Let's talk about The Letter - Interview with Renee Hess of Black GIRL Hockey Club - must-click women's hockey links
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I was dozing off to sleep when I started hearing of ‘The Letter’, the final goodbye penned by the CWHL Board. Around 9pm EST, Toronto reporter Hailey Salvian tweeted about the letter. The document was made public the following day, Wednesday. Below, I offer my opinion on a few of the points:
In the first bullet of the letter, we learn that the CWHL had expenses to the tune of $4.2 Million CDN in 2017-18. We also learned that salaries added $600,000 CDN in expenses to the league in the same season (an average of $4,800 per player across five teams with a roster of 25 players). Since the league did not play players prior to the 2017-18 season, I am assuming the $600,000 figure is the total amount spent on salaries. The letter also addresses why CWHL salaries could only be “modest” and not a livable wage.
Comparatively, the NWHL reported its expenses for salary for its first four seasons combined was $2.5 million USD.
It is worth noting these are average and not exact salaries per player. It is also worth noting the CWHL did not absorb the salaries of the players in China, who were paid a great deal more than their North American-based peers.
As many long-suspected, the deal to expand to China made CWHL salaries and a few more years of operation possible. The letter, laid out in a series of bullet points, refers to China early in the letter.
“The League chose to partner with KRS in China and add two teams in that country for the 2017-2018 season. A year later when KRS went from two teams to one, revenue from China operations were reduced. We appreciate and value the relationship with China, and also understand a decision like this caused not only prospect but also significant strain on the players and contract staff. This was an opportunity for expansion pressured by competition and need for cash, but also a sacrifice that all involved had to make to expand the game and keep the League operating. KRS and China are great partners, and in hindsight revenue from this partnership likely kept the League from having to cease operations in previous seasons.”
‘A Second League’:
“A second league was formed in the United States in 2015, which expanded women’s hockey, but unfortunately fragmented the potential sponsorship dollars.”
This is the most direct, but far from the only mention of the NWHL. I’m quite fatigued by this publicly private spat between the CWHL and ‘a second league’. It’s tired, it’s petty, and it’s indirect.
Yes, I would feel a certain way if I built something and then something else came in as competition. That is normal. What I believe is shortsighted is continuing to come across as blaming the NWHL for business moves the CWHL made or didn’t make.
Saying the NWHL made us seek other funding sources makes sense. Saying the NWHL made us sign a contract with China and send our players across the world in the hope that would actually be financially beneficial? Not buying it!
The letter also suggests the ‘One League’ conversation dried up potential sponsorship opportunities. Ah, #OneLeague. I’ve never fully bought into this concept. To begin, my ongoing theory about #OneLeague is this language was suggested and sparked by the assumption the NHL would be that ‘one league’ to manage women’s hockey. I’d argue the proof is in the pudding with that. The ambassador program (read Hailey’s article listed below) that will pay select national team players an estimated $1,500 per session. However, many including myself wonder why there is an overhaul for girls programs and elite level athletes, but not for either league?
Yeah, yeah, Bettman “doesn’t want to be a bully”, but it the meantime there is a lot of money going to the IDEA of women being paid to play pro hockey one day, but know support to the pioneers of the game who aren’t able to represent their country.
Second, #OneLeague is founded on the principle that women’s hockey doesn’t or wouldn’t have enough resources for two leagues. In theory, I get this argument, but I believe women’s sports generally limit their potential when always trying to be what their male counterpart is. Because of rampant … what’s the word … sexism, women’s sports is seen through a different lens in society. Denying that is a recipe for failure.
That said, the generation coming up is used to women playing sports and some of us even work and have a modest amount of disposable income that we would gladly spend on enjoying a fun, alcohol-friendly, environment.
Yet, women’s sports seems to think marketing to little girls in particular is the best route. Of course, let’s not exclude the little girls. But, I offer this: If a little girl loves hockey but isn’t from a family with means or doesn’t live in a WoHo market, even the best parents in the world will have difficultly getting her engaged.
Now, counter that with an adult who grew up hearing about Billie Jean King, or is the same age as Venus or Serena Williams. Imagine that 30-something finally having their own money to spend on US Open Tickets or the WNBA All-Star Game, or their first CWHL Jersey? Now, think of the type of sponsors who might want that fan’s demographics (Yes, scary Big Brother stuff, but we all know its true). How many corporations or startups would love to sell to that Millennial crowd? Millennials who will buy their products, stocks, or maybe even sit on their Board.
I’d say start with that core group and grow older or younger from there. Because guess what? Some Millennials actually have little girls. And some of us, if we’re lucky, still have our parents. Make WoHo the movie a young parent will take their children to and then watch again with their friends over drinks during their children-free weekend.
With its last breath, the CWHL tosses its support to the PWHPA.
“To the players: we encourage you to be clear about what you need on the topics of compensation, training, insurance, equipment, ice-time, broadcast coverage, corporate endorsements and sponsorship. We support you and will always be grateful for what you have done and continue to do for women’s hockey. Don’t settle for second best. #FORTHEGAME”
I agree with the CWHL, the PWHPA does need to be clear about its needs. I do find it a bit obtuse that, had the league not decide to fold, the PWHPA would have grounds to boycott (let’s call a spade a spade, people) the CWHL as well.
