NHL as a league is orders of magnitude more well-known than the CWHL or the NWHL, but they still advertise special events heavily. Putting on a women’s Winter Classic, but not planning ahead of time, promoting it, or really doing much of anything but the bare minimum of providing a space and a few tweets, is setting it up to fail. And, in the eyes of a lot of people, it did fail. If the event was meant as a way for the NWHL and CWHL to learn from the NHL’s experience putting on an event, then they appeared to have not left themselves with time to do it. This dry run didn’t result in a big crowd watching an outdoor women’s hockey game; time, money, and effort on the part of players and administrators – including the NHL – ended up squandered on an event for which individual tickets weren’t even sold.

But while the NHL’s lukewarm support certainly contributed to the women’s classic being more of a whimper than a bang, it wasn’t the only factor. The CWHL and the NWHL are ostensibly both grown-up, professional leagues. We therefore ought to be asking exactly why announcement of the game was delayed for so long, why details of the game were communicated so poorly to women’s hockey fans, who follow various CWHL and NWHL communications (email, twitter, and so on), and why, if there truly were hold-ups on various practical details such as broadcasting, the CWHL and the NWHL agreed to do this event this year at all.

More organized and comprehensive NHL support would be great. But if agreements between whatever parties needed to agree to make the event happen were only finalized a few days before the date, why wasn’t the agreement then to hold and promote a Winter Classic next year? As a women’s hockey fan who’s watched more than one women’s league in various sports come and go, what the rush to hold the Winter Classic this year tells me, rightly or wrongly, is that one or both leagues isn’t confident that they’ll even be around next year. It strikes me as incredibly poor marketing, on the CWHL and NWHL’s part, to rush this event out at the last minute – and I’m not really in favor of focusing on the NHL’s role in the event to the exclusion of looking at what the CWHL and NWHL have been doing. They had no coordinated media campaigns ready; they had no cross-league branding ready (merchandise and graphics in particular); they had no advertising ready. In short, they had nothing prepared to convince me, a fan, that the event was worth paying attention to.

That lack can be easily explained: the event was finalized at the last minute. But holding the event anyway, despite the last-minute nature of the preparations, was a poor choice. It signals disorganization within leagues, lack of cooperation, and lack of confidence in the future to fans. That really troubles me. We can talk all day about what the NHL could do for women’s hockey, but in 2016, when we have two independent leagues, we need to move beyond that. The CWHL and NWHL have both repeatedly asserted their confidence in the future and their ability to grow, both individually as leagues and as part of the larger community of women’s hockey. It’s time their actions reflected those statements.

It’s A Hard Knock Life: Labor In Women’s Sports

Who remembers the NHL lockout in 2012? Most people who read this blog, probably. I remember all the ducking and feinting, the inevitable delay to the start of the season, each side blaming each other, arguments being played out in actual press and blog-press, and so on and so forth. But what I also remember is the reaction to the NHLPA’s collective bargaining strategy – namely, I remember a lot of people blaming players for not taking the deals the NHL offered. They were, after all, making millions; why were they insisting on depriving fans of a season?

You might recognize this sort of attitude as being explicitly anti-labor in an old-timey robber baron way; if you’re a mindless servant to the causes of deregulated enterprise, you might not. (Kidding. Mostly.) But it’s true that how work stoppages are perceived often change over time, or relative to the inconvenience they cause people using the product no longer being produced. See, for example, the teacher’s union strike in Chicago , or any number of public transit or cab strikes. Often, our sympathy for workers – or in sports’ case, players – is commensurate to how inconvenienced we are by them deciding to withhold their work for a while.

Sports in general occupy an uneasy space in the world of work. People can beat each other up on the ice, even gravely injure one another and not face legal consequences. Team-adjacent employees can be exploited. Wives and girlfriends are put in tenuous situations, exposed to everything from locational instability to intimate partner violence, and are expected to sacrifice for the good of their husbands’ teams.

Making money from sports starts early on. The OHL, for example, employs kids as young as 16. Of course, they’re not technically employees – but they receive a stipend, and the OHL makes money from them. The NCAA works a similar system for colleges in the US: athletes get tuition and expenses paid, and the NCAA makes money from both their public personas and their work on the field, court, or rink. Various people in various mediums have questioned the morality and even the legality of these setups for years, but what often goes unacknowledged is that in the lower-cash world of women’s sports, labor becomes that much more valuable.

