The National Women’s Hockey League, facing more than a little uncertainty about its future amid upheaval across North American women’s hockey, reached an agreement Thursday with its players association on an improved compensation package for players headed into the league’s fifth season of existence, according to an Associated Press report.
The deal is reportedly only for the 2019–20 season, although the league will have the option of running it back the following season. Though no specific financial terms have been announced, the deal reportedly includes increased salaries, plus “increases to travel and meal costs,” and further potential salary growth in the form of a 50-50 profit-sharing split of sponsor-related income between the league and its players. Since only one of the NWHL’s five teams—the current champion Minnesota Whitecaps—has turned any sort of profit in the league’s short history, the value of that arrangement will be revealed over time, but with the NWHL now the only women’s professional hockey league on the continent, an even split of sponsor profits at least has intriguing potential value for players.
Growing salaries is a priority for the NWHL in part because there’s a coalition of 200 players, organized together as the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), who have vowed to boycott North American professional hockey indefinitely until there is a league willing to pay “a sustainable living wage” to players. The NWHL reportedly paid players between $10,000 and $26,000 in its inaugural season, but those salaries were halved in year two, and in the two years since players were apparently making as little as $2,000 for a full season of work. And the NWHL is for now the only show in town, after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded up earlier this spring.
The PWHPA has yet to comment on the NWHL’s agreement with its players, but the NWHL Players Association reportedly described it as a “breakthrough,” and hailed the “substantial gains” won for players. The NWHL is trying to find some degree of stability in these early stages of growth—establishing itself as remotely financially viable for top players seems like a reasonable place to start.