Women's Professional Hockey Faces Hurdles Hoops Didn't for the WNBA

By Spencer, Donna | The Canadian Press, May 28, 2019 | Go to article overview

Women's Professional Hockey Faces Hurdles Hoops Didn't for the WNBA


Spencer, Donna, The Canadian Press


Women's pro hockey faces hurdles hoops didn't

--

Amid calls for the NHL to take an ownership stake in women's hockey, a former WNBA commissioner says the women's basketball league wouldn't have survived without the NBA.

Val Ackerman was WNBA president for the first nine of its 23 years.

Now commissioner of the NCAA's Big East Conference, Ackerman was also a consultant for the NHL on women's hockey back in 2011 and 2012.

Her recommendation then to the NHL was "I didn't think the time was right for a WNHL," she told The Canadian Press.

"I thought the sport wasn't ready for it. They didn't have the base. There wasn't the participation numbers.

"The sport was not visible at the NCAA level like it had become in basketball."

About 200 players, including the stars of women's hockey, vow to not play in any North American league next season -- including the U.S. based NWHL -- until they get an economically sustainable league with better pay.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated the league isn't interested in running a women's league while one still operates, which the NWHL intends to do in 2019-20 despite a depleted player pool.

Many female players active and retired, and some in the men's hockey community including former NHL executive Brian Burke, say the NHL needs to step up where women's hockey is concerned.

"In some capacity absolutely," said Liz Knox, a former Canadian Women's Hockey League goaltender and the co-chair of its players' association.

"Like any startup company, you need the leadership and mentorship of somebody who has done it and has done is successfully.

"The NHL is the most professional hockey league that we know of.

"Is that to say it's their responsibility? No, but I certainly hope trying to grow a demographic and them trying to reach new audiences, it would be something they would consider."

The NBA launched the WNBA in 1997 and was its sole operator until 2002, when some teams were sold either to their NBA counterpart or an independent owner.

Five of 12 WNBA teams currently share an owner with an NBA team. A sixth, the Los Angeles Sparks, is co-owned by former Lakers president Magic Johnson.

"My observation is the NBA safety net is still vitally important," Ackerman said.

Ackerman doesn't have an opinion now on whether the NHL should go where the NBA went with the women's game.

But the NBA's financial backing, expertise and manpower was "critical" to the WNBA's survival in its infancy, she said.

"We could not have done it without it," Ackerman said.

"Other women's pro leagues in basketball had been tried and all failed in part because they didn't have the resources we had.

"We had with the NBA, an operation that knew how to run a basketball league.

"The league was the WNBA, so we went into the marketplace with that brand equity in basketball that we knew would mean something to business partners."

The average WNBA salary has been reported to be approximately US$75,000. Four Canadians, including New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse, are playing in the league this season.

Annual salaries in the defunct CWHL that shuttered May 1 ranged between $2,000 and $10,000.

The NWHL started off paying between $10,000 and $26,000, but slashed payment by up to half in its second season. …

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