The End Of The CWHL: What Now?

Chris Tanouye/CWHL

Chris Tanouye/CWHL

Earlier this week, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced that this season will sadly be the last. Players and fans alike were taken by surprise when the news hit. The CWHL players and staff were caught off guard as the on-ice play has been very exciting this season. The Toronto Furies general manager and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Sami-Jo Small took to Twitter saying, “I have no idea what this means for the future, but this is heartbreaking. We will work hard to ensure there is still women's hockey in Toronto.” The general managers of the CWHL were taken by surprise as well, as they were notified on Sunday, March 31st through a conference call with their board of directors. The league operated for 12 years when the board decided it will cease to exist on May 1st, 2019. The sporting performance has been at its peak and the market for women’s hockey and women’s sport is more prominent now than ever. The league has folded due to its not-for-profit business model, calling into question if a for-profit organization could hold its own and thrive as a sustainable organization.

In January 2018, the Toronto Furies were featured in two of three CWHL games on Sportsnet, the first of which would be played during the NHL All-Star Weekend in hopes of attracting a large television audience. So why is it that this did not create a surge in Canadian women’s hockey fans? Arguably, it can be attested that this did spark an increase in demand for women’s hockey. The growing audience led to a record of 175,000 fans at the 2019 Clarkson Cup at the Coca-Cola Coliseum. Clearly, the demand for women’s sport is currently at its peak, so the reason for the league's closure lies within the business model in which the CWHL has been carried out.

This news is extremely disheartening for Canadian sports fans, but even more so for young female athletes. Young girls who participate in sport, and specifically play hockey, have many role models they look up to who play in the CWHL. It is important that these girls see that their dreams of playing at a high-level sport are achievable, and what better way to have this representation than watching Canadian women hockey players, either live or on television. The closure of the league will also hugely impact the jobs in sport, including coaches, managers, trainers and all positions associated with the CWHL. Essentially, the end of the league will impound a huge blow to the sports industry in Canada.

You may be wondering, what happens now? There has been talk about some of the CWHL players moving to the National Women’s Hockey League to play on teams in the United States. Potentially and in the ideal scenario, this could foster an avenue for an all-encompassing North American league, emulating a design similar to the NHL. The future of women's hockey, as of right now may seem bleak, we must remain hopeful. As the CWHL’s interim commissioner, Jayna Hefford said, despite the current setback, “There are a large number of organizations that have stated their support for women’s hockey and expressed the desire to see this sport grow”. This gives light to the possibilities of the NWHL expanding into Canada following their current for-profit business model, hoping to ensure the economic sustainability of this league and the continued growth of women’s support in Canada.