Tuesday, 4 August 2015

NWHL Goes Reddit

The NWHL, looking for a foothold on the American sports landscape, decided to do a little social networking today by having two players from the New York Riveters hop on Reddit for an "Ask Me Anything" question period. The two ladies in question, seen on the left, are Janine Weber and Beth Hanrahan, and they mustered up the courage to face the internet head-on for a Q&A that had all sorts of weird and wonderful questions. They did avoid answering some questions, but we got to read a lot more from these two players than perhaps what we had previously known.

As you may be aware, I've been increasingly harsh on the NWHL for its continued avoidance of meaningful questions regarding the operations of the league and teams. This stance will continue until someone steps forward and starts answering the tough questions. However, taking it out on two players who are legitimately excited to play in the NWHL is not right, and I don't believe Miss Weber nor Miss Hanrahan should have to answer those questions. In saying this, I read this AMA, or rather ask-us-anything session, with great interest.

I won't post all the questions, but I will post some of the questions that caught my attention. All questions will be credited back to the Redittor who asked it, and you'll be able to distinguish who is answering the question from the answers given. Sound fair? Alright, let's go through a few questions with Janine Weber and Beth Hanrahan.
  1. Question for Beth. With the last name Hanrahan, do you hear a lot of "Slap Shot"-related chirps on the ice? - SenorPantsbulge
    A: Thankfully nooooo!!!! BH
  2. What went into your decision to switch from the CWHL to the NWHL? (for Janine) - Tuukkas
    A: The NWHL gives me the opportunity to get paid to play hockey and they are helping me get a visa.
  3. What's your opinion on checking in women's hockey? - andybmcd
    A: I think adding more physicality to the game can attract more people, but I also like the part of the women's game, like the quickness and the skill involved. BH
  4. With the inclusion of international players, Do you feel the NWHL will help contribute to the growth of women's international hockey? - Ander1ap
    A: YES! I think the NWHL gives players from all around the world the opportunity to play hockey for a living and will definitely help grow the game! JW
    A: Absolutely, I think this league will be a driving factor as to why the women's game will grow. BH
  5. As an avid NCAA women's hockey fan who's rink did you enjoy playing at besides your home rink? - ritBLKnORGSuperfan
    A: I really liked to play at Boston College...great rink! JW
Honestly, there weren't too many questions that stood out as ones that they should have answered by didn't. Overall, I thought Miss Weber and Miss Hanrahan did an excellent job on the AMA (and Celeste Brown, for those who read through). I will admit that the Slap Shot question for Beth made me laugh, but that's an excellent question when it comes to chirping on the ice.

Beth's answer regarding the growth of the international game might be a little off at this point in time, but I like her enthusiasm. However, as it stands, only three players in the league are from outside the borders of the North America - Russian forward Lyudmila Belyakova, Austrian forward Janine Weber, and Japanese goaltender Nana Fujimoto. As an aside, all three players have been signed by the New York Riveters, meaning that the entire international flavor of the league is under one team's roof. It appears there's a lot more growth needed at this point.

Growing the game internationally requires a global audience, stars to encourage people to watch, and interest for those international fans to watch the NWHL over local clubs. The NWHL has not announced a radio deal nor a TV deal, but they will allow fans to stream their games. NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan told gonu.com in May, "We are working on some broadcast deals right now, as well as live streaming capabilities at all of the NWHL games. The package will be called 'NWHL Live Cross Ice Pass', which will provide fans with a subscription service to watch all the games. Since we're starting with just four teams, we'll have two crews that travel to cover the games." I can't see many international fans subscribing to the service at this point, especially when there is a definite lack of stars in the league.

Remember, Rylan told gonu.com that information in May. It's now the first week of August. There hasn't been a word of radio or TV uttered since the initial flurry of information was distributed hastily, and not one announcement has been made about the streaming site and how it will work and what the prices will be. So I did what any good hockey fan would do: I went looking for it. All I found was a 404. Of course, it's still two months from the initial games, so I don't expect anything to be on the site just yet, but you would assume that there may be something or some soft of branding to say "NWHL" on there, right?

Further to growing the game, in 2014 the IIHF published their annual Survey of Players which tracks registration and growth in the game around the world. DPR Korea (32.7%), Turkey (32.6%), China (30.2%) and India (29.1%) have the highest female participation in ice hockey as of the 2014 survey. Belarus (153%), Hungary (119%), Great Britain (96%), Lithuania (53%), Canada (44%) and Slovakia (30%) had the biggest five-year growths in terms of hockey enrollment and registrations, yet not one of those countries outside of Canada are represented in the NWHL. One of the countries that saw negative growth? Fujimoto's Japan at -8%.

While I completely understand the NWHL's desire to be the league of choice for international players, their desire to also feature the best women's players on the planet will also keep these developing programs out of the loop and, ultimately, uninterested in the NWHL's mandates. If the NWHL was smart, they would institute a rule that all teams had to employ two international players on their rosters at all times. This way, there would be a greater opportunity for international players and, in turn, international fans to get involved with the NWHL at a greater rate. As it stands now, three players - all on one team - from three different countries is nothing more than a drop of water in the ocean for international fans and developing players in those countries.

Growing the game is good for everyone, but there has to be real tangible growth opportunities presented for someone to jump in and fill that void. The reluctance of three NWHL teams to give international players an opportunity means that growth will be limited at best, and fans and viewership outside North America will reflect that growth.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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