Friday, 1 September 2017

Show Me The Money!

As news broke this morning, the first thing that crept into my head was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s iconic line from Jerry Maguire in which he tells Jerry, "Show me the money!" If you haven't heard, the CWHL will pay its players this season, but there were yet to be any details on how much, at what rate, and what the total compensation would be for players and teams. An early article from Rachel Brady in The Globe & Mail gave us all those details and more!

Let's start with what we know from Miss Brady's article.
Each player will make a minimum of $2,000 and a maximum of $10,000. Each of the league's seven clubs will get a $100,000 salary cap, and that pool of money will be divided among the players as each team sees fit.
This is less than what the NWHL promised and delivered in its first season of pay, but it's almost equivalent to what they paid last season at $5000 per team per game. That's not a "livable wage" by any means, but it's a start. Any move in the right direction regarding the best women's hockey players in the world being paid to entertain the fans is a positive. While the CWHL will still take of incidentals and expenses such as travel and equipment, getting some extra coin in the players' pockets is what needs to happen.

Miss Brady follows that paragraph up with the following:
CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress said the league, which admitted two Chinese expansion teams this season, has generated revenue from the marketing, broadcasting and licensing rights from those new clubs. She added that the Chinese teams have also attracted other new corporate sponsors. CWHL games will be broadcast in China as part of the country's widespread efforts to develop hockey players and promote the sport before the country holds the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Andress says other factors have also contributed to the CWHL's growth in revenue and profile. The league increased sponsorships in Canada, and forged collaborations with NHL teams in Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Calgary and staged some special games in NHL arenas. Sportsnet broadcast key games, including the Clarkson Cup playoffs. Attendance has grown, but the league is still a long way from popular.
There should be some concern here. The "growth in revenue and profile" and "increased sponsorships in Canada" shows that the league is finding a footprint in the sports landscape, but one has to question if it would have been enough to pay players this season without the benefit of the two Chinese expansion teams. As it stands, it doesn't appear that the five teams would have received pay this season based on that statement had it not been for the addition of two teams who are flush with money. That needs to change before the five-season contract with the Chinese Hockey Federation runs out.

However, I'm not here to rain on a parade. The first puck on this season has yet to drop, and there are a number of stars on both Chinese teams while the five North American teams will still be stocked with high-level talent. Once the Olympics are over, there will be a pile of additional players who are the best-of-the-best that need places to play, so we could see even more talent be absorbed into the league. All of this leads to more fans in the seats, more interest in the league from potential sponsors, and greater exposure via interested television partners. While Year One of the five-year deal may not be as star-studded as the next four, the framework for potential major revenue generation has been laid.

Miss Brady received a quotation from Miss Andress that should have the CWHLPA and its members cautiously happy as the league moves forward over the next few years.
Without pointing to the NWHL, Andress said the CWHL's board of governors proceeded cautiously, making sure not to pay players until they were certain they could sustain it. She said this was the season they had targeted all along.

"We still have a long way to go, and as a women's hockey league we still have a long up-road battle to make sure that sponsors and media pay attention to us so we don't go away," Andress said. "We know this plan is sustainable, it won't just be paying them for one year. We have a plan in place and each year we will grow those stipends."
While promises are only as good as the people making them, there's no reason to believe - at this point - that what Miss Andress said is untrue. She hit the nail on the head in stating that there is a still a metric tonne of work to be done to get sponsors and media to remember they exist, but they have a plan to ensure that pay doesn't disappear or be reduced and, in fact, be increased year after year. If the expression "nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight" is true, the CWHL has a lot of fighting to do before they can provide a livable wage so that the players don't have to work full-time to play hockey full-time.

Again, the framework has been laid. Now it's up to the league - both players and management - to live up to what it promised so that all benefit. Garbage in will yield garbage out, so the players need to get out there and put out the best product on the ice, management has to do its homework in the boardroom, and, together, this league will reach new heights with pay that will be unrivaled for any professional women's player in the near future.

There will always be scrutiny that comes out of an announcement like this - is the money from the Chinese teams the only reason the CWHL is playing players? What kind of sponsors and broadcast partners do these Chinese teams have? Why aren't there partnerships in North America like this? - and the CWHL will need to work hard to silence these questions. If they can't generate the kind of revenue needed within North America to continue to follow their announced plan to increase stipends every year, the scrutiny will follow just as it did for the other league.

In saying that, the ace card that was always waved in the CWHL's face was that they weren't paying their players like the other league was. With a level playing field, players will now need to choose based on opportunity and strength of the league - exactly like what happened during the NHL-WHA feud in the 1970s. There were players who opted for bigger pay days in the WHA while the NHL's stability appealed to other players. Once the NHL figured out that they needed to pay its players fair market value, players had to weigh other options such as location, ownership, and stability.

With a decade of success behind the CWHL, paying its players was long overdue. That will be resolved this season, but the league and its players can't just kick back and relax now. More than ever, their hard work that is starting to reap rewards needs to be maintained or even increased in order to see more rewards in the future. If the model is sustainable, as Miss Andress has stated, the results should mean that more money can go to players if revenues grow. In other words, both the league and its players will thrive if everyone continues to work hard.

Getting paid is a big step for the CWHL players, but it's only a step towards a destination. The key in all of this? It's a step in the right direction for the league, its players, and its fans!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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