Women’s sports have come a long way since Title IX. The latest arrival is the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL). The league made “herstory” in 2024 with a 72-game schedule played by six teams playing 12 home and 12 away games. Several years in the making, this one is poised to succeed where other start-ups have failed due to lack of money, vision or sponsorships. Several factors separate the new league from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded in 2019, and the struggling National Women’s Hockey League, which was eventually swallowed up by the new league.
Reasons why it’s different this time
There are many reasons the PWHL came to be, including a few unlikely sources:
- More money: Dodgers owner Mark Walter and his wife, Kimbra, are behind-the-scenes players investing tens of millions of dollars to support the endeavor.
- Billie Jean King: The tennis legend and women’s power icon lent her support, influence, and many connections to make sure the league has standing in women’s professional sports environment.
- Format: The league is centralized, with players united under a collective bargaining agreement through 2031.
- Women leaders: The league features four female general managers and three female coaches. Twenty of the 34 board members are women.
- Broadcasts: The league has broadcast deals in place.
Unsurprisingly, the first six teams come from markets with strong hockey traditions – Boston, Montreal, New York/Connecticut, Ottawa, St. Paul/Minnesota, and Toronto. Anyone who follows women’s Olympic hockey knows that the U.S. and Canada are typically the top two teams, with strong attendance when they play exhibition games. So, it makes sense that the league is located in women’s hockey’s two biggest markets. More specifically, these cities already have a strong girl’s hockey culture that acts as feeders for the top college teams and the Olympic teams. In other words, the crowds will be anchored by hockey families. Don’t believe it? Ottawa sold 8,000 tickets to its opener, eclipsed a few days later by 13,316 hockey-crazed Minnesotans seeing the women’s team play on the same ice as the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. Toronto’s 12 home games are sold out, and Montreal is close.
Room to grow
The league has yet to develop names and logos for the teams, and other markets will likely join in the coming years. With women’s sports growing at all levels, this is the latest in many changes that have given girls and women’s sports the recognition they deserve.