Budget restrictions headline CWHL decisions to stream games

League talks about broadcasting decisions

As the final game of the CWHL regular season drew closer, it became apparent that the game between the Toronto Furies and Markham Thunder on Feb. 26 was must-watch hockey. If the Furies won in regulation, which they did, they’d clinch a spot in the playoffs. Fans wanted to watch, but there was no way to watch the action if you were outside of the rink.

Sadly, early in the day on Tuesday, the Furies announced they would not be able to stream the game due to unfortunate circumstances, but would provide as many updates in-game as possible. Despite a noble effort from the Furies’ social media team that included intermittent periscope broadcasts, the disappointment was palpable. Once again, the CWHL’s irregular streaming schedule had proved itself to be a serious problem.

There were over 80 games in the CWHL regular season schedule, but just 18 of them were streamed through the league’s website. Another two games were picked up by Sportsnet to be broadcast live across Canada the first weekend of January as part of the CWHL on Sportsnet weekend leading into the All-Star Game, which was also broadcast on Sportsnet. The Clarkson Cup final will also be broadcast on Sportsnet as well.

The CWHL told The Ice Garden in an email that the streaming schedule is set based on “several factors including budgeting, what makes sense and how to get the best product we can.” They try to show every team on their China trip and also attempt to show every team play each other once.

The Sportsnet games, which were reportedly paid for by the league, are part of a sponsorship with the league and channel. “The league only pays for streamed games on our site,” the league explained in response to The Ice Garden’s inquiry.

Outside of those, streaming games or securing partners to do so is up to the individual teams, which almost all did in some manner. The league said they “provide them [the teams] with whatever assistance they may need from our end, but they are free to go with whomever and stream how they’d like to for this past season.”

The Calgary Inferno partnered with Sportsnet 960 The Fan to broadcast four games on the radio. The Furies worked with SportsCanadaTV to broadcast every home game in 2018 on SportsCanadaTV’s YouTube and on their own YouTube for two games in 2019. The Worcester Blades and KRS Vanke Rays streamed nearly every home game via their respective YouTube channels. The Thunder streamed a handful of games on YouTube as well. Montreal is the lone team who did not stream games with any regularity outside of their CWHL Watch games.

Going back to Tuesday, according to the CWHL, it wasn’t in the budget for the league to pick up the game. “Due to budgeting there is virtually no wiggle room to pick up extra games. We can, like in the situation with the Montreal game that was streamed, with enough notice switch streams. Tuesday’s was not picked up as there was no game to substitute and we couldn’t have known it would come down to the final game.”

A similar situation arose when the playoff schedule was released. With best-of-three series in the semifinals, the league announced only the second game would be streamed through the CWHL Watch program. “We made the decision to stream Game 2 as sometimes there may not be a Game 3 and if a team won in the second game, we would have lost an opportunity for fans to see any at all,” they said.

The league said they had no plans to stream any potential Game 3’s.

This season is the third season of a free streaming plan by the CWHL. In 2014-15 season, the league offered a paid streaming package of $10 for 23 games. In the 2015-16 season, the streaming package was upped to $20. In 2016-17, the league switched to a free streaming service. The CWHL said they may consider a new model this offseason.