Let’s circle back around to the lockout. The CWHL was functioning that entire time, unpaid. I’ve written here before about the CWHL’s “love of the game” and “role model” narrative. Their commitment to the community can’t be questioned, nor can the heart-warming nature of the entertainment they provide. But because women’s hockey is continually called into question – its skill level, its competitiveness, its worthiness as entertainment and as work – a lot of media coverage of the CWHL comes across as condescending. It’s not work for these women, despite the fact that they’re contractually obligated to show up to practices and games. It’s something uncomfortably hovering on the line between hobby and work. They’re not amateur in expectations or skill, but the hours they put in, on and off the ice, are generally disregarded because they don’t hate what they’re doing. Love of the game is privileged over even using that work to put food on the table, much less making a profit from it as NHL players do.

Unfortunately for female athletes, devaluation of the work they put in isn’t commensurate to how risky it is. Girls and women are more prone to concussions than boys and men, and also just so happen to dominate a dangerous high-school sport in the United States – cheerleading, where participants are injured in under-supervised practices more than competitive events. It’s possible that my lady brain is more prone to injury than a strong man brain, but given the reality of women’s sports, it seems likely that concussions are a product of a paucity of care and coaching. Female athletes are far less likely to have access to elite anything: coaches, trainers, equipment, doctors. The line to more injuries is clear and stark. In hockey, Amanda Kessel is a recent example. Kessel was sidelined with a mysterious injury prior to the Olympics, came back just in time to play for the US, and has been off the ice since then with chronic concussion problems.

In women’s sports, even the most elite players experience the same kind of grind and disregard that fourth-liners do in the NHL. Those same fourth liners have made headlines in recent years by committing suicide. Let me be clear: those deaths are a tragedy and absolutely point to the NHL’s disregard for labor. But this disrespect is an issue at every level; with women’s sports being as devalued as they are, most female athletes have no chance of escaping the level where their health and autonomy is disregarded. Female players can wind up very sick or even disabled, with pretty much nothing monetary to show for it.

So, you’re a women’s hockey player. You can reasonably expect a grinding level of hard work, a high risk of injury, spotty access to new equipment and good doctors, and career prospects that are pretty much limited to college employment or a cobbled-together combination of endorsements and gigs with the IOC, hockey federations, and so on. There aren’t really millions to be made here. If you’re in charge of a fledgling women’s league, then, how do you behave? What lines do you draw?

Unfortunately, in the CWHL’s case, the answer to those questions appears to be, respectively, “poorly” and “almost none that don’t explicitly benefit us”.

It’s fairly common knowledge that last year’s canceled Blades games were related to a work stoppage. This summer, we’ve experienced near-continuous changes that relate to another league, the NWHL, starting up. The CWHL initially reacted to the NWHL’s existence with some language that hinted at litigiousness; since then, we’ve seen lower-profile players sign with the NWHL, while higher profile players like Duggan and Knight remain mostly mum about their intentions, attempted actions with the CWHL, and so on.

I’ve heard reports from various places, including sources of this blog’s writers, that the CWHL is blocking big name players. Their contracts allow for release with adequate notification. This is, according to a lawyer we spoke with, fairly common language for non-paying contracts. It basically opens the way for people to leave should a paying opportunity arise. It’s possible, I suppose, that the people who failed to notify the CWHL of their intentions in a timely manner are all big-name, valuable players. It’s possible that the CWHL fighting to retain people like Hilary Knight is only related to genuine respect for legality, and has nothing to do with Knight’s own reputation as someone who’s struggled with the CWHL, her high profile in the world of women’s hockey, or her presumed value in name recognition for any team she plays for. It’s possible – but not likely, because the CWHL hasn’t invented underhanded tactics to try to control players. They’re simply following in the footsteps of the big men’s leagues that have come before.

Again, the NHL is the most recent example of this. They had a work stoppage only 3 years ago. The negotiations that each side made during that work stoppage are largely the stuff of rumor, but each side made some negotiations public, and thus, a matter of public opinion. As previously mentioned, the NHL has its own problems with player health as well. They’re currently facing a class action lawsuit specifically citing mishandling of concussions.

