2018-19 Season Sets New Highs for Attendance, Viewership, Merchandising and Engagement
March 28, 2019 - National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) News Release
Although the Isobel Cup was won by the Minnesota Whitecaps less than two weeks ago, the busy NWHL offseason is already in full stride. In providing a detailed recap of the 2018-19 season, the NWHL would like to share important data about increases across all key business metrics, along with areas where the league is working to elevate.
ATTENDANCE AND PARTNERSHIPS
Of the 46 NWHL games in 2018-19, 16 drew sold-out crowds - setting a new league record. The average attendance of the 46 games was 954.
2018-19 season average attendance:
In their first season as the NWHL's first expansion team, the Minnesota Whitecaps sold out all 10 home games at TRIA Rink - 8 regular season games, the playoff semifinal against the Riveters and Isobel Cup Final against Buffalo. Prior to the start of the season, the team established an alignment with the NHL's Minnesota Wild. The Whitecaps not only were Isobel Cup champions, but the team was a profitable business venture in their first season.
The Boston Pride sold out their last 3 home games and generated strong crowds all season at Warrior Ice Rink. The Pride received a strong midseason boost when the club formed a partnership with the NHL's Boston Bruins, collaborating on youth hockey programs and crossover promotion of the sport.
Owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the Buffalo Beauts drew large crowds for their 8 games at HarborCenter and one at Key Bank Arena, the home of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. The Beauts organization has also been recognized by players, media and fans for setting a standard in professional women's hockey by providing first-class facilities and additional ice time, enhancing player development.
The Metropolitan Riveters, who are aligned with the New Jersey Devils and have started a Girls Hockey program with the NHL club, sold out their regular season finale and played to large crowds in their seven regular season games and one playoff game at RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House. They also played their home opener before more than 2,000 fans at the Prudential Center.
"In the last 18 months, four NWHL teams have formed mutually-beneficial partnerships with the NHL teams in their markets, resulting in effective cross-promotion and the development of girls' programs," said NWHL Founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan. "We appreciate these partnerships and are focused on plans for the Connecticut Whale that will give the team and players the additional support they have long deserved."
On the sponsorship side, in addition to the extraordinary support of Dunkin' since the launch of the league, the NWHL added its first major team-specific sponsorship (TRIA for the Whitecaps, thanks to a major assist from the Minnesota Wild), with Warrior Hockey later becoming a sponsor of the Boston Pride. The NWHL also signed a new national partner in VEDA, becoming the first sports league to accept a sponsorship by a company in the hemp industry.
However, major sponsorship opportunities remain open. For example, the Beauts, Riveters, Pride and Whale continue to offer high-profile jersey sponsorships.
"It's imperative that we increase sponsorship sales, locally and nationally," said Rylan, whose staff is working with league partners to identify prospective sponsors heading into the fifth season. "It's a vital part of our business."
EVENTS AND BROADCASTING
The 2019 NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville drew a crowd of 6,200 - the largest ever for a professional women's hockey game in the United States. Combined, the NWHL Skills Challenge (sold out at Ford Ice Center) and All-Star Game reached more than one million viewers on Twitter.
"Taking our All-Star events to NHL markets without NWHL teams has proven to be a very effective way to increase the brand awareness of our players and league," said Rylan. "The weekends in Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Nashville were hugely successful, and we are in discussions to continue this approach in other major cities."
As it has since the league was founded in 2015, the NWHL streamed every game, making every second of NWHL action accessible to fans via YouTube and the Twitter Game of the Week. Average viewership this season was 70,000, a new high for the league.
"The investment in making every NWHL game available to the public from day one was an important strategic decision for us, and it has undoubtedly paid off," said Rylan. "We're proud of the work of our production teams and the broadcasters. A crucial next step for us would be creating broadcast partnerships, nationally and regionally. These players deserve the biggest stage, and I'm confident the NWHL would deliver loyal and large audiences for networks."
APPAREL SALES, SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT & JR. NWHL
Apparel sales also established a new high for the league and were up 36 percent this season over 2017-18. NWHL players again received 15 percent of the revenue derived from sales of jerseys and shirseys with their names on them.
Top-selling athletes in combined jersey and shirseys sold:
Shannon Szabados, Buffalo
Amanda Kessel, Riveters
Emily Pfalzer, Buffalo
Audra Richards, Riveters
Lee Stecklein, Minnesota
(tie) Blake Bolden, Buffalo; Kendall Coyne Schofield, Minnesota
"Offering retail jerseys and shirseys with all 125 names of the women in the league has been a good start to elevate player profiles, but we believe we can collaborate with the players to do more to increase their platforms and visibility," said Rylan. "We are going to speak with the players this offseason about ideas to not only promote their personal brands, but identify more revenue opportunities for them."
Among the notable gains in league and team social media this season...
Thanks to the history-making exploits of Kendall Coyne Schofield, the buzz created by the NWHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, and the interaction between our players (including Captains Szabados and Stecklein) and fans, tweets from @NWHL earned 4.2 million impressions in February, the most of any month in league history.
NWHL Twitter gained 7,000 followers and NWHL Instagram gained 5,000 followers over the course of the season, while engagement on team Facebook pages increased 143 percent since last season.
Overall, Twitter impressions on @NWHL increased 23 percent from the previous season.
Whitecaps social accounts gained nearly 20,000 followers since May, when they were announced as the league's first expansion team.
This season, the league launched Jr. NWHL - an affiliate program that connects future stars of professional women's hockey to the current players. The program has been an overwhelming success in building a pipeline not only to future NWHL draft picks, but forever fans. Jr. NWHL has already signed up more than 100 youth hockey organizations across the U.S. (see map).
To date, the NWHL has paid more than $2.5 million to players. With the support of the league's resourceful and impassioned investors who believe in our vision and athletes, and thanks to the increasing number of fans, sponsors, and the business successes over the last two years, that number will climb in the coming years.
Of equal importance to the league is player development. Just two examples of the exemplary work of the Buffalo Beauts organization are 2018-19 NWHL Most Valuable Player Maddie Elia, and 2018-19 Players' Player of the Year Hayley Scamurra. Elia continues to progress as an exceptional all-zone player, while Scamurra is a member of the U.S. National Team that will compete next month in the World Championships. Also this season, Riveters defender Michelle Picard has returned to the National Team roster, and rookie Boston goaltender Katie Burt was invited to USNT camp and started one game in the Rivalry Series against Canada.
The league has heard from several players who would like to see more games added to the regular season. An announcement on the potential expansion of the game schedule in 2019-20 will be made in the near future.
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