NWHL Fan Feedback Part 1: Positive Praise
The National Women’s Hockey League is on the verge of wrapping up it’s third season with the final few weeks of playoffs about to begin. This presented a good opportunity to hear from NWHL fans about how they think the league is doing. The first part of this series focuses on the positives seen from the league so far. Fans were given the opportunity to submit feedback via a form, or through twitter or email. While many are granted anonymity in the piece, fans had to identify themselves to some degree to provide input to prevent any false submissions. Their answers are presented with as little editorializing as possible.
There were some general positive themes that emerged quickly. One fan said the league provides great hockey, which I think all fans would agree with. Another fan likely captured the view of many by summing up the NWHL as “trying their hardest to be an unapologetic and unique platform for its group of athletes while scratching and clawing for any ounce of media coverage and progress in how sports treats female athletes. They have also proven without a shadow of a doubt in my opinion that women’s hockey is super high quality and consistently exciting due to the fact that they fielded this NWHL season sans [U.S. Women’s National Team] players.”
A Progressive and Inclusive League of Opportunity
A number of respondents noted the progressive nature of the league to give women opportunities to play in an inclusive environment. Also, several fans wrote specifically about the league’s support of Harrison Browne, and the creation of the league’s Transgender Athlete policy. A Boston Pride fan additionally pointed to the NWHL’s full support for the U.S. Women’s National Team boycott last season.
Several fans spoke of the opportunity the league presented. As Jennifer Moglia put it, the NWHL had “given women a way to continue playing the game that they love while still getting paid. They have definitely grown the game and gained fans these past few years.”
Another NWHL fan spoke of how the league brought “women’s hockey to the next level, allowed non-Olympic players to keep playing at an elite level, pushed the CWHL to finally step up their game and pay players, helped expose the sport in non-Olympic years and gave the National Team players a place to play closer to home.”
Location, Location, Location
Several fans spoke highly of the NWHL’s location choices for special events. This was especially true for the the All Star games held in Pittsburgh and Minnesota the past two years. One fan stated the league’s strategy shows “that the NWHL plans on bringing this sport, and the talented athletes who play it, to the national stage.”
“In the past two seasons, they’re doing the right thing bringing their product to non Founding Four locations,” one fan wrote calling it the “best way to grow the game and more importantly bring visibility to the league.” One Whale fan agreed writing “I think having the All Star games in (for now) non league cities is a great way to expose the product and test areas for possible expansion.”
Another fan, Cooper, considered it good news that the league is moving to expand into new markets with speculation about Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Columbus, Orlando, and other teams floating around.
Social Media, Website and Player Interaction
The league’s interactions on social media and overall player engagement were one of the most common topics that fan respondents brought up. The openness of players on social media like Twitter and Instagram, as well as the post game autograph signings and other community efforts have been noticed well during the NWHL’s history.
“The league has allowed the players to promote themselves as individuals, and that has created a very healthy player-fan relationship paradigm,” Matt Smitha said. “Unlike the NHL, the NWHL has promoted an engaged relationship between the fans and players. It makes the fans feel they have a stake in the league and are a valued resource for the league. I only hope that as the league grows, it remains focused on keeping the fans a vital part of the league. “
Of similar note, “the NWHL has connected players with fans by social media and outreach very directly,” one Whale fan wrote. “The Commissioner and coaches have taken a back seat and really made the league seem like a professional league built by the players competing. Combined with how interactive the players are, that interaction makes it a unique experience one doesn’t see in college hockey or the NHL.”
Also, several fans noted the league’s tone on social media has changed for the better: “I think that it’s really important that they’ve been more vocal of late about calling out problematic things in the media,” Kara wrote. This comment was echoed by another fan who said “I haven’t been following the league for too long but I understand their attitude towards sports media disrespecting women’s hockey used to be much more passive.”
Abby stated “their twitter game has improved, at least for the Riveters this season,” and Anna Shea also found that “their twitter accounts have recaptured some of the bite it used to have. They’re taking less crap, which I really appreciate.”
