The IX Newsletter: The economics of Hayley Wickenheiser’s argument

Greetings all:

Here is an excerpt from the latest hockey edition of The IX Newsletter. I usually post my interviews–I shared a lovely conversation with Sarah Nurse–but this time, I thought I’d share the “Big Picture” segment of the newsletter. I offer some data points to consider when putting #OneLeague and the state of women’s hockey in perspective.

You can subscribe to The IX Newsletter HERE and read the entire hockey edition, including my interview with Nurse, HERE.


“This week, I’m going to take a break from talking about #OneLeague,” I thought. Then, the Hayley Wickenheiser interview came out.

In case you missed it, or don’t have access to The Athletic, listen to Michelle Jay and Hannah Bevis break it all down on a bonus episode of Top Shelf.  In summary, Wick thinks the problem with women’s hockey is the women in hockey. Since the NBA/WNBA argument is often oversimplified to make the case for #OneLeague in hockey, I will call in some WNBA stats to begin my argument.
To begin: yes the WNBA is the most successful model for women’s basketball, in respect to longevity. Yes, the WNBA numbers are different than the NBA in respect to attendance and revenue, but also in the PERCENTAGE OF REVENUE players are given.
David Berri has been all over this story. Last year, he calculated that NBA players get 50% of league revenue, while WNBA players get less than 25% of the money they help the league bring in. Read the full article HERE.
Second, the NBA, NFL and yes, the NHL are successful not because of fan revenue (merchandise, tickets, etc). They are profitable because the US and local governments subsidize them. WNBA star Layshia Clarendon offered the following stats regarding subsidies:

  • The NFL received $6.4 billion from 1992 to 2011,
  • MLB received $5.5 billion from 1991 to 2012,
  • MLS received $1.2 billion from 1999 to 2012,
  • The NBA received $3.1 billion from 1990 to 2010, and
  • The NHL received $2.0 billion from 1991 to 2010.

These leagues often get new state-of-the-art stadiums paid for not by their billionaire owners or direct revenue, but by taxpayers. In 2009, Citi Field opened with the help of $616 million in public subsidies, according to a PBS NewsHour report.
Additionally, Wick again claims NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is ready to take on women’s hockey, but not while there are two leagues. The NWHL was founded in 2015 and the CWHL in 2007. In 2013, the NHL trademarked the “WNHL” and has renewed the trademark several times since. Bettman and the NHL haven’t put in the hard work starting an actual women’s league. And certainly, he hasn’t shown any interest in moving on this air-tight business plan for two Olympic cycles. For a former player to suggest either league should simply hand over their business is absurd!
It’s a distraction from the real reason women’s sports isn’t “as successful” as men’s sports. Those who control the business of sports are making women’s sports sound like they’re asking for underserved handouts, ignoring the fact that the success of men’s leagues is buttressed from free money from all directions. So, respectfully Wick, the problem in women’s hockey is certainly not the women in hockey.

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