The Real Victory of the Season: Growing the Game

One of the biggest accomplishments of the PWHL's inaugural season was their ability to reach more fans through avenues like streaming games on YouTube.

The Real Victory of the Season: Growing the Game
Fans celebrate a goal during a PWHL game in Lowell. (Photo by Cassie Froio/The Ice Garden)

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Meira Waldstreicher, a student writer.

Hockey, like any other sport, is entertainment meant to bring fans enjoyment. The PWHL aced this assignment during their inaugural season. 

Many sports fans vent their frustration when their favorite team’s game is blacked out and is only available on a different viewing platform. To watch, they are often forced to pay for an additional streaming service for just one game.

The PWHL ensured that their devoted fans would never face this issue by streaming every game on YouTube. This way, anyone could access the games anywhere in the world for free while still having the option to watch via cable TV. The live streams were quite lively, with constant flashing hearts and buzzes from the comment section, where fans were bonding over the games, comparing notes, and sharing this amazing season together. This element enabled the building of a strong and energetic community supporting women’s hockey. And as an added plus, a couple of months ago, the PWHL began a playlist on YouTube of Condensed Game Archives, uploading past games so fans can flip back, rewatch, and reminisce past games easily. 

She may not have graced Toronto’s YouTube stream very often, but she definitely made a splash on Instagram as the PWHL’s very first “mascot”: 64-year old Debbie Harrison. Harrison, a super fan from Lindsay, Ont., had a very busy inaugural season cheering on her favorite team from behind the glass donning her unique outfits. Her passion and creativity may have sparked from not receiving her jersey in time for puck drop at the first home game at Mattamy Athletic Centre, but it certainly caught the eye of PWHL social media. Before each Toronto game, fans eagerly anticipated what Harrison would be wearing that night. Toronto and the PWHL embraced her fandom and spirit, capturing her essence and creating a relatable story that engaged thousands of other fans as well.

A graphic depicting a YouTube video page for a PWHL game.
The PWHL have made watching games easier through YouTube. (Meira Waldstreicher)

Although any PWHL fan would be thrilled to receive an autograph from Harrison, the league’s official autograph policy has proven successful. Section 21.5 of the PWHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) details that players may be required to sign autographs after games and on non-game days without additional pay. This provided an additional opportunity for fans to meet and connect with their favorite players. The players were enthusiastically engaging with the fans, always bringing smiles because they knew they were paying it forward. They did not take for granted having their dream finally realized, and cherished the chance to share that experience. 

This offseason, the PWHL can capitalize on their agenda and get fans involved. The league recently announced that they would be revealing the team logos and names this summer. Unaware of how far along in the process they are, the PWHL could take a page out of Ryan Smith and the new NHL Utah team’s book and give the fans a poll where they can vote on different options. Fans can offer feedback and contribute to an integral decision which will leave them feeling appreciated.

The PWHL was built off the backs of players who fought tooth and nail to create this league and achieve their goal of playing professional hockey at the highest level. The core group involved famous names in the sport who wanted to help the effort and see these girls' dreams come true. But the success that followed also happened because of the fans. Throughout the season, they constantly filled the seats in each arena, breaking numerous attendance records and setting their own. The real victory of the season was the collective enthusiasm of both the athletes and the fanbase succeeding together in cracking the ice ceiling.