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CWHL to cease operations

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Just one week after the Clarkson Cup was awarded to the Calgary Inferno, the CWHL has announced the decision to cease business operations.

CWHL jerseys on display at RealSports in Toronto
CWHL jerseys on display at RealSports in Toronto
Chris Tanouye | CWHL

Last Sunday the Clarkson Cup was awarded to the Calgary Inferno after a game held in Toronto at the Coca-Cola Coliseum. Today, the CWHL announced they will cease operations as of May 1, 2019.

They cite an unsustainable business model as the reason:

New management, led by Jayna Hefford, and the new Board, put in place in Summer & Fall 2018 respectively, have proactively worked with our contract staff, players, GM’s, industry partners and corporate sponsors to establish an adequate revenue base, good governance, and high-quality hockey on the ice. Unfortunately the business model that has been the foundation of the League is not sustainable financially.

While 175,000 fans watched the Clarkson Cup on television last Sunday, which set a record, the ticket sales for each game are not high. This is obvious to anyone who has watched CWHL games streamed online. The viewership of the streams is also extremely low.

We thank our fans for cheering on their favourite player and favourite teams, our sponsors for helping fund the growth of women’s hockey, and our partnerships with the NHLPA, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Calgary Flames. We would like to acknowledge the management and players of Team KRS for their commitment to the CWHL and growth of women’s hockey in China, and Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, Hockey Canada, and the NHL for their support.

While the CWHL is the league that six teams currently belong to, four in Canada, on in USA and one in China, it’s not clear if those teams have the right or the ability to continue on their own in some other league. At present, the only other women’s pro league in North America is the NWHL. They released their ticket sales numbers recently:

Note that the NWHL plays a 16-game season, so total ticket sales are those averages times eight for each team.

Both the NWHL and the CWHL have generated revenue from merchandise sales and other avenues, but both leagues require operating revenue from what are often termed as investors or sponsors. Either through gifts of money or of equipment, ice time or other goods or services, most of the operating revenue is sourced from avenues other than fans handing over their money. In other words, it’s fair to say that the teams and the league as a whole are not profitable in the traditional sense.

Many teams in the NHL are not profitable on a yearly basis, but the value of an NHL franchise as an asset continues to grow, while the value of CWHL teams outside of their league is not clearly understood at this time.

The future direction of the teams, like the fully-funded team in China, will be revealed in time.

When reached for comment, Sami Jo Small, GM of the Toronto Furies said, “Having starting this, it’s really sad to see it shut down without even being consulted. Hopefully, we can figure something out for next season. We started from nothing 12 years ago and we can make something work again.”

We will keep you updated on the future of the Toronto Furies and the Markham Thunder, as well as the rest of the league. There are great players in this league and on these teams, and we have to hope they have ice to play on come next fall.

Update: as reactions from players pour in on Twitter, it’s clear no one had any inkling this was coming. Many of the players are in Finland preparing for the World Championships.