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.