Monday, 1 April 2019

A Damning Silence

I'm the last person who should be demanding anything from former CWHL Commissioner Jayna Hefford, but it's hard for me to sit here and look at the events from the past 48 hours without wondering what Hefford did to prevent the CWHL from being shut down. Let's not forget that the Hockey Hall of Famer was inducted in part on the strength of her work in the league as a player, so she certainly had some skin in the game when it came to keeping the league going. Instead, her legacy will now include shuttering the very league which she helped to build alongside all of the accolades and achievements. As a player and as a person, I find it hard to believe that someone with as much pride in herself and in the CWHL that Jayna Hefford has would simply allow this to happen. That's why it's time for Jayna Hefford to start talking regardless of what the consequences are.

Hefford assumed the position of commissioner on an interim basis on August 1, 2018 after being named as Brenda Andress' replacement on July 19. In her first month on the job, she vowed to increase the visibility of women's hockey, and it seemed that happened this season as the league announced that it had set new records for attendance and viewers on television. It seems that visibility was improving, perhaps slower than anticipated, but improving nonetheless.

So her comments yesterday were all the more baffling when she stated,
"We had a really great season, we were able to grow the game, increase the visibility of our players, the awareness around the game, we had a great Clarkson Cup championship. But we've come to realize that under this economic model, it's not sustainable for us for the future.

"We feel like, in order to advance the game in the way it deserves, this model isn't the right one."
Ok, I can accept that perhaps a new approach would needed to be taken to really go after some major investors and some big-time monetary gains, but I can't accept that Jayna Hefford would be comfortable in closing down the league that allowed her to continue to hone her skills between international tournaments after she played in the CWHL's early years when things were very lean on the financial side. This makes zero sense to me when it comes to everything the league means for women who are currently doing exactly what Hefford did in the league years ago. She has to be aware of this fact.

There have been some who have questioned the leadership of board chair Laurel Walzak and her decisions sitting in that chair, and none were more vocal about it than former board member and major CWHL financial supporter Graeme Roustan after he walked away from his seat on the board after being denied access to financial documents as a board member.

Walzak offered this seemingly bizarre explanation for the decision to close down the league, saying,
"We've been looking forward to the future, we've done everything we could to secure additional funding for this year and moving forward. We've exhausted our options. We've spoken to many different constituents, whether that's sponsors or advertisers, in terms of driving that revenue. Really it was only up until last week when it became clear that additional funding is not available for the future."
She continued by adding,
"We need it all. Not just corporate sponsorship. We need higher attendance at our games, which is ticket sales, and to sell more merchandise. We need more advertising revenue on our broadcasts. We need more broadcasts to drive viewership. We need more money from corporate Canada, not just our relationship with China, which is a big source of our current funding."
Ok, so let me get this straight if I can piece all this insanity together. Allow me to take you down a wee bit of a rabbit hole: the chair of the board of directors of the CWHL who is "an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University, Faculty of Communication and Design, RTA School of Media, Sport Media" wants more bums in seats, wants more merchandise sold, wants more advertising revenue on broadcasts, wants more broadcasts on the whole, and wants more money from Corporate Canada.


Deep breath, and say it with me....
How can someone whose profession is teaching broadcasting not able to get the league where she sits as the chair of the board onto more than four network broadcasts per year? She likely has all sorts of contacts in the broadcasting community - both radio and television - thanks to her teaching job and the best she can do is get four national broadcasts on television? How is it that she can't find someone who can regularly stream games via YouTube or another service? And why is it that she can't find radio stations in the five North American markets to carry games when we, as a university radio station, can do it with little trouble?

Something doesn't add up here.

Look, I don't want nor need an explanation, a soliloquy of rhetoric and double-speak, nor a monologue of verbal diarrhea from Laurel Walzak. I don't know what she said or how she convinced anyone to go along with this plan to close down the CWHL, but she somehow did convince the board that this was a good idea or the board convinced her it was a good idea, and then sold it to Jayna Hefford who delivered the news yesterday morning to the general managers and the CWHLPA. To me, Walzak, as chair of the board, has this hanging around her neck forever.

The other person, whose legacy now includes "Commissioner who folded the CWHL," is Jayna Hefford, so it's time to start talking, Jayna. Your silence in all of this needs to be broken. There are hundreds of questions that need to be answered, and you hold most of the answers. The fact that you've gone silent over the last 48 hours is a terrible message for the players and staff who entrusted you to take this league into new territory. I'm betting none of them saw that territory being the unemployment line.

Your silence is damning. Start talking.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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