By Aneta Rebiszewski and Talia Boettinger
Women’s hockey in Canada took a hit when the board of directors of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced they will be discontinuing operations.
That’s raised the question of whether this is a growing pain for women’s hockey, or if there is a bigger problem.
Founded in 2007, the CWHL had the goal of helping women develop their hockey skills, and build a future for women’s hockey in Canada. Among the players is Ryerson alumna Ailish Forfar who plays for the Markham Thunder. She went from playing for the Rams to playing in the CWHL.
Even though the CWHL announced it is shutting down, Lisa Haley, Rams’ women’s hockey head coach, said this isn’t necessarily the end.
“I can’t see there not being a professional league. I mean, this is Canada. This is our sport and there are too many female players playing the game and they need a league to play in,” she said. “The league is going to evolve in some way, shape or form. I don’t see there not being a league.”
The CWHL’s business model is that of a not-for-profit, and they would front the bill for travel, ice rental time, uniforms and equipment for each team. There are currently six teams that participate in the league. According to Haley, the model was effective to grow the game to where it is now but would need to be rebuilt for the future.
“The model needs to change and for me this was a step towards making that change, not that it was any poor governance or financing,” Haley said. “Now the model needs to change to continue the growth.”
However, rebuilding might not be the only challenge for the league in the future. If the CWHL was to adopt a new financial model, there is the issue of imbalance between men and women’s hockey in Canada.
“Whatever the men’s side has the women’s side cannot match, not even close to it,” said Amy Peng, an economics professor at Ryerson. “In terms of ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, TV broadcast deals, coverage, marketing and promotions of the league itself, there is no comparison.”
To move towards a more successful model for the CWHL, there has to be more coverage and promotion around women’s hockey in general. Peng said she believes that it is important that women are equally represented in Canada’s most loved sport.
“Canada clearly has a huge fan base for hockey but it’s important to promote the female side of the sport,” Peng said. “We cannot just be the very small corner or the very small slice of pie of the overall men’s side of the story.”