The PWHL’s jerseys exemplify the league’s many disasters

Unfair contract negotiation, poor communication with fans, and erasure of flourishing women’s hockey markets plague the PWHL

The Montreal PWHL jersey Graphic Myriam Ouazzani and Meiji Grace Estrada

On Nov. 14, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) released its jersey designs for the inaugural season, and they’re disappointing. The colours are bland—there are no team logos to be displayed, not even team names.

The jerseys—although reportedly temporary—represent the last straw in a series of marketing mishaps the PWHL has been making since before the league was even established. 

The first mishap came last June when I learned that the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) was being bought by the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). My first thought (like a good Minnesotan) was, “Oh my god, my Caps.” 

The Whitecaps, Minnesota’s PHF team, had been active in the state since 2004, playing in two different leagues and winning championships in both. They were the longest-standing professional women’s hockey franchise in North America, and if I was right about what the PWHPA’s acquisition of the PHF meant, I was about to lose them.

Hours after the PHF was acquired, it became clear that the team and the league I had put so much time and enthusiasm into supporting was gone. What’s worse, PHF players found out about the acquisition via social media at the same time I did.

Players are now faced with a league that voided all PHF contracts entirely when PHF players recently had their minimum contract value raised to $27,000 per year. The Athletic’s Shayna Goldman also reported that PWHPA players were given priority on new PWHL contracts.

Tensions have existed between the PHF and PWHPA ever since it was formed. After the Canadian Women’s Hockey League dissolved, some of its players decided against joining the National Women’s Hockey League (later renamed to PHF), and created the PWHPA.

The PWHPA intended to create a professional women’s hockey league in North America by 2024. The issue, however, was the already-flourishing PHF, which by then had attracted fans who wanted an independent league. The acquisition of the PHF by the PWHPA removed any competition the PWHL might face.

However, former PHF players were suddenly vulnerable to loss of employment and lower wages due to the now-saturated women’s hockey market and higher competition for roster spots. This was the case for Allie Thunstrom, who played for the Whitecaps. After the formation of the PWHL, Thunstrom went from one of Minnesota’s key players to an unsigned free agent, and eventually she was forced to retire.

With the PWHL either terminating or completely rebranding well-established PHF teams, its inaugural season—with no team names, no individual team logos, and no game schedule to speak of—is underwhelming compared to what we once had. 

What amuses me in particular, from Sept. 18 until Nov. 14, the PWHL was running a campaign where fans could make a $50 deposit to guarantee they would be first in line for tickets to individual games in the 2024 season. I’ve gotta ask—which games? In which arenas? All of these factors, while temporary, have dealt serious blows to fan enthusiasm.

It's important to note that everything the PWHL has come up with, including team locations, rosters, and branding, has occurred in the last four months. Jerseys alone usually take upward of a year to finalize, so these designs were likely where the league cut corners, as with team names and logos. Since the PWHPA noted that they had been planning to buy the PHF out for almost a year before they actually did, I can’t help but wonder why they waited so long to start planning these fundamental aspects of the league.

The league is sticking with these jerseys for their inaugural season. But their boring anonymity is making it harder for hockey fans to engage with the league as is traditional: with blind, rabid devotion to their chosen team and its players. This, coupled with a mountain of other marketing and contractual mistakes, is putting a serious strain on professional women’s hockey.

I’m not saying the PWHL can’t be great, or that having a unified professional women’s hockey league isn’t important. But long-time PHF fans are being driven away from the new league because the origins of the PWHL and its treatment of former PHF players are unconscionable. Let’s not forget the players the PWHL left in the dust and the hockey history they discarded in the name of unity.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.