SBJ/March 13-19, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Hockey league sees mixed results in second year

The National Women’s Hockey League’s second season was marked by both progress and setbacks, but those involved with the league are confident in the path ahead.

By several measures, the league’s second season, with its championship game scheduled for March 19, was a bigger success than year one — it brought its All-Star Game to a non-league market in Pittsburgh where the game sold out, and viewership of the league’s games nearly tripled on YouTube to more than 14,000 a game. The NWHL announced that it would return for a third season earlier this year.

However, the league was slow to progress in some areas. It was unable to secure another major sponsor besides Dunkin’ Donuts, which it signed in December 2015. Attendance across the league declined to an average of about 750 tickets sold per game compared with a 1,000 a year before, albeit partly because of a move to smaller venues (which produced more sellouts in the second season). Because of those factors, the league cut salaries by more than a third, a reduction that was originally higher before Dunkin’ Donuts pledged additional funds. League salaries had ranged from $10,000 to $26,000.

“It’s been a challenging year, but it’s been a year that I think has advanced our sport and league,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan. “Every startup business is going to learn a lot, and I think we continue to evolve to try to change the landscape of professional women’s hockey.”

One of the league’s frustrations has been around the lack of sponsorship deals. Rylan said while there has been interest in the ideals of the league and what it stands for, many have waited for its reach to expand, something she said is happening now.

The league is open to sponsorship ideas that the NHL has shied away from, such as jersey advertisements or even naming rights to the league. “We’re not out there looking for men’s-league-sized deals,” Rylan said.

Anya Battaglino, the director of the NWHLPA and a Connecticut Whale player, said the league’s players remain committed to the NWHL but have become frustrated that more companies have been slow to get on board with the league. “It’s frustrating as that support is one of the biggest keys to our success,” she said. “I think more companies need to know how committed we are to this league, and to those that support it.”

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