My husband and I were in attendance at the inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League game in Ottawa on January 2, 2024. It was an incredible and somewhat emotional evening. I am not sure how the athletes held themselves together during the opening ceremonies as a record-breaking, enthusiastic crowd turned out to watch the newest game in town.
Fans of women's team sports in Canada have had few options and women athletes at the highest levels often have to choose between giving up their dream or competing only on the national level with very little in the way of financial support. Canada proved itself to be a desperate market for women's sports last year with a sellout in Toronto when the WNBA came to town. The addition of professional women's hockey teams in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal are another opportunity to prove that women's team sports can be a profitable business.
So, what does the PWHL need to succeed? A few things are obvious:
Continued Media Coverage: The initial media engagement has been terrific. It will be important for members of the media to keep telling the stories of the PWHL athletes and teams as the year progresses. The league is going to need the media's help to keep pushing content and to keep the league top of mind. The PWHL also seems to have invested in solid social media support for each of its clubs which is also likely to help in that regard.
TV Coverage: The PWHL has lined up incredible TV coverage in Canada nationwide and regional coverage in US markets. I presume that further talks are in the works with US networks to improve on the US coverage nationwide. However, even without it, the league made a great decision to also stream the games live on YouTube. I know of one person who tuned into the game last night while on vacation in Mexico. Ongoing, quality and easily accessible coverage of the games will be essential. Past professional sports leagues in Canada quickly folded when they lost their broadcasting contract so strong numbers on this front and early sponsors will be incredibly important.
Local Buy in From the Business Community: The PWHL appears to be focusing on large, national or international brands as sponsors to start its inaugural season. Eventually, I expect that each local team will also require support from local businesses to thrive. It will be up to local businesses to see the value of the league so that they offer up both sponsorship dollars but also purchase seasons tickets and other big-ticket items. Durant Barristers is doing our part by purchasing a set of 4 seasons tickets and gifting many of them to clients, contacts and our staff. We are proud to support the league and we wish to give as many people as possible the opportunity to witness a great on-ice product. Many businesses have spent money annually on men's professional sports games and this is a great opportunity for those businesses to more equally spend their sponsorship dollars.
Study the PWHL's Market: At the game last night I noticed many differences in the demographics in attendance compared to a men's professional hockey game. There will be some overlap in terms of fan support, but I think the PWHL will also reach new sports fans. The audience last night appeared to me to: (a) have far more women and children in attendance; (b) consumed less alcohol and was, generally, a more family friendly environment; and (c) appeared younger overall. The demographics should open up opportunities for sponsorship from new companies who do not traditionally invest in men's sports. I would expect women's cosmetic, clothing, athletic, nutrition and children's brands to be interested in the PWHL.
On Ice Product: Last night's on-ice product was great. It was a fast-paced game with many tense moments. It was a more physical game than I expected. I think that most people will find it to be an enjoyable brand of hockey. I do not expect that the quality of the product will end up being an issue and I think that as more people get exposure to the game, the fan base will only grow.
At Durant Barristers we are very proud to support this new league. From what we saw last night, I think the league is set up well for success.