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When It Comes To Women’s Hockey, The NHL Need To Do Better Or Worse Than A Token

A few days ago, a major story broke that the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) would be folding in total. That leaves the NWHL as the only women’s professional hockey league running in North America, and leaves a lot more questions than answers.

I’ve never really known where to stand when these discussions. On one side, at the end of the day all of sports are a business, or entertainment if you prefer, and a given league or team either succeeds in the market place or it doesn’t. There’s either interest or there isn’t.

On the other, that really only works in a completely fair marketplace, or in a vacuum one. Women’s sports as a whole deal with a lot of prejudice or myopia or fallacies, and hence has more to overcome than others. Although to counter that, we just watched the AAF turn into dust nearly instantly and it’s not like this nation has a small appetite for football.

Triangulating this debate, I guess, is that while sports and leagues are not and should not be a charity, there is something beyond dollars and cents to the continued growth, promotion, and coverage of women’s sports. As we know, in every facet of society, representation matters.

On the other side, having a job or being professional in whatever your chose vocation is not a right, and you can ask thousands if not millions of bloggers about that. Just because you happen to be among the best in the world at something doesn’t mean you’re entitled to make a living at it, even if your male counterparts do. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s kind of the way things are.

I can’t seem to do anything but stand at the nexus of where all these things meet, never leaning to one side or angle of it.

Women’s hockey has greater challenges than basketball or soccer. Women’s basketball has been in the nations consciousness longer, and both of those sports have greater participation at the youth level (though hockey continues to grow). While some would point to the popularity of the US and Canadian women’s team during the Olympics, even the men’s side can’t turn viewing numbers and following during the Olympics into something tangible for the league in which these players play afterward. What chance would the women have?

Another sharp end of these kinds of debates is where the NHL fits in and how involved or not involved it should be with a women’s league. It’s easy to point to the NBA’s involvement in the WNBA, but the NBA has a lot more money to play with and again, women’s basketball has a stronger base from which to work from. Women’s hockey’s base is getting stronger, but may never approach that.

Without getting a look at their books, it’s hard to know how much money the NHL has to set aside to either help, or totally fund, a WNHL as it were. Or just to do the same with the existing NWHL. What I do know is it’s probably more than this:

That’s $100K. That’s a little over $3,000 per team. In a league that just got $650M in expansion fees from Seattle, and isn’t too far removed from just about the same from Vegas, both totals the league didn’t have to share with the players in anything other than maybe salary. Except those fees weren’t included in the league’s revenue that’s subject to players salaries. Curious, no?

I don’t even know if this would qualify as a token gesture. This feels almost like the dude throwing a quarter out of his moving BMW at the homeless person next to the underpass off the Stevenson.

Again, I have no idea what NHL teams would have to give to a women’s league. This is a league where the Hawks still claim to lose money, but hey check out that new scoreboard next year! What I do know is that if you’re going to wade in and say you’re going to help, you have to do a lot better than this. Do or do not, there is no try.

What the NHL probably has to figure out is how much of an investment a women’s league is. Would cultivating a generation of young girls as fans help in 10-15 years? That might sound cold, but the correct things done for selfish reasons are certainly better than nothing at all. You have to believe that was the calculation, or in part was, the NBA made with the WNBA. And it’s been able to hang around long enough to be in a fairly strong position. Or much stronger than it was.

It’s hard to see where that kind of investment could hurt. Part of the NBA’s calculation wouldn’t work for the NHL, I don’t think, which is that they can run a WNBA season when the NBA isn’t playing and then maybe catch new fans in the fall and winter. Or give idling NBA fans something to do in the summer. Maybe hockey can work in the summer, but I tend to doubt it. And that’s based on nothing but feel.

Let’s just say you asked every NHL team for $500K. I’m just going to go ahead and say they have it. And I would imagine $15M for the NWHL would make a difference. Maybe not as much as I’d first guess, but a difference. Surely the publicity and the appearance is worth that to teams that are all valued at several hundred million?

Maybe that’s not enough, maybe the NHL doesn’t have that to give, maybe women’s hockey just isn’t going to work anytime soon. But I’m fairly sure we can do better than this.

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