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The Inaugural Season of the Professional Women's Hockey League

By: Dean J. Condoleo

Claire Davenport, HOST: The Professional Women’s Hockey League, or the PWHL, is in its inaugural season. It’s been a long time coming. There have been multiple failed attempts to create a women’s hockey league in the past. But as the season comes to a close, Dean Condoleo reports there are still some problems left to tackle. 

Dean J. Condoleo: It's a Monday night in March at UBS Arena on Long Island. The air inside is cold. New York fans – are at the edge of their seats. Their team has been on a seven-game losing streak. And tonight they’re up three to two against Boston on home ice with seconds left. New York maintains possession. That’s it.  There’s the horn. New York wins! New York wins!

Sierra Margies: “There’s always something about getting women together, there’s always a different atmosphere with that. 

Condoleo: Sierra Margies is a new fan of hockey. This arena is normally the home of the Islanders. And Margies had been to one Islanders game before and started getting into watching hockey that way – but then she’d heard there was a league for women players.

Margies: “I think it’s just the fact that there’s always that little girl inside that just wants to like jump up and be excited and guys get to do it with sports and now girls will too.”

Condoleo: Margies is one of many women fans here today. Some are holding signs drawn in purple and turquoise magic marker - a combination of the league and New York’s team colors.  The signs say “now I can play” and “pros that look like me.” But there are guys here too. Fans like Nick Pitrelli...he doesn't care who’s out there on the ice, he just loves hockey.

Nick Pitrelli: “Honestly, I’m just here for more hockey. I'm just loving it. Great time.”

Condoleo: And there’s another reason Pitrelli loves these games. Most ticket prices for New York’s team top out at around thirty dollars, and that’s to sit just a few rows from the ice. In case you don’t know – that’s WAY cheaper than tickets to watch the men’s teams play in the NHL – those can go up to a few hundred each.

Pitrelli: “Right now I think the ticket prices are great. It’s really encouraging for fans to come.”

Condoleo: In the past, there’d been multiple women’s leagues internationally, but there’d been a long-running problem – athlete talent was diluted. The PWHL is the first time the best players from around the world are no longer scattered around. They’re now united in one top-notch league. But New York’s team is the underdog…seats are often empty at games. And the team is also facing larger problems that the league as a whole is dealing with too. One of the biggest is athlete’s pay.

Carly Wetzel: “It's kind of hard with sports because there's so many factors that influence the salary of any individual player.”

Condoleo: Carly Wetzel is with Voice In Sport Foundation. A non-profit that advocates for gender equality in sports.

Wetzel: “But if you're looking at it from a completely objective view of, like, are you getting paid for the same amount of work, the answer is no.” 

Condoleo: The Professional Women’s Hockey League is owned by one major investor - a hedge fund CEO Mark Walters.  He also has a stake in major men’s teams - like the Los Angeles Dodgers and England’s Chelsea soccer team. But despite the major investment, the average player earns fifty-five thousand dollars – that’s about the same salary as an NHL team mascot! Another problem is disproportionate media coverage for women’s sports. Ceyda Mumcu knows about this first hand. She played professional basketball in Turkey for almost a decade.

Ceyda Mumcu: “Media was ignorant to the existence of women's sport. If you don't cover it, the public can't find it.” 

Condoleo: Now Mumcu teaches women’s sports marketing at the University of New Haven. She says, as sports fans we’ve increasingly used social media, one thing has gotten better for women players - they can now promote themselves more easily.

Mumcu: “So we were in a position, media controlled the ecosystem, media controlled the viability of women's sport as a business. And now, because our lives are digitized, we are not reliant on linear TV. We're not reliant on print media, if they would have the courtesy to cover a story. Women's sport has been the best kept secret, and I am so glad it is no longer a secret.”

Condoleo: Far from being a secret, overall the new league is having a lot of success. When tickets went on sale for a recent game between Toronto and Montreal they sold out. Twenty one thousand seats - in just twenty minutes. At the same time – the team’s don’t even have names yet. All the teams: Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Minnesota, Boston, and New York – all have the same jerseys with their city name diagonally across the front, and the only other difference is the color schemes. 

Billie Jean King: “We did not want to wait until next year ‘25 or even this year, later in ‘24 because the players have waited so long for this. …

Condoleo: That’s Billie Jean King.. In case you don’t know, King is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, and lifetime advocate for women in sports. Here she was talking about the new league before the first ever game on New Year’s Day. The Billie Jean King foundation is helping to back the new league and support women athletes.

King: It’s given them an opportunity to be in Hockey that they’d never thought they had.. And for women it says a lot - I mean it’s been over 100 years since the NHL started”

Condoleo: For decades, female hockey players have been in a sort of limbo when it comes to playing professionally. After playing at the collegiate level and even representing your country in the Olympics, there hasn’t been a sustainable next step. New York’s team doesn’t have a permanent home. The players split home games between Bridgeport, Newark, and Long Island. Madison Packer is a forward on the New York Team. She says, not having a home base makes it difficult for PWHL to stand out especially in a sports market like New York. 

Madison Packer: “When your home base is these three different places, it’s hard to establish a solidified and unified fanbase. I've been in this market for nine years now. It's hard. There's a lot of sports teams here. You're competing with men's sports. Women's sports are still trying to get the respect and notoriety that they deserve.”

Condoleo: Would you say PWHL athletes are played fairly?

Packer: “Equal pay and equal does not mean same. We will never be paid the same as the men. It’s just not - it’s not going to happen. But are we going to make enough to make a living and have it be a career? Yeah we’re there.”

Condoleo: Packer has a second job outside of hockey - she’s an executive recruiter. That’s on top of being a mom to two kids. She says if you want to support women’s sports there’s an easy answer.

Packer: “You've got all these people on Twitter and online all the time saying that we're not paid more. Well, come to the games, buy tickets, buy merch, support us. Supporting women is buying from them.”

Condoleo: The hope for fans and members of the organization is to have a permanent home in the future. One that’s packed with fans. There to watch their team with its own colors, name and… higher salaries. Dean Condoleo, Columbia Radio News.


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