But – and this is a big but – the NHL at least pays its players and has a union. They continue to react strongly to the possibility of competition, and that includes becoming combative with their employees – the players – when the time to renegotiate the CBA comes around. This behavior might be less than ideal, but it at least is accompanied by the players’ union having representation for their side. The CWHL, in contrast, appears to want the benefits of a competitive market without ever having to have substantive competition – for players or for fans.

In short, it’s wrong. Pressuring players to sign long-term, restrictive, non-paying contracts is wrong. Using those contracts to try and control big-name players is wrong. Obfuscating the role of labor representation – a union – is wrong. And the fact that the CWHL is a non-paying league, full of highly skilled Olympians who play in games resembling rec league matches more than professional bouts, only makes their refusal to treat their players fairly more cruel. I have long held that the CWHL doesn’t seem to think women’s hockey is a product that can be profitably sold; they’ve historically skimped on marketing and promotion. Seeing their reaction to a league that clearly disagrees with that business plan has been profoundly disappointing. Female athletes already encounter disrespect from various institutions and people. They shouldn’t get it from their own tiny leagues, as well.

Of course, this isn’t a non-fixable problem. The CWHL should be releasing players on equal footing if they’re not already. The CWHL has a players association (not a union, as the players are unpaid), and that PA should have a more visible voice. Information on player issues shouldn’t just come from the league, but also from the CWHLPA. And, of course, they should try to compete with what the NWHL has to offer players. There are signs that the CWHL is trying to do the latter, including increased front-of-office communication and better equipment supply for players, but they’ll need to sustain that momentum and build on it. As both a blogger and a fan, the single most exciting thing about the NWHL has been their willingness to sell their product: women’s hockey and the people who play it.

Promote the players. Promote the game. Make players feel valued and excited by what you have to offer them, and make fans feel respected and catered to. If you want to hold on to “role model” lingo, then by all means do, but go beyond being a charity league for little girls to cheer on. Women’s hockey is valuable because it’s fun to watch. Sell me on that idea, then sell me on the people I’ll be watching. And also, treat them like people whose work you value. It’s very, very possible to move beyond the current player-rights gridlock, and I’d be delighted to see the CWHL do so.

A Few Non-Predictions For The CWHL’s 2015-2016 Season

We here at Watch This will not be posting a draft recap/season preview of the CWHL this year, because season/team previews suck to write and we don’t want to do them†. Personally, I am perennially in awe of people who manage to write well-researched posts about moves, prospects, etc etc., or even really any post at all, because I hate predicting the future and generally refuse to learn rosters until the players are actually playing. Having a work ethic is for suckers.

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

  • Historically the Blades have been really good, but their team has been gutted and now consists of like, 2 Team Canada players and some dryer lint, and possibly a curse-controlled Hilary Knight, so maybe they’ll be bad? Maybe not though. Who knows.
  • Brampton will continue to be an also-ran. This is a prediction based on history. Please don’t tell me if they actually drafted someone team-changingly amazing. My pride can’t take it.
  • Speaking of drafting, Calgary drafted Hayley Wickenheiser: Canadian legend, multi-gold-medal-winning Olympian, member of the Canadian Walk of Fame…37-year-old? This one’s a bit baffling. Who knows how it’ll go! As we’ve established, not me. (Brianne Jenner, however, is someone to watch on Calgary.)
  • The Stars are still the Stars. They’ll be in the final (probably).

OK that’s enough. For actual, substantive info, here are some links:

Have a good Wednesday. Stay safe out there.

† There will be previews of the NWHL, due to us having some new writers covering those teams. New blood! Less lazy blood! Somewhere a vampire is very excited.

Jenny Scrivens’ Husband Congratulates Her On Signing

Jenny Scrivens’ husband, who plays for a local men’s hockey league, took to Twitter today to congratulate her for signing with the NWHL’s New York Riveters. “Couldn’t be prouder”, he tweeted, “happy to see Jenny going to a team destined for greatness”. Jenny’s husband has played hockey for some number of years, and based on reports, is a very energetic and amusing goaltender.

When asked about how Jenny’s husband might fit into the culture of the NWHL, Jenny’s new teammates responded, “Who?”

