The Commissioner of the highly regarded and most popular Men’s Professional Hockey Corporation has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in helping develop or in any way financially assist any Professional Women’s League. He needs to protect his business and the businesses of his friends, and if this means pumping millions of dollars into faltering franchises that are drying up faster than the sands of the deserts they are built in, then so be it.
To be honest, Women’s Hockey is seen as nothing more than nuisance to most of the suits filling offices in New York. Yet they won’t be too quick to admit this considering the high number of female fans occupying seats in their arenas, dressed head to toe in their merchandise, faithfully supporting the dreams of their favorite players and teams. The danger to them however would be in developing a competitor, a rival, and a threat to their bottom line.
The most common argument I come across when it comes to girls playing the game is that they directly and negatively impact the development in the boy’s game. Each year more and more females are taking to the ice, as they do that they take away precious ‘development’ time away from boys. The costs of ice rentals goes up, equipment costs go up, off ice training goes up, fees go up and enrollment in boys hockey is declining. Yet somehow they fail to see how almost all of the money that girls put into their game finds its way back into the boy’s game through corporate sponsorship from equipment sales.
With a ten year old hockey playing daughter in my house I spent quite a few years tripping over NHL branded products in my house, from jersey’s and toothbrushes to purses and lip balm. This has changed with her increasing awareness and interest in the CWHL, not only as a fan but also a life goal as a Player. This needs to be the marketing campaign for today’s CWHL, these young female players ranging from ages 5-15 are looking for something they can call their own, something they can touch and feel.
For my daughter the shift in loyalty came from two different ends of the ‘Fan Experience’ spectrum. Her first NHL game was an incredibly exciting time for both of us, we spent the day in the city at the Hockey Hall of Fame (her team had a Silver Stick Trophy there at the time), we had a wonderful dinner date and made our way to the arena. She loved the game and her favorite team won in an 8-0 thrashing of the home team. Now came the time for her real surprise, and my horror, as the crowds thinned out we made our way down to ice level as I had arranged a meet and greet with the visiting team (her favorite). As we waited about 45 minutes for the players to come out she was beyond excited but it quickly turned to disappointment. As (some) players emerged in their overpriced suits with inflated egos, she waited patiently with a Sharpee and a Game Program in hand, and not a single player acknowledged her presence. The only player to sign her book didn’t even take the time to look down or say hello, and her favorite player never came out past the security gate. They all left within ten minutes.
Now let’s turn around and recall her first CWHL experience. We travelled roughly the same distance to see the game, we had dinner and we headed for the rink, and although it was smaller, by the time game started it was standing room only. Not only was the game itself terrific, loud and intense what happened next would have a much larger impact. Almost immediately after the game, all of the players come out into the lobby to fully interact with fans, no fancy outfits, no egos, no visible distain just real Women, Real Hockey Players. As my daughter made her way into the lineup for autographs, the team noticed she had purchased a souvenir t-shirt which they promptly each signed while engaging her in conversations about her team and her own budding ‘career’, and when ready to leave my daughter was approached by the player she had come to see and was presented with a game puck that was also carefully signed by each teammate.
That was a tipping point in customer loyalty, not only for my daughter but also for me, not only had these women gone out of their way to win the admiration of my child they had won my unending respect and loyalty. Since that time my daughter has had the opportunity to interact with so many players past, present and future and each time she does she remarks on how many celebrities she has met. Never once have we had a negative encounter, whether it be with Olympic Gold Medalists, members of the National Teams, players from the CWHL, and even here locally in the PWHL.
There has been a measurable difference in our house when it comes to branded products, slowly disappearing are the things from the Pro Men’s leagues, and in their place comes more and more CWHL items as they become available. Given a choice between watching Men’s/Boy’s hockey or the Women’s/Girl’s game, she will always choose the one that respects who and what she is, and more importantly what she is capable of. As a parent I am inclined to share the interests of my child rather than project some antiquated idea of what an Athlete and Role Model should look like unto her.
What the CWHL needs to do is get to these girls where they are; easy marketing opportunities exist and need to be taken advantage of. There is an endless stream of Girls Hockey Tournaments throughout North America from late August to the end of June every year, find these girls and you find your audience. Master Social Media, one look at one of my daughters accounts and you would see and growing list of the ‘who’s who’ of Women in Hockey. Most importantly take a short term financial hit and pay some of your players to be full or part time Ambassadors for the CWHL, they can take the time to go to rinks, interact with younger teams and players and make them visible at Hockey hungry areas. With all the on ice talent, knowledge and motivation the CWHL has it needs to get them to the young and the impressionable. If the young female players don’t have access to these amazing women you can rest assured that the NHL will ‘dress them up, but never take them out.’
There is nothing I would not do for my daughter, so if asking me to spend our entertainment dollars on such a wonderful and inspiring product is what she wants, the CWHL can consider us Brand Loyal. After all what father or parent could refuse their daughter, and be so happy to do so.