November 20 2016 09:00AM
If you Google the NWHL, its Wikipedia page comes up with (2015 - ) beside its name. If you Google the NHL, there’s no date beside it. This could mean absolutely nothing, but considering Friday’s events regarding the NWHL, it seems to be an eery reminder that the National Women’s Hockey League seemingly has an expiry date attached to it. While I realize this topic lacks the Oilers, I also think that the downfall of the first professional women’s hockey league that promised to pay its players is a topic that all hockey fans should be concerned about.
The hockey world is a business and women’s hockey doesn’t make any money. Tough words to swallow for some, but it’s nearly impossible to deny. My heart is heavy knowing that women have made another push to break a barrier and were forced to take another step backwards. If you look at the following article based on what you logically know the world to be, you will probably say, “Why should I care? The women’s game isn’t nearly as entertaining as the men’s and frankly, I don’t care about it.” And that’s a perfectly logical statement to respond with. But I’m urging you to step away from the idea that this world is essentially one large business transaction and think about the world from the perspective of someone who can be the absolute best at what he or she does, and have it still not be enough.
The current National Women’s Hockey League was founded by commissioner, Dani Rylan in March of 2014. The league, made up of the Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, and New York Riveters, saw its inaugural season take place last year. The big kicker? The female players were actually paid to play hockey during that season, a feat that had yet to be accomplished in the realm of women’s hockey in North America. But what about the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, you say? No pay cheques there, my inquisitive friends, only passion for the game and the chance to be difference-makers for our continent’s female youth.
Despite the fact that the salaries only ranged from $10,000 - $26,000 , the NWHL committed to paying their athletes, making it easier to get import players, covering equipment costs, and giving the athletes a pay cheque for their services to the game. Something the CWHL has never committed to doing... yet.
Ashley Johnston, Captain of the New York Riveters, comments upon hearing the news of the salary cuts
Late Thursday evening the news broke that the NWHL would no longer be able to pay their players the amount each contract originally stated. While Rylan hasn’t confirmed nor denied this, it is reported that the already measly pay cheques will be cut in half . Business did not go on as usual, attendance is down at games, and the league is no longer able to pay their players the amount inked on paper less than two months ago.
What’s the Big Deal?
So a women’s hockey league turned out not to be sustainable. Who cares? We’ve still got “real” hockey, am I right? While I am joking, that could’ve passed as a completely viable statement for some that may not have even gotten this far in the article. And that’s been a sad reality for the NWHL, unfortunately.
I’m no mathematician but if the league minimum was originally set at $10,000 (the NHL’s 2016 league minimum is $575,000, in case you were wondering) and that salary is being cut in half, that would mean that these players are making as little as $5,000 per season. Barf. I feel like I could make $5,000 being a webcam girl (sorry, just a joke to lighten the mood). Anyway, these women deserve better. The little girls dreaming about the day they’ll lace up their skates in their first professional hockey game deserve better. Every woman on the planet deserves better.
“Hey, Kyla, stop feminist-ing at me.” Sorry, I have to do it. I’ve been a female for 24 years now and it would be silly if I wasn’t on the side of my own gender, right? Follow me here for a second. If you have a mother, a sister, a niece, a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife… you should probably care, too. While this particular incident is directly related to hockey, we shouldn't ignore the societal implications. Let me break this down as best I can:
- NHL players make millions of dollars a season to play a game they love. Fans spend thousands of dollars a season on tickets to watch a game they love. The NHL’s revenue is astronomical because men play hockey and we throw money at them.
- NWHL players make thousands (barely) of dollars a season to play a game they love. Fans spend (maybe) hundreds of a dollars a season to watch a game they love. The NWHL’s revenue is peanuts because we don't value women's hockey as highly and we don’t throw money at them.
I’m not going to tell you that women’s hockey is on the same level as men’s hockey, because it simply isn’t. I’m also not going to tell you that I believe it ever will be on the same level, because it won't be. I will tell you that I believe it deserves to be supported on a much higher level than it is right now. But, this will never happen if the state of the women’s game stays as it is right now.
What needs to change?
I’m not sure there’s anything that frustrates me more than seeing the talent, dedication, passion, and willpower of the female athletes competing in this sport, yet seeing little to no progression in terms of recognition and pay. While I am not in any way claiming that I am aware of how to run a successful business/league, here are some points to be considered:
Combine the two female professional hockey leagues in North America. Women have a hard enough time having to prove that they deserve to compete in sport as it is, why the hell does North America have two leagues competing against each other? While I understand there are “business-related” reasons for the two leagues, something needs to be done to combine the two so that women’s hockey has its best chance at being viable.
The NHL needs to step up. Apparently, the NHL has said that it doesn’t want to choose sides between the two leagues and the partnerships we see between some NHL teams and CWHL teams are entirely due to that specific team’s desires. Maybe if the two leagues combine, the NHL wouldn’t have to pick sides. The NHL could pump some money (because, you know, they don’t have enough) and promotion into the women’s game and we may see it grow like the WNBA has. But this would require Bettman releasing his greedy little fingers from his mad stacks of cash.
Sports networks also need to step up. Women’s hockey needs to be televised on a more regular basis than just the Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup finals. Let’s get some broadcast deals in progress for these women. ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO TELL ME THAT BROADCASTING POKER AND DARTS GETS YOU MORE VIEWERS, TSN and SPORTSNET? And if you are (which is very possible) then I fold on that last line but also shake my head at people who would rather watch cards than women playing hockey.
Give it a chance. Will you be as entertained by women’s hockey as you are with the men’s style that you’re used to? You might be pleasantly surprised by the level of hockey you witness. These women are the best in the world and we should start throwing some support their way. Maybe then some of the dollars can follow.
Like I said, I’m no expert on the workings of a hockey league, I can barely put a budget together myself, but I do know that something needs to change so that female hockey players and little girls with dreams can finally feel like they matter. If you’re a woman, or a man with a woman in your life, you shouldn’t sit back and be okay with what this pay cut means to this league. These women are at the pinnacle of their sport and they’ve had to work just as hard to be paid a thousand times less (my math MAY not be correct on that one) than their male counterparts. What is this saying to the women of this world? That you can be the master of your craft, but never receive proper recognition because there’s always going to be men who are better at it than you are. Get outta here, world.
For the sake of the women in your life, give some of your time to encourage, validate, and make these incredible women who have to fight harder than their male counterparts feel like they are worthy. Hockey may just be a game, but the discrepancy we see in this sport speaks volumes to the change we should hope to see in the world.