On Thursday, May 2, over 200 of the world’s most talented female hockey players announced their intention to refrain from playing professional hockey in North America during the 2019-20 season. Their reasoning is straightforward: to establish a single women’s professional hockey league in North America that is sustainable long-term. This comes on the heels of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League disbanding after 12 seasons due to financial instability. The league’s collapse left one league, the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League, as the only option for female hockey players to play professionally in North America.
Seeking the NHL’s Support
But even though the NWHL has already announced it’s expanding by two teams and is committed to employing former CWHL players, many feel that the NWHL’s economic structure will result in the league’s demise in the future. This has led to many believing that the only way for women’s professional hockey to be sustainable long-term is with the NHL’s financial backing.
This isn’t a new idea: the NBA financially backed the WNBA from the start and Major League Soccer has backed the National Women’s Soccer League and now five NWSL teams have direct affiliates with MLS franchises. Both operate in the model of European sports leagues where multiple teams play under the same franchise name. Unfortunately, so far the NHL hasn’t wanted to get involved beyond donating $50,000 per year to each league when both were operating. They gave the NWHL $100,000 after the CWHL discontinued operations.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated in the past that he doesn’t want to get the league involved until there is only one women’s league. Well since the CWHL’s collapse, people are wondering where the NHL is, and part of the reason the boycott is occurring is to get the NHL’s attention in order to get financial support. When the CWHL was operating, players earned as little as $2,000 per year and had to pay for their own health insurance. It’s not much better in the NWHL, where salaries are as low as $10,000. The boycott announcement specifically addressed the desire to earn a living wage so that they can train at the highest possible level.
With over 200 of the world’s top female hockey players participating, including Americans Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canadians Shannon Szabados and Marie-Philip Poulin, the boycott has received attention, both inside and outside the hockey world. In addition to numerous hockey writers retweeting the news of the boycott, female athletes like Billie Jean King have tweeted out messages of support, getting behind the #FORTHEGAME hashtag.
Perhaps even more notable is that the movement has garnered the support of Bauer Hockey, which has endorsement deals with Knight and Poulin. Mary-Kay Messier, Bauer’s VP of Global Marketing and sister of Mark Messier, tweeted out a message supporting the women’s decision to boycott and calling on the NHL to support a women’s league.
Finally, the boycott announcement has even caught the attention of the NHL. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly put out a statement: “We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps.” While that may not seem like a big deal, it’s a large step in potentially establishing a financially viable women’s hockey league. Hopefully it’s only the first step in many towards women having the same opportunity to play professional hockey as men.