Monday, 31 December 2012

Reality show would be of great benefit to growing CWHL

While agreements with two National Hockey League clubs (Toronto, Calgary) have helped bring great momentum to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, it is crucial that said momentum does not evaporate. As the Toronto franchise owns a television network (and in turn, the franchise is owned by a media conglomerate/juggernaut), a reality program would create excellent programming while helping to give the growing league much needed exposure.

In 1997, the National Film Board of Canada produced an outstanding hockey documentary titled The Game of Her Life. Broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation airwaves, the documentary helped to educate nascent women’s hockey fans on the subtleties of the game, and more importantly, the sacrifices and personal journeys that the players endured to reach such a high level. The documentary was a remarkable companion to the Nagano Winter Games, while educating an entire nation on the importance of women’s hockey.

The success of that documentary could be translated into a reality program today, which would be of great benefit to the CWHL. In what would be a new means of giving the growing league exposure, it would also help give existing fans a new opportunity to enjoy the game. The show would not be in the same mold as other reality shows where most of the participants are adorned in bikinis and socializing by the obligatory swimming pool.

As the Boston Blades sit first overall in the league, and appear to be on a collision course with the defending champion Montreal Stars for the right to win the 2013 edition of the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian vs. American hockey rivalry could easily be documented into a documentary style reality show. Considering that the league already has a broadcast partner to air the Clarkson Cup championship game, it would be a great feather in the cap of the league if said partner would be willing to undertake such a unique project.

With any sporting league, personalities help to define it. Every franchise has at least one household name that could make for great television, and more importantly, these are all admirable personalities. Their interests outside of hockey would make for remarkable off-season stories that would show these world-class athletes as great people.

The Montreal Stars feature Meghan Agosta, one of the greatest players in the world. With the newly married Agosta working on projects as diverse as wineries and hockey schools, her entrepreneurial spirit and motivation would be intriguing. Caroline Ouellette has been involved with many great humanitarian causes, and has traveled the world over. Such great spirit would make for remarkable programming.

Gillian Apps and Jayna Hefford are two of Brampton’s most recognizable players that have worked tirelessly for charity. Cross-town rival Toronto features Tessa Bonhomme and league co-founder Sami Jo Small. Bonhomme is a larger than life celebrity who is quickly becoming one of Toronto’s social elite, while Small’s marriage to ice sledge hockey player Billy Bridges would help introduce fans to another world of hockey.

While the upcoming 2013-14 CWHL season will be turned on its ear, such drama would provide superlative subject matter for a reality program. Due to the involvement of over two dozen of its players being involved with training camps for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the league will be defined by new faces, and veterans forced to assume new leadership roles.

In this instance, the league could find inspiration from the highly popular reality program HBO’s Hard Knocks, which focuses on the day to day goings on in training camps of the National Football League. While the show may be tabbed by some as reality (as it stands as the buzz word), it is more of a documentary that has brought a very human approach to the aggressive yet macho world of pro football.

Even if the CWHL were unable to find a television network willing to broadcast its documentary/reality programming, it is still an avenue worth pursuing. The CWHL can take inspiration from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. Both have featured vignettes (and player video diaries) on their respective websites.

In turn, many of these vignettes have found their way to online broadcast sites, such as You Tube. These are more than just remarkable ways to show a human and emotional side to these fearless, frozen females. These vignettes serve as a unique way to help promote the game. The CWHL features the most talented women’s ice hockey players in the world, and the ability to develop an online channel or just produce brief vignettes would help to show these players in a different, yet dignified light, while shaping many of them into the role models that they deserve to be.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Shame on TV networks for not airing women’s hockey in spite of lockout

During the holiday season, sports networks in Canada have started to use classic baseball championship matches from decades past to fill airtime. With the third pro hockey lockout dragging with no quick end forthcoming, it is disheartening how the fearless, frozen females of the world of hockey go without well earned television time.

While the classic baseball matches certainly evoke great feelings among baseball fans, is the timing not a little off? As all television channels in Canada are obligated to provide a minimum thirty percent of Canadian produced content on its airwaves, how can women’s hockey find itself neglected?

One of these sports networks also publishes its own sports periodical. Since its first publication, there has been one story on professional women’s hockey. In looking at their Year in Review issue, they made not one mention of the Clarkson Cup or the CWHL whatsoever. Yet, there was a mention of Erin Honto who is competing in the Bikini Hockey League.

Since the Torino Winter Games in 2006, women’s hockey has grown by a quantum leap. In Ontario, the Provincial Women’s Hockey League has grown to 20 teams. With the PWHL having provided a lot of talent for Canada’s Under-18 national team (and the NCAA), the league has quickly emerged as the female equivalent of the Ontario Hockey League (boys major junior).

Regions such as Western and Atlantic Canada have emerged as hot spots for Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey. Although CIS has contracts for online broadcasting, the level of talent competing at that level (including Hayley Wickenheiser with the Calgary Dinos) must justify some interest.

In that time span, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has developed into the elite women’s hockey league in the world. Most of the members of the Canadian and US National Women’s squads compete in the growing league. In the same spirit as the Stanley Cup, the Clarkson Cup was the Governor General of Canada’s gift to the world of women’s hockey (which is contested annually by the CWHL).

Although it is true that the final match of the Clarkson Cup is broadcast (along with IIHF Women’s Worlds and Esso Cup tournaments), it is hard to build up any enthusiasm for these events when the casual television viewer has little or no idea who these teams and players are, let alone how they got to this point.

To be fair, it is also up to the women’s hockey leagues to create their own interest as well. There are many athletic associations (including USA Hockey) that have their own YouTube channel. Should the PWHL or CWHL build a YouTube channel, it might be a revolutionary way to get things started.

Perhaps a quick way to stimulate the interest would be to mention the scores of women’s hockey matches (CIS, CWHL, PWHL) on the sports ticker (found at the bottom of most sports network broadcasts). When sports networks start to broadcast soccer scores from Europe on their ticker, there is certainly a cause for alarm. To add women’s hockey scores to the sports ticker (for any network) has no bearing on cost whatsoever. It is simply a moral issue, and one that the networks have missed the boat on.

While networks will provide their cost analysis argument or their justification about ratings as reasons for not giving women’s hockey broadcast time, said networks could just as easily outsource the production of a game. With CIS hockey being broadcast online, picking up the feed would be of no consequence. Most people involved with the CWHL are volunteers; therefore, a group of willing hands eager to assemble a broadcast by donating their time seems feasible.

It is time to create new history and allow the finest women’s hockey players in the world fair and equal time. Although Canada’s cultural mosaic may call for the reason behind airing soccer matches from Europe on Saturday mornings, these same fans clamor for the Maple Leafs and Canadiens on Saturday nights. When poker can earn prime time airtime, it is time to reflect and truly look at the potential of women’s hockey beyond a financial investment, but as an emotional and moral one.