The CWHL commish is confident in the league’s foundation, but growth must come slowly.
By Scott Wheeler
March 5, 2017
On Sunday afternoon, in Ottawa, when Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) commissioner Brenda Andress held her annual scrum ahead of the Clarkson Cup, there were no shortage of questions.
There were, however, few concrete answers. As the CWHL prepares to move forward, with its sights set on paying its players, Andress stressed an ambiguous “strategic plan.”
Below is a condensed version of updates on growing the game, expansion, paying players, broadcasting more games, potentially making the final a three-game series, and… a Clarkson Cup ring?
On the future of the CWHL and the Clarkson Cup in Ottawa
The CWHL’s two-year partnership with the Canadian Tire Centre and the Ottawa Senators has not yet been renewed, and the league needs a home for next year’s championship game.
Andress stressed that the last two Clarkson Cups have been a success, and the CWHL accomplished what they set out to do in bringing the women’s game to a new audience. But the future is murky, with no announcement in place.
Still, the league, for the last couple of months, has been planning next year’s Clarkson Cup, according to Andress.
“We’re looking at what’s the next best location. Do we come back here because it has been an excellent place to host it?” she asked, reinforcing that because next year is an Olympic year that the league’s dates and deadlines will be impacted.
Andress says she and the board have done a lot of research on where to expand and when to expand, but she promised little.
“We have to make sure the grassroots program is there and the community is there,” she said. “We have a lot of people coming out of Ottawa and coming out of CIS shortly who will move back to Ottawa.”
On paying CWHL players
There remains no set timeline, at least not a public one, for when players will be paid. Andress preached patience, and promised that when the players begin to be paid that it must be permanent and with sustained year-to-year growth in salaries.
“It’s always our plan, but when we do it we’ll continue to do it,” Andress told reporters.
On getting more games broadcast on TV
Andress is proud of the broadcast partnership the CWHL has with Sportsnet, but she said it’s up to people to tune in if they want more regular season and playoff games on TV.
“The more people who watch our game today and the games moving forward, it really sets the meter as to why we should get more games on TV,” she said.
Moving forward, the league would like to broadcast the CWHL’s three-game semi-finals on TV.
“I was in the stands for the Montreal game and at the same time I had the stream on on my phone watching the game in Calgary,” Andress added. “It was, oh wow, I didn’t know whether to sit or stand half the time.”
Like with player salaries, that broadcast partnership needs to be methodically handled through a step-by-step process for sustained growth, according to Andress.
“Sportsnet has been outstanding in giving us four games, which is a first for any women’s sports to get regular season games on TV,” she said.
On the CWHL’s partnership with the NHL and its teams
“We are so lucky to have the NHL partnerships, and they have done a massive amount for us in increasing viewership and making our women feel like they belong in the hockey world,” Andress said of the league’s relationships with the Leafs and others.
Recently, the NHLPA joined the NHL in partnering with the CWHL. Their partnership has opened up increased funds and research opportunities for the league.
“We’re very proud of our existing partners. They believe in us. Ten years and Scotia’s still with us, Bauer’s still with us, Tim’s is still with us,” she said. “What can you say? You’ve got a good product when you have sponsors who stay with you that long.”
On making the Clarkson Cup a three-game series
CWHL players and fans, across the board, love the three-game semi-final series’. Andress does too, but if the league is going to move away from a winner-take-all one-game final, she says they’ll all need to be broadcast.
“You have to take a look at it from the business side of the world. That’s three games that have to be broadcast. You cannot just do one out of three. The Super Bowl is one game, it seems to work quite well for bringing attention and sponsorship. I think the weekend right now is perfectly situated,” Andress continued, pointing to the league’s community day on Saturday and awards on Friday as perfect fits.
She’s not yet open to changing the format.
“We’re not the same (as the NHL), we’re different. The game of hockey is ours just as much as it is anybody’s but we are different. As we grow, I think you’ll see more of it. We’ll stay with one game right now in order to make sure the facility is full and you just have to bring your ‘A’ game for one game.”
A Clarkson Cup ring?
Yes, it’s true. The Clarkson Cup champions will soon receive a ring for their accomplishment. Andress promised fans a look at the rings soon.