New PWHPA league looks to lead women’s hockey to financial stability

Featuring stars such as Canadian hockey legend Marie-Philip Poulin, the new PWHPA league is laying roots for the future of women's hockey. (THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal)

Featuring stars such as Canadian hockey legend Marie-Philip Poulin, the new PWHPA league is laying roots for the future of women’s hockey. (THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal)

Professional women’s hockey is set to experience a level of financial security and sustainability unknown in the history of the game. This comes after the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association announced plans for a new six team league beginning in 2023.

The league, according to reportswill come with a minimum salary for players of $35,000 and a league average of $55,000.

Looking at the announced salaries related to the length of the regular season — January through April — and a 32-game schedule, the numbers outmatch North America’s men’s professional leagues outside the NHL.

Under the PWHPA’s plan, the league minimum salary of $35,000 over 32 games averages out to $1093.75 per game. At the league average of $55,000 that number jumps to $1718.75 per game.

In comparison, the American Hockey League, North America’s second best men’s professional hockey league, will feature a league minimum salary of $52,500 for next season over 72 games. This equates to just over $729 per game. For an athlete competing in a 72-game season to match the PWHPA’s $1718.75 per game earnings, they would need a salary of $123,750.

When you step down to the ECHL, one level below the AHL, the league minimum falls to between $510 and $555 depending on experience, per week, not per game.

The establishment of a league minimum salary was one criticism in discussions between the PWHPA and Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), which is currently the only formal professional women’s hockey league in North America. Following discussions to see if the two groups could collaborate, the PWHPA decided to proceed with plans independent of the PHF. Since that time, the PHF has established a team salary floor, but they did not formally announce an individual league minimum for salary.

Looking at the PWHPA’s proposed salary structure, which will also include benefits, it’s clear the group is positioning women’s professional hockey for success this coming season, and into the future. The PWHPA has also openly received support from 11 National Hockey League franchises. How that relationship will connect to a league put forward by the PWHPA is yet to be seen.

In addition to the announced salaries, according to PWHPA designer and marketing consultant Steve Conforti, professional women’s hockey players stand to benefit financially in other ways, whether it be through sponsorship or endorsements, from this proposed league.

“Businesses have finally started to recognize that women’s hockey players are very marketable, and with the potential launch of a new league, that’s only going to create more exposure and opportunities for the players — both in their local markets, and nationally,” Conforti wrote in an email.

In 2019, Conforti was the driving force behind the naming and branding of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, including the organization’s website, logo, social media accounts, graphics, and name.

The PWHPA is planning for their new league to have franchises in both the United States and Canada, creating new opportunities in established hockey markets.

“They will have the opportunity to grow and become a part of their local community,” Conforti said of the six new franchises. “If there is one thing I can say about women hockey players, it’s that they give back all the time, without question. The cities that acquire teams in a potential new league are going to be so lucky to gain such a great group of people and role models for the youth.”

In recent seasons, the PWHPA survived using a showcase tour, the most popular iteration known as the “Dream Gap Tour.” This came after the dissolution of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, which at the time featured most of the world’s top players. When the CWHL folded, the world’s elite women’s hockey players, including all of Canada and US national team players, formed the PWHPA. Now, after years of working to keep their dream alive, Conforti sees the PWHPA sitting on the precipice of long term, and broad market success.

“Everything that the PWHPA has worked so hard for the past three years — the sponsorships, the partners, the televised games, the media exposure, the respect — they’ve earned it all, and now it’s time for that hard work to pay off in the form of a professional league that treats its players as the professionals that they are,” he said. “The future has never looked brighter for women’s hockey, and I’m excited to see what comes next.”

While no locations for the PWHPA’s proposed league, which will also take on a new name separate from their current entity, have been announced, recent showcase events took place, hubs existed, and NHL support has been received from cities including Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh , Ottawa, Washington, Boston, Calgary, Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis.

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