Written by: Jack Lyons (@jmlyons94)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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With the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up this summer in Montreal, women’s sports will certainly get an increase in coverage. Certainly, women’s soccer is one of the more popular professional sports on the women’s side, but a recent development in the world of hockey has the future of women’s professional hockey looking very bright.
For a long time, college hockey was the end of the road for female hockey players, and it remains so for the majority of them, even some of the more talented. While the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, or CWHL, offered a small number of openings for the top players, the pickings were slim with only 6 teams. Europe has also provided options, but playing overseas is a big decision, one that many of the players in college I’ve spoken to are hesitant to make.
However, this winter, the founding of the National Women’s Hockey League was announced and it looks to revolutionize the way women’s hockey is played professionally. The CWHL does not pay its players nor does it provide players with equipment. The NWHL, however, will carry a salary cap of $270,000 per team, allowing an average salary of around $15,000 per player. Yes, it’s a far cry from the roughly $71 million that the projected salary cap will be for the NHL in 2015-2016 (the same season the NWHL will begin operations), but it’s also much better than the options presented by the CWHL.
The league will begin with 4 teams, the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, and the New York Riveters. The idea of a pro hockey team back in Hartford is certainly intriguing and Buffalo fans are well known as some of the most dedicated. Boston already has an NHL team, the Bruins, and a CWHL team, the Blades, who recently captured the CWHL championship. The New York Riveters could probably find enough fans among the ten million in New York City.
As women’s sports, and hockey in particular, continue to grow, the fan base should continue to grow as well. The issue the NWHL is faced with is the same one the CWHL has faced; support from the NHL. While Gary Bettman and his henchmen are not well liked by the NHL (probably for the three lockouts that have occurred in his tenure that cost two full seasons and a lot of money), the NWHL provides an excellent opportunity to grow the game of hockey, increase revenue and give fans even more teams and even more exciting hockey to watch.
Bettman & Co. could have done this by supporting the CWHL financially and strategically, allowing the league to grow and become a viable partner, much like the NBA did with the WNBA, but he has yet to do so. The NWHL provides Bettman with a second chance to help grow the women’s side of professional hockey and turn it into a viable business partner and viable professional sports league, something women’s hockey and women’s hockey players have been wanting for a while.
However, the NWHL isn’t something that should be viewed purely as a potential business venture for the NHL. Its value extends far beyond that. The NWHL is really the first viable professional women’s hockey league in North America. The CWHL is great, but its inability to pay players or provide equipment is a drawback. The NWHL is not just a place for women to play after college. It’s a place to get paid to play and its impact on younger players has the potential to change North American women’s hockey. With a viable professional league to strive towards, upticks in participation from NCAA and Canadian colleges all the way down to five year olds can be expected. And that is the largest, and best, potential impact of all. Because, who doesn’t like more hockey?