Times are changing dramatically, but nobody can deny that a gender gap still exists in sport, and it is a wider one than that encountered in other areas of life. With a few exceptions, such as tennis and athletics, women’s sport typically attracts less sponsorship, publicity and recognition than men’s. The “locker room” mentality is also something that remains pervasive. This is as much the case in hockey as it is in football, soccer, baseball or basketball. Events like International Women’s Day provide a great opportunity to do something meaningful towards bridging the gender gap, and that’s exactly what the NHL and it’s North American broadcasters did on March 08.
In that day’s match-ups between the St Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames versus the Vegas Golden Knights, every individual involved in the telecasts, on both sides of the cameras, was a woman.
The idea was the brainchild of NBC Sports producer Kaitlin Urka. Last year, she showed former Olympic medalist AJ Mleczko’s daughter around a working production truck. The girl’s immediate reaction to the experience was not to be overawed by the technology but to ask why there were no women working there.
Urka and Mieczko reunited for the game at St Louis, with Urka taking control in the production truck while Mieczko was accompanied by Kendall Coyne Schofield, Jennifer Botterill and Kathryn Tappen in the commentary booth.
Striving Towards Diversity
Diversity in hockey is a topic that has been hitting the headlines with increasing regularity over recent months, and events like this help to keep it on the agenda. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told USA Today that “diversity and inclusiveness make hockey stronger.” However, the fact remains that 96 percent of operational roles in hockey are performed by men.
As well as being ethically and morally right, encouraging diversity also makes sound commercial sense. Women constitute an ever-growing proportion of the NHL’s fanbase. This has increased since the relaxation of sports betting legislation over recent years, with a larger proportion of women visiting online NHL betting sites to place a dollar or two on their favourite team.
A “Terrifying” Pay Gap
For players, however, having a dollar or two to spare remains a challenge in the women’s game. While money is being invested, precious little of it is finding its way to the athletes at the pinnacle of hockey, who week in and week out risk life-changing injury for the game they love.
Stipends can be as low as $2,000 for a season, and from that amount, players need to fund their own health insurance. Liz Knox is a former player and now co-chairs the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Player Association. She described the financial situation for women players as “terrifying.” When compared with the millions of dollars available in the men’s game, it is hard to argue with her description.
A Brighter Future
Gender equality in hockey, as in so many areas, is not going to come overnight. Innovations like the one on International Women’s Day will not solve the problem, but they help keep this vital topic on the sports agenda.
As one of Sunday’s co-hosts Christine Simpson said after the game, “Frankly, this shouldn’t be a really big deal. Let’s look at it as a sign of things to come.”