Are The CWHL And NWHL Competing For The Same Dollars?

In a somewhat terse, ominous press release, the CWHL has commented on the announcement of the imminent draft and start of the National Women’s Hockey League.

Per the release:

It has come to the League’s attention that an organization called the NWHL has announced that it will begin operations in April of 2015. Rest assured, the CWHL is taking all necessary steps and measures to protect its interests. Please know that the CWHL, first and foremost, is committed to growing women’s hockey in both Canada and the United States. We have no further comment at this time but will provide updates as more information becomes available.

This is not the welcoming response that NWHL staff were likely hoping for, nor does it bode well for intra-league cooperation. While the CWHL could certainly marshal its considerable star power and experience in running a league to support the NWHL (after all, the CWHL just reached the not-inconsiderable hallmark of sponsorship of an NHL brother organization) it seems they have taken a different tack.

A lot of this might simply come down to dollars available, and the CWHL’s concern that it won’t get all the money available.

The CWHL appears to cater mainly to kids, and by getting children interested in the sport, bringing adult relatives in to games. It’s a long-sighted move, as by captivating children at a young age, they create lifelong fans of the sport.

However the CWHL is missing out on capitalizing on their older fans who have disposable income and a passion for the sport. This is where the NWHL comes in.

The NWHL’s marketing scheme appears aimed at young adults with logos they would find appealing, such as the New York Riveter’s logo, which features a Rosie the Riveter design, or the Connecticut Whale logo, which recalls nostalgia in Connecticut Whalers fans. And it works.  Fans who would otherwise have shown mild interest or even disinterest in a women’s pro league will drum up enough enthusiasm to purchase a jersey that reminds them of the team that left Hartford almost 20 years ago.

The NWHL logos for the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts

Jersey designs for the NWHL have not yet been made public, but one would assume they will be revealed via social media before the start of the season in October.

The NWHL’s marketing stands in direct opposition to that of the CWHL, which has not taken advantage of social media like fans would hope. Their twitter accounts are updated infrequently, and while the CWHL does have a presence on sites such as Instagram and Tumblr, those too are inefficiently utilized.

Screenshot of the NWHL logos for the Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters

There are other concerns levied against the CWHL’s connection to its fans; the complaints are not without merit. There are no lineups projected before games; the shipping fees on merchandise are extraordinarily high; the stats available are not nearly as complete as stats geeks would like (and not nearly as complete as casual fans would like) and it is difficult to sit down and watch a game. These, however, are problems that can be solved.

Instead of competing over dollars and players, the CWHL and NWHL have the opportunity to work together and create a great rivalry between the two countries’ pro hockey organizations. Fans are hungry for good team rivalries; just look at the NHL’s “Wednesday Night: Rivalry Night” promotion. Half the games they feature on Rivalry night couldn’t possibly be classified as rivalries, but it draws more viewers than any other night. The same could happen with the CWHL and NWHL; inter- and intra-league rivalries would grow the game twice as quickly.

In addition, ignoring the Boston Blades part of the equation for the moment, this has the opportunity to simplify finances by taking international laws out of the equation. If the CWHL focuses on Canadian players and Canadian locations for its teams as the NWHL is currently focusing on US locations (and presumably US players) there are no holes to jump through, no red tape to cut when it comes to immigration, paychecks, or taxes.

Just because there is only one NHL does not mean that women’s hockey has to follow suit.

One might argue that the elimination of the WHA in the 1970s suggests that the same will happen between the CWHL and NWHL in the future. It is certainly possible, but not a guarantee. If it does come down to fans and players picking and choosing one league over another, they will likely choose the league that treats its players and its fans best: paying the players and catering to the fans. Two things that the CWHL has not yet achieved.

The CWHL in its entirety, from founding members, board members, coaches, and players to all other volunteers, have done a lot for women’s hockey. But there is still more to do, and competition often begets a better product. Doesn’t it make sense to promote a healthy sense of competition in a sport that is all about “compete level?”