The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) kicked off a multi-city tour in Toronto this weekend called the Dream Gap Tour. Two hundred female athletes are competing in this multi-city tour that makes stops in Toronto (Sept. 21-22), New Hampshire (Oct. 4-6) and then ends in Chicago (Oct. 18-20). There will also be stops in Boston and San Jose along the way.
Ultimately, the point of the tour is to put out a product that inspires girls to play hockey. In the press release announcing the event, the overarching comment was that a league doesn’t exist that puts the talent of women’s hockey on display and pays them a livable wage to do so. They state that boys growing up get to see the NHL and the success that those players have but the female equivalent doesn’t truly exist yet.
“This is a year of purpose for every member of the Players Association. Young hockey players – boys and girls – should be able to share a dream of one day making a living as a professional hockey player,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield, captain of the U.S. National Hockey Team in the press release. “That reality doesn’t exist today for girls. Together, we are on a mission to change that.”
Exhibition Games Have Top Stars
The Dream Gap Tour has the buy-in of some of the biggest athletes in the sport of women’s hockey. Expected participants include Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Kendal Coyne Schofield, and many more of the sports best. As a whole, the exhibition game set up is rather cool with there being four teams captained by Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Liz Knox, and Marie-Phillip Poulin.
The PWHPA doesn’t stand alone in this effort either. On Friday, Sept. 20, the NHLPA announced alongside the PWHPA that they support their efforts. The NHLPA joined the PWHPA’s efforts as a “premier partner” with an NHLPA patch to be worn on jerseys during the exhibition games and in their gala in Toronto. Don Fehr, the Executive Director of the NHLPA, noted the importance that having a successful women’s product is to the sport of hockey.
Seeing the NHLPA stand with the PWHPA is a solid gesture and ultimately the right thing to do. Some have called on the NHL to do more in its financial support in backing the NWHL. The NHL does provide some financial backing to the league but does not go all out as the NBA does with the WNBA.
Why Does this Matter?
The goal of equal pay in women’s sports has been a hot button topic over the years. The highest-profile case has been the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) in the soccer world. TheUSWNT has an ongoing court case against the United States Soccer Federation in an effort to get a bigger slice of the revenue pie given their success on the field.
Currently, one of the largest women’s hockey leagues in North America, the NWHL, took a step forward for their upcoming season in terms of player compensation. Back in May, it was announced that the league would offer a 50-50 split of sponsor revenue to its players. That development occurred two weeks after 200 female hockey players announced they would not play in North America for the upcoming season.
Even with that development in the NWHL, the Dream Gap Tour has marched on. The NWHL hasn’t shown an ability to provide a sustainable business model and that is a point that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees with. Part of the concern for Bettman and the NHL is the league hadn’t provided enough confidence in their business model to be worthy of a full backing.
Growing and sustaining a professional sports league is incredibly difficult to do. Even in pro-football leagues, the Alliance of American Football League folded rather quickly despite having an impressive amount of fanfare surrounding it. Building a league from the ground up takes resources and a lot of them. There have been success stories like the NWHL expansion team the Minnesota Whitecaps. Back in January, NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan told ESPNW that Minnesota was the first team in the league to actually turn a profit.
One League with Proper Backing
Fans care about the sport of hockey, so making games accessible to fans is critical to the success of any franchise. The bottom line is the creation of this tour and movement was the result of years of sub-par pay and the desire to change the sport for the better. I think the question is, should the NHL be tasked to do more – to back a league like the NBA backs the WNBA.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced on July 2 that they would be ceasing operation of the league after twelve seasons. In their release, they talked about how the founding of the NWHL hurt their growth but also about the “one league” solution. They noted that the notion created more instability within their league. But a one league solution is the way to go. There aren’t two NHL’s and there is a reason for that.
But with the folding of the CWHL, it does provide the chance for a true one league solution in North America. The best thing for the sport at this point in time is for the NWHL and the PWHPA to come together and figure out a way to work as one. If that is not possible then the NHL should step in and utilize their resources to put together a women’s hockey league that has both longevity and the talent to boot.