Last Sunday, over 6,000 people filed into Bridgestone Arena’s lower bowl to watch the best of the NWHL take the ice. The official total — 6,120 — was the largest crowd ever recorded at a women’s professional hockey game in the United States. We caught up with a few fans to see who exactly was a part of this historic crowd.
Right up against the glass, a team of 10U girls in bright green were cheering every time a player drifted past during warmups. The St. Louis Lady Cyclones is an organization based out of St. Louis that helps develop hockey skills for girls between the ages of four and 19. A handful of players traveled with their chaperone, Tracy Rocchio, from St. Louis to see the game. The girls consider themselves big NWHL fans (and Blues fans), and named Nicole Hensley and Amanda Kessel as some of their favorite players in the league.
Our 10U took a little road trip this past weekend to Nashville to see the NWHL All Star Game! Needless to say, it was an AWESOME experience for the girls and they had an AMAZING time! #stlladycyclones #girlshockey #womenshockey #nwhlallstargamenashville pic.twitter.com/uE1oH2CncP— St. Louis Lady Cyclones (@StLCyclonesHky) February 11, 2019
Another group of youth players had a different set of favorite players. The 14AA Carolina Eagles, out of Raleigh, became NWHL fans through the Boston Pride’s Alyssa Gagliardi. The Raleigh native helps runs camps in the area. The Eagles named Gigi Marvin, Madison Packer, Kendall Coyne-Schofield, and Jillian Dempsey among their other favorite players to watch in the league. Raleigh is an eight hour drive from Nashville, but the opportunity to watch professional women’s hockey in the South is clearly a big draw, regardless of distance.
There were plenty of adults in the crowd at Bridgestone as well, a fact that points toward the possibility of an expanding fanbase, or at least another niche of fans to market to.
Marti Fouce, a longtime Nashville resident, stayed after the Preds game to watch the All-Star Game with her family. While they’re primarily Predators fans, they expressed a serious desire for Nashville to get its own NWHL team. Although the Predators have another rink being built in Bellevue, the Fouces told me that the now-defunct Dixie Flyers, an Eastern Hockey League minor league team, played out of the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. They felt that the Municipal, which seats 9,700 people, could be another venue for a potential NWHL franchise.
Josh and Matt, another pair of Preds fans, also stayed to watch the All-Star game. They’re beer league players in the Nashville area, and told me that one of their teammates plays in the women’s league at the Ford Ice Center. They found out about the game from the Predators homepage and were pleasantly surprised by the skill, speed and fun of the professional women’s game.
The broad array of fans making up that 6,120 people shows that the NWHL, and women’s hockey generally, is absolutely capable of drawing enough of an audience to sell out larger rinks than the ones many teams currently play in. Warrior Ice Arena, home of the Boston Pride, has been sold out for the past two Pride home games — and only seats 800. With the help of some solid marketing on the Predators’ end, the All-Star Game was host to almost eight times more.
Most importantly, the types of fans interested in the women’s game can’t be pigeonholed. While it’s true that young girls who play hockey are passionate enough about the women’s game to travel hours for the All-Star Game, it’s just as important to note that casual fans of the men’s game can and were just as entertained by watching professional women play.
Hockey, as they say, is for everyone.