CWHL leading talks about the future of women’s hockey with NWHL, NHL

Rumor earlier this week on Twitter was that the NWHL and the CWHL would be meeting in New York City to talk with the NHL. On Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015, a press release was sent out from the CWHL that indeed, the CWHL would be “leading a discussion this week with key stakeholders in the women’s game including the NHL and NWHL”.

This was, rumor aside, pretty out of the blue. The CWHL responded initially to the establishment of the NWHL with a somewhat icy announcement that they would be “taking all necessary steps and measures to protect its interests”. According to an August 16th, 2015 Periscope Q&A from the Boston Blades GM, Krista Patronick, neither the Blades or the NWHL’s Boston Pride had approached each other about steps towards partnership or cross-promotion. So, these talks were a bit of a different tune. Our first question was, what are these talks about? Partnering, merging, what?

According to a CWHL league representative who responded to our email, “The CWHL has instigated this meeting to talk about the future of our leagues and to ensure that what happens going forward is best for women’s hockey continued growth and success.”
While we reached out to the NWHL as well, they weren’t able to provide a comment on what the talks were about.

Neither league provided a comment on what the NHL’s role would be in these talks. It’s important to note that, while several individual CWHL teams (but not all) have partnerships with individual NHL teams, it is our understanding that there is not a partnership between the leagues. Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, went on the record last year to say that, although the NHL has looked into women’s hockey, they thought “the overall development at women’s hockey at the grassroots level through the college level isn’t at the point where a pro league is viable.” With that in mind, what is the role of the NHL in these talks? The CWHL referenced “key stakeholders in women’s hockey”, but while the NHL may have a stake in the growth of hockey in general, they are not formally committed to women’s hockey, or either professional women’s hockey league. Perhaps they are present as a mediator, or an advisor to the leagues?

The timing of these talks surprises me, so close to the beginning of the season for both the CWHL and the NWHL. As of now, hopeful as I am for them, the NWHL is an unproven league. While talks between the two leagues could be useful, to be honest, I’d prefer to see the CWHL focus on improving its own product– improving their branding, game information, streaming, paying their players, etc. We’ve already seen their steps in that direction with the Montreal Stars re-brand, and their change in social media and marketing director.