Supporters of women's hockey are disappointed in the lack of media coverage on popular sport channels such as TSN and Sportsnet when it comes to professional women’s hockey.
Jayna Hefford commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), says visibility of the league has grown since she took over the position last July, she also acknowledges that sports journalists fall short in their coverage.
“I think sometimes they don’t do enough research so they will go back to the same athletes and the same questions,” said the four-time Olympic gold medalist.
Her former Canadian National teammate and Calgary Inferno forward Brianne Jenner shared Hefford’s concerns when she called out sports journalists for their lack of coverage at a speaking engagement in December.
"She said the Canadian news media at least - seem to always ask the same sorts of questions."— Hannah Bevis (@Hannah_Bevis1) December 13, 2018
Thank you, @briannejenner, for using your platform to call out lazy journalism that's far, FAR too common in women's sports.https://t.co/JM7BbX7aF2
Sports journalists not doing enough
SB Nation blogger, Fiona Gardiner, challenges the idea that any type of coverage is good enough. She’s especially frustrated with writers who focus solely on the lighter human-interest stories in women’s hockey, rather than analyzing the games and the players’ athletic accomplishments
“The CWHL has been around for 12 years now and it's time to start asking for more than just any coverage,” she says.
As an example, Gardiner points to Laura Stacy, forward for the Markham Thunder. Media outlets often gravitate to Stacy’s great grandfather, hockey hall-of-famer King Clancy, rather than her as a skilled hockey player.
Stacey finished this season with 25 points in 24 games. For a point-per-game total of 1.04. She also scored the overtime winner to lift the Markham Thunder to the 2018 Clarkson Cup Championship.
“That’s just some woman that you want to write a story about, it’s not about a hockey player,” says Gardiner.
Another example of the difference between how men and women are covered is when Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Liane saw a decrease in goals this season. This resulted in multiple articles that were analyzing his play. Gardiner explains that if a star CWHL player was going through a similar slump, most sports reporters would ignore the story.
“You don’t see that in women’s hockey. In order to have women hockey players respected as hockey players, you need to actually portray the hockey part of it,” she says.
Jessa Braun, founder of the website She Scores, echoes Gardiner’s position.
“In women's sports coverage there is definitely a lack of deep analysis for each game and players’ abilities.”
Her site, which focuses solely on women’s sports, tries to keep the fluff to a minimum.
Braun, who is also the sports editor for Wilfrid Laurier University Brantford’s publication, The Sputnik, explains just how little coverage there was about women’s sports when she first started working there.
She also realized that other journalists were reluctant to cover women’s sports.
“It's never the first story pitch that crosses their mind,” she says.
Mainstream sports coverage: a lop-sided affair
Sportsnet has been the official broadcasting partner of the CWHL since 2014. Hefford appreciates the work that they are doing to cover the league, including the decision to feature an all-female broadcast crew during the last two Clarkson Cup finals.
“We have had a great partnership with Sportsnet over the last number of years,” she says.
However, Sportsnet’s coverage of the CWHL only includes four games a season, including two regular season games, the league’s all-star game, and the Clarkson Cup championship final. By comparison, Sportsnet’s NHL schedule this season includes 150 nationally televised games, 150 regionally shown games, and every game of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Similarly, TSN’s NHL schedule for this season includes 191 regional games. TSN does show a number of international women’s games, however, neither TSN nor Sportsnet have shown any National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) games.
The 2017 Clarkson Cup final had an average TV audience of 100,000 and one million people watched at least a portion of the game. Compared to the 2018 Stanley Cup final between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights where viewership averaged around 2.7 million Canadian viewers.
Unequal coverage on website and sports apps
Another problem area includes websites and mobile applications. A scan of TSN and Sportsnets’ sites and mobile apps shows no sections exclusively dedicated to the CWHL or NWHL. They also lack scores and results from the leagues, which they have with many other sports.
The Calgary Journal sought comments about the gaps in women’s coverage from Sportsnet and TSN. Sportsnet declined an interview request, while TSN had not responded atthe time of publication.
More coverage will fix perceptions of women’s hockey
Hefford says the league is still looking for help from media outlets to show what the CWHL has to offer.
“I think sometimes it’s the chicken and the egg. How do we get more attention and generate more interest and create more value if people don't see the sport in a big way?” Hefford asks.
“We're always looking to get the game out there [whether that is] broadcast or streamed games. Because that creates value for us,” says Hefford.
Calgary Inferno forward Venla Hovi agrees that a little bit of coverage could go a long way.
“I think if we get more visibility, that would be able to start the cycle of people wanting more, and also for younger girls to be able to watch us, and not just watch the men play,” says Hovi who recently became the first Finish born player to win the Clarkson Cup.
CTV reporter Catherine Lathem supported Hovi’s point, tweeting how Kendall Coyne Schofield’s skate at the NHL skills competition inspired her four-year-old daughter.
. @KendallCoyne ever since your awesome showing at the @nhl skills competition, my 4yo daughter Demie wants to be just like you! ❤️ Here’s her attempt to break your record! 🏆🏒Thanks for inspiring little girls everywhere! #skatelikeagirl #hockey #girlscandoanything pic.twitter.com/TRcgbpabIv— Catherine Lathem (@CatherineCTV) February 11, 2019
Despite scant coverage of women’s hockey, there are some signs of progress.
Braun explains during a roundtable discussion that she was part of at a journalism conference in Calgary in early 2019, several student sports writers, all male, started a conversation about how they're making an effort to cover their local CWHL teams at their student newspapers.
“I was literally jiggling with joy that this was Canada's next group of sports journalists,” she says.
Since others are stepping up to cover women's hockey the question is when are Sportsnet and TSN going to do the same?
- By Bill Atwood