This weekend, the National Women’s Hockey League will descend on Nashville as they play their 4th All-Star game since their inception in 2014-2015. This year is special, not only for the Predators who not only were selected as the host city for the NWHL All-Star weekend and will travel to Dallas to play in next season’s Winter Classic, but this marks the first year the NWHL has chosen to display their skills in a “non-traditional” market. The first All-Star games were in what are considered hockey “hotbeds” with Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and last year’s game in St. Paul, Minnesota, which may have played a part in the expansion Minnesota Whitecaps birth this season.
When asked about Nashville hosting the league, Connecticut Whale defensewoman and director of the NWHL Players Association, Anya Battaglino said, “I think Nashville is an amazing market to bring the NWHL. It is a highly captured audience with a very forward thinking leadership group.” When the Preds were named as the host team, President and CEO, Sean Henry said, “The advancement of girls’ and women’s hockey in Middle Tennessee is an important mission for our organization.”
Nashville has hosted several events geared towards involvement from girls/women in hockey since the United States women defeated Canada in the Olympics last February for their first gold medal since 1998, including a meet and greet with Olympic heroes, Monique and Jocelyn Lamoureux after an all-girl hockey session with staff from USA Hockey and Ford Ice Center.
In regards to the gold medal last year, Battaglino was asked if she’s seen a surge in female evolvement, similarly as women’s soccer grew exponentially after the 1992 US women’s World Cup victory and she said, “It breathes life into young players and gets more people on skates for a longer period of time. This helps boost girls self worth and confidence, whilst keeping them engaged with a high intensity team exercise.”
“It makes the girls game enter and stronger while keeping more of our young ladies dialed into hockey,” Anya added. She goes on to point out that it does great things for kids who have access to hockey and youth sports in general, keeping with USA Hockey’s initiative to encourage kids to play multiple sports.
The passion from the NWHL and their players is evident with how they market their league and players by heavy community involvement. The players are constantly speaking to youth groups and conducting clinics when time permits. But there’s only so much the league can do on their own. It’s a young league, but for some reason, women’s sports continues to get pushed aside. For the life of me, I honestly have no idea why this is the case. In my experience, women’s sports is more fundamental in the quality of play and the passion equals that of what’s often found in college sports. The most obvious support should come from more involvement from the NHL.
“I would love the NHL to become more involved,” Battaglino said. “The more eyes on the players in the NWHL the better. I think most importantly, we need the enterprises that sponsor the league to, in turn, also support the women, the way Dunkin’ does.”
Sponsorship is key for not only sustaining the league, but growing it. Think back when you were involved in youth sports. There was always fundraising events. The concessions to raise money. Your uncle’s body shop sponsoring the jerseys. These have been staples in sports and today, we see it all around the hockey rink in the NHL. The women need the same. With sponsorships, come expansion. With expansion, comes revenue. With revenue, comes better pay. Many of the women have to obtain other revenue streams.
In my opinion, this all starts with media coverage. Anya even points to media involvement if she were hypothetically given the opportunity to run the league for a day. “I think I would ask the media to take a massive stride in equalizing women’s professional hockey and sports as a whole. The only female athletes that get any major media coverage are Olympians in almost all fields.”
Coming from Texas where hockey is hardly ever spoken about, I’ve seen where there is minimal excitement when the teams aren’t talked about. Media creates a visibility and, at the very least, a curiosity that brings crowds that ultimately creates fans. One of the great aspects of Penalty Box Radio is to provide a platform for not just the best Predators coverage, but coverage of leagues and teams that operate in obscurity like women’s hockey and high school teams. The great staff here at PBR will be bringing you the most in-depth coverage of the goings on this weekend with the NWHL All-Stars.
In a perfect world, the NWHL will continue to bring their product to markets like Nashville and even Florida or Texas to display the quality in front of young girls who will soon dream of playing professional hockey. This will increase media coverage which will then catch the eyes of investors. This will help the ladies with travel and accommodations which will allow their league to grow.
Maybe being married to a retired professional golfer, I’m biased to women’s sports. Just because the women don’t look for thundering hits that will put their opponent into the 4th row. With more teams and players, more rivalries can be developed. USA and Canada don’t play every week, but when they get together, you know there will be breathtaking moments. There are questions abound as to merging the NWHL with their Canadian counterparts, CWHL, but there are rules and bylaws and economics that have to be ironed out for that to even be seriously considered. So, we work with what we have, and that’s the highest quality of women’s hockey on the planet. If you don’t have your tickets for Sunday’s All-Star game, I can’t encourage you enough to remedy that scenario. If you have a ticket to the Preds game that afternoon, you already have a seat as you’re invited to stay. DO. NOT. LEAVE.