So …. Women’s professional hockey. Those words probably evoke various feelings depending on the audience. What if a women’s pro team came to Pittsburgh? What if it was aligned with or even partially sponsored by the Pittsburgh Penguins?
That seems to be the general direction some are hoping for. And by some, we mean the 200 top women’s players, including Olympic stars, who have banded together to try to generate interest in and groundwork for a pro league that would work and would pay at least a livable wage.
Following the recent and sudden shutdown of the Canadian women’s pro league (there is still one in the United States), the 200 players vowed to sit out the upcoming season to raise awareness and push for a consolidated, sensical women’s league.
The logical solution, as some no doubt see it, is an alignment with the NHL, something akin to the WNBA in basketball. So something like a WNHL.
That’s been tossed around before, bu there hasn’t been an indication the NHL is keen on jumping into such a relationship. It’s unclear how it would work. Surely, it would involve a limited number of NHL teams and cities, but just as surely if this were to happen, the Penguins would be looked to as one of the clubs based in the U.S. that could or should participate.
The Penguins are profitable and high profile. Those who are eager to see a sustainable women’s pro league probably envision cross promotions with Sidney Crosby and other stars, maybe a female companion for Iceburgh. (We’re assuming the mascot is male; it doesn’t speak.)
At one point, Crosby’s mother, Trina, joined the board of the Canadian league, in part because daughter Taylor was a college goalie. But that league has folded, and Taylor spent the past season not playing hockey but working a marketing job for her brother’s team, the Penguins, as part of a fellowship.
Perhaps a Pittsburgh-based team could land Amanda Kessel, but that could be awkward if brother Phil got traded away by the Penguins.
A viable WNHL would require quite a commitment, financially and in workload, and there would need to be negotiations over what responsibilities the NHL staff would have in areas such as ad sales, public relations, facilities management, etc.
So the big question is, even with an NHL buy-in (literally and in terms of enthusiasm), would it work?
Would Pittsburgh fans care? Would they go to games?
Pivotal questions with no clear answers.
As an aside, there forever has been a thought in some quarters that female sports writers ought to support or promote or at least provide coverage for women’s sports. That’s just not how things work. It would be great if a consolidated, sustainable pro women’s hockey league got going, but the media’s job, males and female, is to chronicle that, not champion it or work to make it happen.
Outside of the WNBA, women’s pro sports haven’t exactly thrived, especially team sports. Women’s pro tennis is the gold standard, of course. Women’s pro golf doesn’t seem to have the marquee names it did in previous decades.
Locally, the Pittsburgh Passion is a successful women’s football team, but it does not pay close to a livable wage.
It’s unclear what effect there will be from the 200 top women’s hockey players staging the, uh … they don’t like calling it a boycott. Part of their vision seems to hinge on the interest in Olympic women’s hockey translating to a pro league.
It might more likely depend greatly on the NHL’s interest in getting involved, although that in and of itself tends to relegate women’s pro hockey to a niche or minor league status, or, ugh, little sister of the established men’s league.
A team called the Lady Penguins or Penguinettes? Yuck.
If a Pittsburgh pro women’s hockey team ever surfaces, would it be any more successful than the Arena League football teams that have come and gone in Pittsburgh – and that did not pay a livable wage?
Maybe there are enough families of girls who play hockey plus others who would have enough interest to buy tickets and attend to make a go of it. Maybe seeing women’s hockey at what surely would be a more affordable price than a Penguins game would be appealing. Maybe not.