New Movement on the Ice: PWHL Skyrockets to Success
By Caroline Potter
Up until this year, there were no professional hockey leagues for females, a disparity greatly contributing to gender inequality within sports. As the growth of U.S. hockey skyrockets, a new all-female hockey league is finally underway. The first-of-its-kind Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) kicked off its inaugural season on New Year’s Day with a matchup between Toronto and New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre, the former arena of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tennis legend and women’s sport advocate Billie Jean King was in attendance for the ceremonial puck alongside over 2,500 excited fans. From its early success to widespread support, the PWHL has already reached unprecedented heights and shedding light on the importance of women’s sports in America.
Mapping Out the League
The PWHL features six teams with 3 in the United States and 3 in Canada. American teams include PWHL New York, Boston, and Minnesota, while the Canadian teams include PWHL Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Each team’s respective cities already possess the infrastructure with established NHL teams and arenas. Games will take place in the men’s arenas, in addition to some junior and minor league venues.
Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter and his wife Kimbra bring the financial backing: they bought and dissolved the Premier Hockey Federation last year, using the new assets to launch the PWHL. Walter’s group claims the league’s creation will unify women’s hockey under one league, making the sport more viable and professional. With the support of the NHL behind them, the PWHL looks to secure long-term success with the expansion of additional franchises in the future.
The PWHL’s season-opener drew 2.9M viewers in Canada alone and was the highest viewed sports program that day on TNT, CBC, and Sportsnet. Engagement spanned to streaming services as well, with the first several games garnering over 130K views on YouTube. The league has also inked broadcasting deals with Sportsnet and CBC/Radio-Canada, as well as more regional partnerships in the United States with Bally Sports North and MSG Networks. Easily-accessible PWHL game broadcasts are a win for league growth, as it allows for games to reach new audiences across North America.
Attendance records serve as another measure of early success and public interest. With each game, attendance figures soar, often surpassing previous records. Since the season began, total attendance has exceeded 100,000 fans, reflecting a growing enthusiasm among supporters. This surge in fan attendance has prompted the consideration of larger venues. For instance, the upcoming matchup between Toronto and Montreal is scheduled to be held at the 20,000-seat Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The transition from smaller arenas to potentially filling NHL-sized venues underscores the undeniable success of this emerging professional women’s league.
The sponsorships within the PWHL are certainly abundant, too. The premier partner of the PWHL is Air Canada, which serves as the official airline of the league. In addition, Air Canada reserves the right for intellectual property of the league, as well as jersey branding rights for PWHL Montreal. Other official sponsors jumping on board include Bauer, CCM Hockey, Discover, and UPS. Inking deals with Bauer and CCM Hockey, two of the most recognizable brands in all of hockey, indicates the female league’s backing on a commercial level. As for apparel and merchandise, the PWHL partnered with Line Change, a female-owned clothing brand. Line Change already has several partnerships within the NHL and AHL, and now they’re ready to hit the ground running with the PWHL. Co-founder of Line Change Julie Petry says it’s “synergistic” to work with a league who is promoting women’s hockey, and believes the goal of the PWHL is “perfectly aligned” with Line Change’s mission.
NHL All-Star Weekend
After this month’s NHL All-Star Weekend, several of PWHL’s star players gained even more attention as they participated in a 3-on-3 showcase. This is not the first time female players have been invited to participate in All-Star events– they’ve placed high in All-Star competitions like fastest skater and accuracy shooting. But this year’s 2024 All-Star game marks the first time women were given their own main event, and the players did not disappoint! Ottawa defender Savannah Harmon stole the show with a hat trick and two assists to lift her team to a 5-3 win. Harmon’s teammates celebrated her historic moment by throwing their gloves on the ice. Players all expressed their gratitude for the opportunity but mentioned their hunger for more. With a stage like this, the PWHL seized the moment to show off their impressive skills and their infectious passion for the game.
The surge in exposure and fan interest surrounding women's hockey presents an exciting opportunity for the sport's growth. Players like Hilary Knight, who gained fame through her impactful debut with Team USA, exemplify the immense potential within the league. Her partnerships with renowned brands like Nike, Chipotle, and Visa further signify the commercial viability of women's hockey players and the commitment of industry stakeholders. With a trajectory mirroring that of women's basketball and soccer, the future is bright for the league and its players. As the season progresses, we eagerly anticipate the rise of new stars, cementing women's hockey's place in the sporting landscape.