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. ZoĆ« 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.

2 thoughts on “NWHL: I Guess We Need A Blog Post About This”

  1. I’d love to get Noora Raty. If she joined the Riveters, you’d have to pry that jersey off of me with a crowbar on weekends.

    Excellent point that Hilary Knight (and Julie Chu, and a few others) would have a much greater advantage than most when it comes to negotiation. I’d like to see a league minimum.

    The idea that women should play for exposure and love of the game, not money, is offensive. Coffee before the game and nice clothes for appearances and equipment cost money. A championship goal scorer should not have to beg for sticks and agonize over donating her game-winning stick to a hall of fame, as Janine Weber just did. A star player should not be blessed out for trying to sell tickets over social media, as Knight was. (When that happened, I wondered if the CWHL’s plan was to hope players had large families or married rich.) I admit that I’ve said “Those CWHL women work their butts off for nothing!” when NHL stars get whiny about their salaries. But there’s a difference between the greed sometimes seen in the NHL and wanting to be able to pay rent on time.

    Lastly, I also hope that it’s marketed more as entertainment for adults than role models for young girls. Done right, it’ll give young girls something to aspire to anyway. Many people like myself are childless, and college-age fans usually don’t have children. I’d like to see some spikiness, too–give me your ugly rivalries, your trash talkers, your screaming and shoving harpies, your polarizing divas yearning to breathe free! Of course, I really want all that on the ice, not against the CWHL…

    1. I really do want a league that has more than kids as their target market, definitely. I like the family friendly aspect of the CWHL, and wouldn’t want to entirely lose that– but I also love the family friendly aspect of the Minnesota Wild, and they still talk up how great the hockey is before how great a role model their players are. There’s a balance to be found there, and I don’t like the way the CWHL has decided to do theirs.

      Also, yeah, I like what we’ve seen so far of player expectations from the NWHL– none of this requiring full time job type commitments and perfect in the media while not paying the players thing the CWHL is doing. They appear to be trying to set expectations better– players are expected to be paid part time and have another job, a shorter season, etc. We don’t know how that will play out yet, but I’m hopeful it won’t involve, say, requiring players to pay in for a championship and then dressing them down publicly over how they decide to raise that money.

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