This reeks of taking the high road and dragging ‘a second league’ despite admitting your flaws mirror those the PWHLPA and the #ForTheGame movement are addressing. Does the CWHL hope to win points for closing before the tidal wave despite:
Not having enough revenue
Not having a good business model
Not being transparent (um, China much)
Not paying a livable wage
Not having adequate sponsorship deals
Not having adequate training or enough ice-time
I’m not sure it works that way, at least it shouldn’t.
The list of shortcomings for the NWHL is at least as long, no dispute there. And, I’ve long called for players to take more control. Yet, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m not completely convinced that the divergent road will lead to the game being better any sooner than the NWHL.
However, as someone who just quit their job before finding a new one (or even knowing if I want to), I completely understand going your own way. And, at the end of the day, I don’t think I’m the demographic the PWHPA is trying to convince.
Regardless, I’m committed to covering women’s hockey next season. I don’t plan to choose one road over another. If anything, I will expand and not limit my hockey coverage (after all, I don’t have a desk job anymore).
The stories of any and all players deserves to be heard, hopefully we can all at least agree on that.
This Week in Women’s Hockey
Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! erica@ericaLayala.com
Here is the link to the CWHL open letter once again.
Important news: The University of Calgary Athletics partners with sexual violence support advocate to launch new month-long initiative addressing violence, consent, gender and hazing.
Mike Murphy writes what we’re all thinking: The Riveters’ next head coach needs to be chosen carefully.
NHL and its clubs step in so CWHL can pay final expenses.
Hailey Salvian has been doing a great job covering women’s hockey. Here she breaks down the new NHL ambassador program. In this article, she breaks down the support the NHL teams and Hockey Canada gave the CWHL as they closed their doors.
Women’s hockey league in UK undergoes restructuring.
The Ice Garden Origins: How Hayley Wickenheiser changed the game.
Tweet of the Week
It was great seeing Harrison enjoy himself at World Pride in NYC last weekend.
Five at The IX: Renee Hess, Black Girl Hockey Club
Excited to feature Renee Hess, founder of Black Girl Hockey Club. I marched in the NYC Pride Parade on behalf of BGHC and it was amazing to see the response to what Renee has built.
Learn more about BGHC and their Movie Night happening tonight!
Erica L. Ayala: How did BGHC come about?
R. Renee Hess: Really, Black Girl Hockey Club started as a community of Black girl hockey fans on social media. As a Black woman, I always felt like such an outlier in the hockey fandom, so I decided to find out where all the POC hockey fans hid themselves. I sent a call across Twitter for minority fans to complete a survey of a few questions having to do with social issues in hockey. After I realized how many fans--minorities, LGBT, women--chose not to attend live hockey games because of the isolated Otherness, I decided to organize a game meet-up in order to cultivate a safe space in an NHL arena. Since our Inaugural meet-up in Washington D.C. in December 2018, BGHC has had 6 meet-ups and developed into an organization with friends all across North America and the world.
ELA: From every event I’ve attended, the group seems to be inclusive. What would you say to those who like the mission, but don’t necessarily identify as a “Black Girl”?
RH: The tag line on our social media says, “For Black girl hockey fans and the folks who love us". The only requirement for a person to join the BGHC is an understanding of the need for a safe space for Black women in hockey. Our BGHC family includes people of all races, genders, sexualities and abilities. All we ask of our friends is to listen when we speak and be an ally when we need them.
ELA: In Nashville, you spoke alongside (Color of Hockey Blog founder) Bill Douglass and (Soul on Ice director) Kwame Mason. The three of you seem to be this trifecta in hockey, but specifically in the NHL. What do you enjoy most about your collective work being embraced by the NHL? What would you like to see more of in the league or within the fan base?
RH: Bill and Kwame were two of the first people to support me and get excited about BGHC. I reached out to both of them for assistance in planning an event for Black hockey fans because I know how important they are to hockey culture. Both of them have worked closely with the NHL and stuck their necks out so that I could do the same. The NHL and their Hockey is for Everyone program embraced the idea of the Black Girl Hockey Club and basically asked me what they could do to help get us off the ground. I think that if the NHL supported more Grassroots programs like BGHC, marginalized fans would begin to feel accepted in the hockey community.
ELA: I am very excited for the movie night coming up! What gave you the idea to host an “online” event?
RH: Before I started the Black Girl Hockey Club, I ran my own pop culture website for 5 years. We often held "movie nights" on Twitter, which includes everyone starting the movie at the same time, live tweeting together, and discussing the film using a specific hashtag. It is just one more way for people to socialize with Black Girl Hockey Club during the off-season. If you and your readers are looking for something to do this Friday July 5th, we will start the film "Across the Line" (available on Netflix and the CBC Gen app, or to rent on YouTube) at 6 p.m. PST using the hashtag #BGHCmovienight over on Twitter.
ELA: What is next for BGHC and how can people be supportive?
RH: As BGHC transitions to a nonprofit organization, we are looking for volunteers and people who are passionate about hockey to help out at events across North America. We also have a GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for the various costs associated with transitioning to an NPO.
People can sign up for our newsletter over at www.blackgirlhockeyclub.com and come out to support our group at one of the 4 meetups we have planned for the 2019-2020 season. Also, be sure to follow us on social media to keep up with the everyday happenings of the Black Girl Hockey Club.