Amanda Kessel’s College Career is Over

Per the Grand Forks Herald, Amanda Kessel’s college career is over. She has been sidelined since the Olympics with concussion issues. We here at Watch This are, of course, saddened to hear she won’t be playing, but glad she’s taking care of herself.

Kessel’s health is the most important thing and I don’t want to detract from that, but I’d feel like a bit of a liar if I didn’t admit this news makes me angry. She is a phenomenal player who will never get the chance to show the world what she can do her senior NCAA season. Female athletes are too often sidelined by the combination of a drastically shortened career – which makes playing in the Olympics, even while unhealthy, all the more important – and a lack of funding/support. They have to train virtually constantly without a hope of the eight-figure payoff the best men in the world get regularly. Pardon my French, but it’s bullshit.

Anyway, screw this, let’s all watch Amanda Kessel highlights:

CWHL vs NWHL: The Soundtrack

It’s time to face facts, women’s hockey fans.

FACT: no sport in the history of North America, nay, THE WORLD, has ever survived with more than one major league.
FACT: women’s sports leagues are doomed to fail, because feelings.
FACT: Brian Burke picked members of the men’s USA hockey team based on a dream he had. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this piece, but seriously, what the hell, Brian Burke? I think about this every day. Why did he do that? Do you think he has dreams now where Bobby Ryan gently lisps at him, chastising him for believing in the truth of dreams? Do you think he looks into the mirror and wonders what life would be like if he hadn’t LITERALLY followed his dreams? Do you think he called a priest on suspicion that a weird hockey-obsessed CANADIAN succubus snuck into his room at night and seduced him into making such bad choices? I WANT ANSWERS
FACT: the NWHL should have asked the CWHL to expand. Or maybe they shouldn’t have? This is the Quantum Fact. Both are both true and false.
FACT: the CWHL and the NWHL have gone past the point of no return. They are enemies now. Brenda Andress is probably building a death laser as we speak. Eventually there will be a war, and Hilary Knight, flanked by the Lamoureux twins*, will storm the CWHL headquarters, screaming and waving broken hockey sticks.
FACT: before the war comes sadness. Betrayal. Friend against friend. The painful certainty of knowing that your heart is broken and you’ve been left alone.
FACT: after the sadness comes the knowledge that you’ll be okay, because you’ve got friends

in

low

places
(WHERE THE WHISKEY DROWNS AND THE BEER CHASES YOUR BLUES AWAY, AND YOU’LL BE OKAY)

And so I present: the soundtrack of a broken-hearted, broken-leagued summer. You can listen along here: CWHL vs NWHL Soundtrack

(Note: this tracklisting is not totally accurate because I’m bad at saving things to cloud services, so you may get a few fun surprises. How exciting!)

PART ONE: BETRAYAL

1) Mean – Taylor Swift
2) I Hope He Breaks Your Heart – American Aquarium
3) Boots Were Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra
4) Short Life Of Trouble – Carolina Chocolate Drops
5) How Was California – Reckless Kelly

PART TWO: DRUNK, SAD, MAYBE IN DENIAL MAYBE NOT, DEFINITELY IN POSESSION OF MORE BROKEN GLASS THAN YOU WERE 2 DAYS AGO

1) Whiskey – Billy + Joe
2) Tennessee – American Aquarium
3) Trailer for Rent – Pistol Annies
4) Drinkin – Holly Williams
5) Worst Day Of My Life – Carolyn Wonderland
6) Mama’s Broken Hear – Miranda Lambert

PART THREE: HUNGOVER ACCEPTANCE

1) Bring On The Rain – Jo Dee Messina & Tim McGraw
2) Friends In Low Places – Garth Brooks
3) 7 and 7 – Turnpike Troubadours
4) You Can’t Be Told – Valerie June

PART FOUR: YOUR NEW GIRLFRIEND IS WAY HOTTER THAN YOUR EX AND SHE MAKES MORE MONEY TOO

1) New Strings – Miranda Lambert
2) Best Thing I Never Had – Beyonce (A GENRE DEPARTURE)
3) Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
4) Steve Earle – Lydia Loveless
5) That Don’t Impress Me Much – Shania Twain
6) Why Should I Care For The Men Of Thames – Martha Redbone

 

  • NOTE: I’m basing this conjecture entirely on my perception that the twins would be down for chaos, not on any actual knowledge about when/if they’ll sign with either league. THANX

Four Celebrities I Would Kill To See At NWHL Games

Let’s talk about a crucial issue facing our society today: WHAT EXCELLENT CELEBS WILL ATTEND NWHL GAMES??? Probably none of them in reality, but this is a blog post, so here’s my dream lineup.

