CWHL Set to Expand in the United States to Minnesota?

Minnesota Golden Gophers (Eric Miller/Gopher Athletics)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (Eric Miller/Gopher Athletics)

Last season the Canadian Women’s Hockey League operated franchises in Montreal, Toronto, Brampton, Calgary and Boston. In recent ESPNW article Pat Borzi revealed that the cities that have put in bids for franchises for the 2014-15 CWHL season include Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and New York City.

By placing a franchise in Minneapolis the CWHL would have a great presence towards the Mid-Western United States. The new Minneapolis CWHL franchise would have eight NCAA women’s hockey programs nearby to draw talent from.

The states of Minnesota and Wisconsin have well established NCAA Women’s Hockey programs. Between the two states they combined to win the first 13 National Collegiate Women’s Hockey Championships. Only this past season was that streak broken by Clarkson University from the State New York. It would seem clear that Minnesota would potentially be the most sought after city by CWHL leadership. As well the Minnesota Whitecaps are an already established women’s hockey brand in the area.

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The next best location would be putting a franchise in New York City. There are an abundance of Women’s Hockey NCAA teams in the northeastern United States. New York City would be closest in close proximity to 10 of them. Granted New York is very close to Boston, however Boston would still be in closer proximity to 14 NCAA women’s hockey teams. So there should not be an issue in terms of competitive balance in the long term.

Will the CWHL expand twice in the same year?

The thought is that the CWHL would only want to expand to one city at a time. However the opportunity to add both Minneapolis and New York City at the same time may be one that they will consider. With all that being said it would be best to only expand by one team at a time. Trying to fill two more rosters beginning next season will only lead to a competitive imbalance in the short term and affect the quality of the league.

Heading into next season with Boston, Brampton (suburb of Toronto), Calgary, Minneapolis, Montreal and Toronto would be a big step forward for the league. A few years down the road New York City should be the next priority for a franchise if a bidder is still interested.

Below the red stars indicate current franchises and the black stars indicate where bids have been placed.

Current and potential Canadian Women's Hockey League franchise locations.
Current and potential Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchise locations.

Possibility of paying the players?

The CWHL is in a good position to add a franchise this coming year. They brought in $1.2 million in revenues last year, although most of that was via corporate sponsors in Canada. Putting another franchise in the United States will only help to bring in more corporate support from American sponsors.

The goal of CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress, as laid out during her interview with ESPNW, is to raise $3.2 million over the next 18 or so months. The thought is that amount would cover all expenses the league has and also allow them to pay players a salary of $15,000 per season. Still not at the level of a full-time salary but definitely a historical leap in the right direction.

What this illustrates is just how close the CWHL is to paying its players. With the current sponsors and revenues from last season the league is only $2 million away from playing it players to take the ice. There is a segment of people involved in the CWHL that would prefer to move towards paying the players prior to expanding to another franchise.

However an expansion to the United States may bring in more interest south of the border and play a key role in bringing more dollars towards the CWHL. Only time will tell which is the right course of action, but this truly is an exciting development for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and Women’s Hockey players everywhere.