Friday, 28 December 2012

Shame on TV networks for not airing women’s hockey in spite of lockout

During the holiday season, sports networks in Canada have started to use classic baseball championship matches from decades past to fill airtime. With the third pro hockey lockout dragging with no quick end forthcoming, it is disheartening how the fearless, frozen females of the world of hockey go without well earned television time.

While the classic baseball matches certainly evoke great feelings among baseball fans, is the timing not a little off? As all television channels in Canada are obligated to provide a minimum thirty percent of Canadian produced content on its airwaves, how can women’s hockey find itself neglected?

One of these sports networks also publishes its own sports periodical. Since its first publication, there has been one story on professional women’s hockey. In looking at their Year in Review issue, they made not one mention of the Clarkson Cup or the CWHL whatsoever. Yet, there was a mention of Erin Honto who is competing in the Bikini Hockey League.

Since the Torino Winter Games in 2006, women’s hockey has grown by a quantum leap. In Ontario, the Provincial Women’s Hockey League has grown to 20 teams. With the PWHL having provided a lot of talent for Canada’s Under-18 national team (and the NCAA), the league has quickly emerged as the female equivalent of the Ontario Hockey League (boys major junior).

Regions such as Western and Atlantic Canada have emerged as hot spots for Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey. Although CIS has contracts for online broadcasting, the level of talent competing at that level (including Hayley Wickenheiser with the Calgary Dinos) must justify some interest.

In that time span, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has developed into the elite women’s hockey league in the world. Most of the members of the Canadian and US National Women’s squads compete in the growing league. In the same spirit as the Stanley Cup, the Clarkson Cup was the Governor General of Canada’s gift to the world of women’s hockey (which is contested annually by the CWHL).

Although it is true that the final match of the Clarkson Cup is broadcast (along with IIHF Women’s Worlds and Esso Cup tournaments), it is hard to build up any enthusiasm for these events when the casual television viewer has little or no idea who these teams and players are, let alone how they got to this point.

To be fair, it is also up to the women’s hockey leagues to create their own interest as well. There are many athletic associations (including USA Hockey) that have their own YouTube channel. Should the PWHL or CWHL build a YouTube channel, it might be a revolutionary way to get things started.

Perhaps a quick way to stimulate the interest would be to mention the scores of women’s hockey matches (CIS, CWHL, PWHL) on the sports ticker (found at the bottom of most sports network broadcasts). When sports networks start to broadcast soccer scores from Europe on their ticker, there is certainly a cause for alarm. To add women’s hockey scores to the sports ticker (for any network) has no bearing on cost whatsoever. It is simply a moral issue, and one that the networks have missed the boat on.

While networks will provide their cost analysis argument or their justification about ratings as reasons for not giving women’s hockey broadcast time, said networks could just as easily outsource the production of a game. With CIS hockey being broadcast online, picking up the feed would be of no consequence. Most people involved with the CWHL are volunteers; therefore, a group of willing hands eager to assemble a broadcast by donating their time seems feasible.

It is time to create new history and allow the finest women’s hockey players in the world fair and equal time. Although Canada’s cultural mosaic may call for the reason behind airing soccer matches from Europe on Saturday mornings, these same fans clamor for the Maple Leafs and Canadiens on Saturday nights. When poker can earn prime time airtime, it is time to reflect and truly look at the potential of women’s hockey beyond a financial investment, but as an emotional and moral one.

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