THE NEW YORK RIVETERS: TAYLOR SWIFT

Taylor Swift lives in NYC, a fact well illustrated by her recent hit, “Welcome To New York.” Who better to sit at the sidelines, wearing red lipstick so bright it outshines the light of Satan himself, explaining the finer points of hockey to Karlie Kloss? Literally no one. I know NHL people think she’s a curse, but probably that’s just for men’s hockey. She is a leading misandrist of our time; just listen to Blank Space and tell me I’m wrong.

Jeff Skinner of the Caroline Hurricanes gave Taylor Swift one of his jerseys. [Puck Daddy]
Jeff Skinner of the Caroline Hurricanes gave Taylor Swift one of his jerseys. [Puck Daddy]
Also, her lyrics about women’s hockey would be wonderful. JUST IMAGINE: “Schelling sat in goal/The night that we grew cold/The Beauts were all shut out/And the cheers from the crowd/Hid/MY BROKEN HEAAAART”.

It’s practically destiny.

THE BUFFALO BEAUTS: RETTA

Retta in an NHL Stadium series hat and hoodie. [Twitter]
Retta in an NHL Stadium series hat and hoodie. [Twitter]
Retta already likes hockey, so that part of the battle is won. Retta is also legitimately famous and cool, and thus could withstand the OVERWHELMING hockey-bro lameness that is the Beauts’ name. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but lesser celebs would crumble under the weight of it, and instantly become scraggly-haired microbrew-sporting whiners who think ESPN should be all NHL, all the time. Retta will ELEVATE the Beauts. Also, Buffalo is right by Niagara and there’s booze there, right? And Retta enjoys partying with NHL players. Buffao should recruit Poulin and then she and Retta can go drinking, and probably world peace and the restoration of at least 3 extinct species will result. Foolproof!

THE CONNECTICUT WHALE: ELLEN PAGE

Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard at a LA Kings game. [PopSugar]
Ellen Page is a lez and you know I need one of my own rooting for the NWHL. Also, Ellen Page has SOLID indie appeal, and the Whale are already clearly angling for the kind of audience that loathes relocated franchises and Budweiser and any band that doesn’t have at least 2 acoustic EPs. She can bring ASkars, like she apparently did to LA Kings games. Basically all I know about ASkars is that he wasn’t allowed to party with the rest of the Generation Kill cast because he kept trying to fight people about soccer, which leads me to think he’d be GREAT at supporting hockey. Plus he’s Swedish and could probably start a riot because people thought he was Nick Lidstrom. It’s a package deal and it will instantly make the Whale the best Whale-colors-or-logo having team in the greater New England area.

THE BOSTON PRIDE: SYDNEY LEROUX

“Wow Elena,” you might be saying, “this is kind of a loaded choice, given that the only city the NWHL is putting a team in that competes with the CWHL is Boston, former home of Boston-Breaker-turned-Seattle-Reign player Sydney Leroux, who once made every single human being in Canada cry tears of bitter abandonment because she chose to play for the US Women’s National Team and win things and be among luminaries of our time like American Hero Abby Wambach, rather than play with several maple trees and Christine Sinclair on the CANWNT.”

To which I reply, are you accusing me of making jokes about Canada? I would never! Also, you forgot about Noted Head-Stomper Christine Tancredi.

Sydney Leroux celebrated a goal against Canada by kissing the badge on her jersey and hushing the booing crowd. [National Post]
Sydney Leroux celebrated a goal against Canada by kissing the badge on her jersey and hushing the booing crowd. [National Post]
But seriously, nationalism aside, Sydney Leroux used to play in Boston! And she’s spoken to Hilary Knight AT LEAST ONCE (MAYBE TWICE????) so that means she’s a huge hockey fan, right? RIGHT!


