As I’m writing this, the Professional Women’s Hockey League is playing its first regular-season game, featuring Toronto and New York (they don’t have names yet) at Mattamy Athletic Centre (aka the old Maple Leaf Gardens) in Toronto.
There were a lot of unanswered questions in the months leading up to this launch. Some, like names and logos, remain unanswered, but the league understandably wanted to get the players actually playing as soon as possible.
One thing that worried me was television coverage. You’re not going to build a fanbase if the fans can’t watch you play. And as the weeks went on without news, I started to get worried. Surely they can’t start the season without a broadcaster, can they?
On Dec. 20, I noticed that TSN had added “Hockey TBA” to its schedule coinciding with the first three PWHL games of the season, and RDS had added a “TBA” for Montreal’s first game. Then I saw Sportsnet added a game to Sportsnet One, and CBC put the inaugural game on its schedule.
The press releases only came out Dec. 29, three days before puck drop and in the middle of that news dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s. It confirmed that rights to the league would be shared between the networks:
- 34 games on TSN, of which seven will be only on the TSN+ premium streaming service
- 17 games on Sportsnet
- 18 games on CBC, though most of those will be streaming-only. CBC will also air some games at 1:30am after Hockey Night in Canada.
- 16 Montreal games on RDS
- 8 Montreal games on Radio-Canada’s Ici Tou.tv
- 24 New York games on MSG Networks
- 24 Boston games on NESN (or NESN+)
No deal was announced for Minnesota games, so hopefully someone steps up soon to bring games to those fans. The deals allow for out-of-market broadcasts (MSG and NESN are regional networks) so hopefully other U.S. regional networks pick up rights to bring women’s hockey to their fans.
I compiled a full PWHL season schedule for Montreal for the Gazette. All 24 games will be available in at least one language, though three of them will be online-only in both.
This could have ended several other ways. The PWHL could have tried to launch its own paid streaming service, or signed an exclusive deal with one broadcaster. Instead, the first game is on three competing networks and all games are available on YouTube (the PWHL promises no geoblocking so people in other countries can watch the league through the world’s most accessible video streaming platform).
They’re probably not getting a lot of money out of these deals, if any, but right now what’s important is getting fans invested, and this is a good step toward that goal.