With the upcoming Canadian Women’s Hockey League season comes the encouraging news that Sportsnet has jumped on board as an official Canadian broadcast partner. Taking into account that Rogers, the parent company of Sportsnet, also signed a lucrative billion dollar deal with the NHL for broadcast rights, the commitment to the CWHL is an admirable gesture that shows the budding league is here to stay.
While any monies paid to the CWHL are likely just a drop in the bucket compared to the NHL, in the long-term, this broadcast deal could pave the way for the long-time dream of female players being compensated to play hockey. The added bonus is that there is no shortage of elite female hockey talent in the future.
Of note, Amanda Kessel, Alex Carpenter, Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin and Shannon MacAulay are eligible for the 2015 CWHL Draft. Erin Ambrose, the favorite to go first overall in 2016 shall be followed by Melodie Daoust, who is eligible to declare for the 2017 edition of the draft. By then, the draft could possible become a televised event.
Although the deal stipulates that three games from the Clarkson Cup playoffs (contested every March) and one special game (to be announced) shall be broadcast annually, it certainly opens the door for numerous possibilities. As the 2016-17 campaign signifies the CWHL’s tenth anniversary, Sportsnet could certainly help contribute ideas towards some unique and special events.
As a side note, when Fox Sports signed its billion dollar deal with US College Football, some speculate that it was the stimulus towards adapting a long-overdue playoff format. In this regard, Sportsnet could bring to reality unique concepts such as an outdoor game (which could be played at the same venue as an NHL outdoor game), an All-Star Game or even an alumni game as part of tenth anniversary celerbations.
In years past, the CWHL did hold All-Star Games in which a group of CWHL stars competed against NHL alumni. Should the concept be revived, perhaps Sportsnet and the league could borrow a concept from the NHL’s Original Six era, where the defending Stanley Cup champions competed against NHL All-Stars. With only five teams in the CWHL, the Clarkson Cup champion versus league all-stars may be a viable game which could help introduce the game to novice fans.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of Sportsnet’s coverage is that it could help bring about much needed expansion to the league. As the quality of talent only continues to increase, there is simply not enough room to accommodate everyone in a five-team league. Considering that the Calgary Inferno (the CWHL’s most Western-based team) does not have a rival, a team in Winnipeg (where the WWHL’s Manitoba Maple Leafs once played) would be a boon.
The province has developed elite talent such as Bailey Bram, Sochi gold medalist Jocelyne Larocque, Christine Bestland, Jennifer Botterill and Halli Krzyzaniak. As a side note, the possibility of a sponsorship deal with the Winnipeg Jets is highly possible too.
In the past, a group from Minnesota declared interest in an expansion team, which would also provide Calgary with a rival, while allowing many Midwest players to stay close to home and continue their playing careers. With the Minnesota Wild a proud supporter of women’s hockey (they sponsor the Let’s Play Hockey Awards for the best high school players in the state), the chance of a sponsorship agreement would also come into play.
Despite the fact that deal also indicates that CWHL game scores shall be featured on the Sportsnet website, the bigger picture is so much more appealing. Like ESPN, Sportsnet also has its own magazine. While the magazine has a strong focus on NHL hockey and Toronto Blue Jays baseball (also owned by Rogers), the occasional feature on a CWHL player would be invaluable.
This broadcast deal has so much potential to evolve into a strong partnership, it may prove to be the turning point in the league’s history. While the biggest question of them all may be who shall handle the announcing duties, the business expertise of Rogers and the broadcast scope of Sportsnet can only help put the CWHL and its dedicated and talented players into the long overdue Canadian sporting conversation.