Kara would add that ”I also like that they’ve started listening to the player’s association more and incorporating them into decisions more. Not only that, but I think it’s super important that they’ve started acknowledging the [CWHL] and the Whitecaps in positive ways. Yes, they are their own league, but they’re not the ONLY league.”
Others pointed to the recent situation with Autism Awareness Day at the Riveters game. One fan wrote about the event changing which charity it would benefit after hearing fan opposition to the initial charity chosen. The fan saw this as a sign of positive responsiveness.
The league’s website and media efforts were complimented by Kara who was pleased with game recaps being put out within 24 hours, as well as the regularly posted individual player features. On the web front too, David Lebovitz pointed to the league’s stats website improving. Stats had been noted by NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan as an area of emphasis during the offseason.
Nearly half of those who offered input on the NWHL spoke positively in one way or another about the league’s streaming. This encompassed the option to watch every game that way, or the new partnership with Twitter which one fan said led them to discover the league existed. Kara, who relies on the stream to see games, also said “In seasons past there were a lot of stream issues/missing games. This season, technical hiccups are rare. Additionally, they started putting together highlight reels for games, which is exciting!
The NWHL has certainly set up its players as role models for the previous generation. One Pride fan approved of the players as role models for her daughter. Another fan, James, highlighted the #FutureDraftPick segments on the NWHL’s twitter and wrote “…because it’s super exciting to see girls be interested in a sport I didn’t know I had access to when I was younger and I love seeing the NWHL as such a positive force in women’s sports and representation.“
A third fan stated “the NWHL is important for a plethora of reasons. The athletes who have played, currently play, and will play in this league in the future are superstars. Many are Olympians. Others are teachers, students, and coaches. There are engineers and artists. All of them are role models that everyone should look up to, but it would be naive to omit how important they are especially to young women and little girls.”
Several fans pointed to the league’s growing partnerships with NHL teams as a clear positive: “The league has worked hard on visibility this year,” Abby wrote. “Getting partnerships with the Devils and Sabres and working with the Penguins, Bruins, and Wild to get more eyeballs on the league have been a great start to spreading the word.“
David Lebovitz noted the developments this year and spoke of the goal of having each team independently owned and operated and that if the teams “can each be responsible for cutting their own checks, that’ll help the league grow.”
“The Pegula family buying the Buffalo Beauts was a huge relief for fans who worry about the long-term viability of the league,” Terri Yu opined as well. Yu also wrote of the sponsorships with Dunkin’ Donuts and other companies as one example of what the NWHL is doing to “make the league feel like a true professional league.”
Several fans offered opinions on a variety of aspects of the league’s business model. Abby wrote of the NWHL’s more conservative salary numbers saying “I know it’s caused some controversy, but I’m really proud of the league for being realistic about salaries this year and being more conservative with payroll this year. I want the players to be paid but I don’t want the league going bankrupt trying to pay more than they can afford.“
Matt Smitha did note positively the sharing of ticket revenues plan to offset salary cuts that happened in season two. Also, one Whale fan approved of the players getting a cut of their jersey and shirsey sales.
Regarding merchandise, Yu felt the jersey auctions were a solid addition as part of the league’s legitimacy and Anna Shea complimented the ability to buy shirseys as being an improvement (as this was not an option in year one.)
Chandler Knight pointed to the NWHL’s ticket donation program where fans be buy tickets to be distributed to others as a positive.
Multiple fans in responding with positive and constructive comments noted their love of the league and their excitement for its potential. One fan went further to say “I am proud to have been a fan of this league and supported it in various ways since its inception. I believe in the NWHL. I believe in what it stands for and what it provides to adoring fans and talented players. I look forward to watching it grow and following it every step of the way.”
The NWHL has clearly made some headway this season in its growth. The fans also had much to say about what the league can do to improve. That will all be found in part 2.
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