Please root for the Pride, Sydney Leroux. Also please win the Women’s World Cup this year, thanks a million.

NWHL: I Guess We Need A Blog Post About This

Let’s begin this by getting people up to speed on the National Women’s Hockey League/NWHL if they aren’t already. Zoë Hayden has a roundup of links here, along with some valuable commentary.

My first reaction to the NWHL was suspicion. What can I say? I’ve been burned before, especially with women’s sports. Minor and women’s sports leagues are a magnent for hucksters – people who have a plan or a dream that may or may not have ideological purity, but definitely doesn’t have a solid financial plan beneath it. It want to say that upfront because I’m not in this to be a Debbie Downer; it’s just that I also have been through the cycle of elation and dissolution before, as a fan.

I’d like to see the NWHL succeed. I think they’re already outpacing the CWHL in terms of monetary plans and goals, in part because they seem to be approaching building a league from a model grounded more in minor-league business practices than collective-funding business practices, like the NWSL or the WNBA has utilized. The NWSL and WNBA, though their funding comes from different sources, are both under the auspices of larger organizations (national teams and the NBA, respectively), and that grants them the kind of geographic range that the CWHL has attempted, while having nowhere near the level of support from hockey organizations.

But as much as I hope the NWHL will create competition and force the CWHL to also be better, I have some concerns. Rylan’s five-year plan sounds interesting, but launching in the fall with 20% of funding secured now doesn’t seem that much different from the CWHL’s whole “we’ll pay players eventually” bit – though obviously in the US, rather than Canada-and-Boston. Additionally, the NWHL’s social media presence & media availability – both key to running a modern sports league at pretty much any level – does not yet look particularly good. The logos are good, but it remains to be seen if good logos and smart marketing can overcome the reality of a swamped region with tons of teams in varying sports at varying skill levels. X-Files style, I want to believe, but that doesn’t always translate into a league actually working.

Anyway, I’d like to see the NWHL go far, and hopefully eventually absorb or be absorbed by the CWHL. I think it’s easy for people to forget that tons of leagues in North America have started up and failed and merged with one another in the history of men’s sports. Major league sports was not always a “succeed right away or be forever jeered at” kind of venture, and the expectation that women’s leagues be out-of-the-gate on a level, funding- and publicity-wise, with men’s leagues, is wildly unrealistic. Starting small and regional is smart.

(An aside: I’ve seen a lot of “this is so discourteous and disrespectful!” stuff re: the NWHL forming with a team in Boston. The Blades’ relationship with the CWHL as a whole is less than rosy right now. They do not get even their equipment covered 100%, as far as anyone can tell. The CWHL has shown a distinct lack of interest in expanding in the US or even providing equitable funding and treatment for the Blades, so I don’t think the NWHL – or Blades players – owe them much of anything as far as respectfully abstaining from Boston competition. We’ll see what happens with the Blades, but either way, I don’t think women’s sports leagues need to be held to a different standard of competition and capitalism than the rest of the world.)

NOW, A WISH LIST:

  • Please, NWHL, market fun hockey. Market a good atmosphere. Do not do the CWHL’s route of charity-project, role-models, love-of-the-game stuff. There is nothing wrong with being role models, but emphasis on the games being a fun time would also be nice. Hockey is fun, watching it is fun, please approach selling your product from this angle.
  • I’d like to see some kind of minimum salary. If it’s not feasible right away, it should be part of the five-year plan. It’s massively unequitable to just say “players can negotiate their own salaries”, for obvious reasons; Hilary Knight’s agent is probably better at negotitation than a less well known player’s.
  • Please make merch readily available. Recruit people who know what The Youth want to wear & carry. Sell it on accessible websites with cheap shipping. Sports merch from lesser-known teams is absolutely a status symbol among young hockey fans. Take advantage of this.
  • SIGN MARIE-PHILIP POULIN TO PLAY IN BOSTON THIS IS A REASONABLE REQUEST
  • Poach Florence Schelling. Do it!
  • Don’t collapse in 5 years due to bad marketing and infighting and a general inability and unwillingness to be creative in business models and draw from other minor leagues’ experiences

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll think of others. In the meantime, I’m gonna slink back into my cube with my eyes to the sky. I WANT TO BELIEVE.

