Talks are underway to discuss creating a new women’s hockey league that builds off the sport’s growing momentum, but a University of Guelph sport management expert says the timing is questionable.   

Dr. Ann Pegoraro
Dr. Ann Pegoraro

Dr. Ann Pegoraro is a professor in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism and the Lang Chair in Sport Management in U of G’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics. She is also the co-director of the National Network for Research on Gender Equity in Canadian Sport, and the director of the International Institute for Sport Business and Leadership. Her research interests include sport consumers, marketing and communication.   

The talks, which started Wednesday, March 23, are between the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), and are mandated by the NHL for the men’s league to consider any involvement. 

Pegoraro said the timing of the renewed interest in supporting a women’s hockey league from the NHL could be seen as arrogant.  

“They think they’re the only ones that can make this work, that the NHL is needed, that the women’s game needs the men’s league to be successful” she added. 

As for the NHL, she thinks “maybe they’re realizing now that there is viability in women’s sport ― even though we’ve been telling them for a long time ― and they want to get in on it.” 

Outcome relies on decisions made by the NHL

The outcome, however, is dependent on the NHL and the funding it offers. If its investment isn’t substantial, the PWH and the PWHPA would compete for fan attention and money as two independent leagues, predicted Pegoraro. It’s been done before, she pointed out, but one will eventually come out on top. 

She added the NHL has enough infrastructure and established franchises that could help jumpstart a women’s hockey league. 

The PWHPA is rumoured to have a substantial offer on the table from investors outside the NHL. And if the funding materializes, the new women’s league that emerges could have “flexibility in building a completely different model [than the NHL’s] that can utilize what is known about fans today, in terms of their technology use and the fact that they want to watch from anywhere in the country.” 

Pegoraro said women athletes use social media to build audiences, brand themselves, and pitch their content to streaming platforms in a form of digital disruption to bypass the traditional models that men’s leagues depend on.  

All of which are components, she told The Globe and Mail leading up to the talks, the women’s hockey players should be willing to continue to use.  

“I see a lot of benefits to being able to start a league that’s not encumbered with the traditional trappings of professional sport infrastructure,” she said.  

Pegoraro recently offered her thoughts on the talks to CBC and is available for interviews. 

Dr. Ann Pegoraro