More than 200 women’s hockey players, including Canadian and American national team stars such as Hilary Knight, Marie-Philip Poulin, Shannon Szabados and Kendall Coyne-Schofield, have come together in an effort to forever change the course of professional women’s hockey, and it could mean there is no top-level pro women’s hockey played next season.
In a statement released Thursday, one day after the CWHL officially ceased operations, the players said they have joined forces in an effort to “leave this game in better shape than when we entered it,” adding that it is “time to create a sustainable professional league for Women’s Hockey.” In an effort to do so, the 200-plus players said they are willing sit out the entire 2019-20 season.
“We will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves,” the statement reads. “We may have represented different teams, leagues, and countries – but this sport is one family. And the time is now for this family to unite. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for – our moment to come together and say we deserve more. It’s time for a long-term viable professional league that will showcase the greatest product of women’s professional hockey in the world.”
The question is what those resources would look like, what exactly it is that the women’s players are seeking in a professional league. Said Liz Knox, who was co-chair of the CWHL Players Association, one of the primary desires is a livable wage.
“What can I live on in Toronto, reasonably? What can I make that I can live off of that? So I can train in my time away from the rink, carry proper nutrition and all these things that professional athletes inherently are expected to do?” Knox said. “I could tell you right now, I work full-time. I took the day off work today because I knew that this media blitz was coming. I’m in my recruit training for firefighting, I’m on the (CWHLPA) and I was a professional hockey player. We’re burning the candle at all ends here, and if we want to see professional hockey for women as professional, then we shouldn’t be doing all of this. It should be: show up to the rink, get the job done and go home. That’s what we want. A livable wage is, what, $50,000? We’re not asking for millions.”
Earning such a wage ties into another desire of the women’s players as well, which is greater broadcasting visibility. Last season, including the Clarkson Cup final, there were only a handful of CWHL games broadcast on national television. The competing NWHL broadcast its games on YouTube. “There’s a cause and effect,” Knox said. “Broadcasting needs to be there, and it needs to be a platform that (advertisers, investors and sponsors) are excited to put their name on…We’re not visible right now and I think that’s part of the huge reservation of people right now to invest in women’s hockey. At the same time, hopefully that would generate the revenue and the interest that we would need to live sustainably off of these salaries.”
So, what comes next?
For starters, the NWHL followed Thursday’s announcement with a statement that it has no plans to shut its doors. The league announced its plans for the upcoming season continue and that following discussions with the NWHL Players Association, the NWHL is “offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media-rights deals.” The league also stated that it “respects the wishes of all players to consider their options, and they know we are always available to meet, to participate in open communication addressing their concerns and exchanging ideas, and to collaborate with the players on one league.”
In addition, with the NWHL still in operation, the NHL will not be getting involved further at this time. According to Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, “The NWHL is an existing organization with a business and futures plans. We have always supported their objective of creating a professional option for elite women’s hockey players. And we have no interest in, or intention of, interfering with those plans. So, I don’t anticipate any further reaction or announcement from the NHL pending us understanding the situation better, including plans for next steps.”
However, there are options on the table for the women’s players. Speaking with Rutherford earlier this week, Knox said proposals had been made to the players made from a few different investors. But what the players don’t want, she added, is to simply create another competition between two leagues and run into the same problem as they did this past season with the CWHL. So, for now, they’ll wait.
“This gives us some time and gives us the resources…to say, 'OK, what are the options that are presented to us? What do you like about them? What do you not like about them?' ” Knox said. “Let’s start really taking ownership of our future rather than just saying, ‘Well, this seems like a good option, let’s try it.’ We’ve tried. We’ve tried a lot of things to this point. We want to make one more decision and have that make hockey history.”