Dear USA Hockey: What’s The Deal With Women’s Worlds?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but USA Hockey is run by a barrel of baby monkeys, right? Ha ha, jokes! It’s clearly a barrel of confused human babies.

No, but seriously. Why isn’t Women’s Worlds being televised? The IIHF’s everything with women’s hockey has been baffling for a long time, I’ll grant you that. Their website design is subpar and finding any info on syndication of women’s games and so on is incredibly difficult. But that’s a gripe that’s pretty common with most women’s sports; there’s not nearly the incentive to sink money and time into making information readily accessible. Women’s sports are undervalued, blah blah. That’s not new. USA Hockey waffling so thoroughly on women’s games might also not be exactly new, but the Women’s U-18 games were streamed by USA Hockey, and Canada is televising games – and has been advertising that they’re televising them, even! So again: what’s the deal?

I understand that sports in general and hockey in particular loves being closed-mouthed like nobody’s business, but boy would some communication be good on this. In no small part because right now I’m left with some questions, such as:

  • Is USA Hockey aware that Women’s World’s is one of the only plus-18 international competitions that Americans can be remotely relied upon to win? Sure, referring to a national team as being reliable in that context is kind of messed up, but let’s be honest: USA Hockey wants to be Hockey Canada, with all the almost-monopoly over gold medals that that implies. Lack of competition sucks for the losers, but it only hurts the winners in the very long run. So, with that being established, why wouldn’t you at least stream – if not televise – games? At the very least, you’re not then sending talented girls who might get into hockey the unequivocal message of “no one cares and you should probably play a sport more people care about, like soccer or basketball”.
  • Is investment in women’s hockey at all a priority for USA Hockey? I know we talk about the CWHL a lot, but that’s really only part of the development puzzle. Women’s Worlds has been streamed in the past; is this new lack of streaming an indication that USA Hockey is going to step away from supporting their fastest-growing segment of players? I’ve met basically no one who had any hand in the public side of a business who thought that decisions about when and how to publicize their product didn’t affect the business, so again, I have to ask: is this the first step in removing investment from the women’s game? I’d be honestly surprised if it were – I personally think someone just dropped the ball – but by not saying a word about why they’re not streaming the games, USA Hockey is almost guaranteeing people are going to be wondering if they’re moving in a different direction.
  • Who is pancaking on this, USA Hockey? Why did a blogger (thanks, @gabfun) announce that the games wouldn’t be streamed instead of, I don’t know, an intern posting to an official twitter? This is a gripe I have at my inglorious office job as well as in the blogging world, so I get that this isn’t a USA Hockey-specific problem, but it’s just not that hard to put a line of text on the internet, almost anywhere on the internet, saying whether or not games will be accessible and if so, where to stream them. Women’s sports fans are decent at Google, okay? We kind of have to be. So throw us a bone.

The only thing I can think of is that there’s some kind of dispute that has led to USA Hockey publicizing NCAA women’s hockey on their Twitter, but not a tournament they’re directly involved in. But if that’s the case, then again, where are the professionals communicating access to fans in a way that doesn’t signal that something’s up?

My impression of hockey culture in general is that the overall culture is very do-it-yourself, rah-rah-pond-hockey. That culture, when applied to women’s hockey – a subset of the sport that very much does need support without the guarantee of profit the considerably older NHL carries – can be difficult to navigate. I might disagree with the CWHL not openly calling for volunteers and organizing and utilizing the talent of their fans, but I at least understand some of the rationale behind it. But I do not understand, at all, USA Hockey being so totally close-mouthed about Women’s Worlds. I have a FastHockey account specifically because I wanted to watch the tournament two years ago. Not saying anything and acting like no one’s paying attention to the tournament, when players are talking about it on Twitter and people like me want to watch them play, comes across as flat-out disrespectful.

All of us are aware that women’s hockey is not the most profitable business venture in the world. But either USA Hockey should commit to their players, and their product, and give what fans there are info – or they should own up to their comprehensive lack of interest in female players. It’s ten kinds of annoying to be presented with such a fundamental lack of information about one of the biggest tournaments for women’s hockey in the world. To be blunt and slightly NSFW: quit dicking us around, USA Hockey.