In a shocking development only a week after their championship was awarded to a record audience, the Canadian Womens Hockey League today, claiming an unsustainable business model, would be ceasing operations as of 1 May, ending a 12-year tenure as one of the top two North American women’s leagues, putting a cloud of uncertainty over next week’s World Women’s Championship, as a number of the players now enter the tournament without a club team to return to in 2019-20.
The league’s announcement noted that despite a new general manager in Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, along with a new board of directors, worked to partner with new advertisers and NHL equivalents in Toronto, Montréal and Calgary, but were still unable to grow the league. An expansion into China two years ago saw new investment from eager backers shrink, with the two clubs in the 2017-18 season contract into a single, the KRS Vanke Rays, for the 2018-19 season, while the league disparities saw the Boston Blades go winless throughout the entire 2018-19 campaign. And despite record audiences watching both the 2019 All Star Game and Clarkson Cup, the not-for-profit model with low sponsorship and unpaid players was deemed unable to continue.
While many are certainly upset by the news, this does now open the door for speculation about a long-awaited merger with the NWHL in the United States, as many argued that neither league wanted to sacrifice itself to be absorbed by the other, which was causing an earlier merger, and even that the National Hockey League, willing to support one league, was unwilling to support two. Now with the CWHL ceasing operations, the time is ripe for the seemingly inevitable merger to bring the top North American players into the world into a single league. The Chinese investment factor cannot be forgotten either, as China is quickly ramping up their talent pool for the coming 2022 Olympics, but any investment plan with China would likely not have long-term footing beyond the Beijing Games.
We will provide updates as they become available, in the hopes that this dark moment for professional women’s hockey will have a happy ending, one that sees fair wages for players, equality amongst the teams, and most importantly a viable product for the fans that will inspire the next generation of female players.