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Skyler EspinozaMay 21, 2024 at 2:41 PM7 min read

Breaking the Ice: How the PWHL is Revolutionizing Women's Hockey

Breaking the Ice: How the PWHL is Revolutionizing Women's Hockey


Source: © Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

When we think about the boom of the business of women’s sports, it’s hard not to picture the slight guard from Iowa knocking down logo threes, her signature ponytail mirroring the swish of the net. But while women’s basketball has been the most at the visible forefront of the women’s sports conversation, there is another league that has made perhaps more understated, but nonetheless massive, steps in the business of women’s sports this year. 

The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) celebrated its inaugural draft in 2023, hockey’s youngest and brightest joining decorated legends in six teams across the United States and Canada. After years of attempts to create a viable league across North America, the stakeholders involved in creation of the PWHL were determined to do it right. Before the first puck dropped, the PWHL promised financial security, benefits, professional development and much more in a historic CBA. But throughout the season it became clear that the PWHL wasn’t just building the league simply to “do the right thing.” 


They meant business. 


I sat down with Paul Gugliucci, Senior Manager of Corporate Partnerships with the PWHL, to talk about the league’s momentous first year, and what others can learn from the way they have worked with partners to invest in women’s hockey. 


The beginning was uncertain, as all beginnings are, no matter how confident you are in your product. When approaching brands to be founding partners, the partnership team had nothing in hand but the dream. Brands want to see numbers, and data, and there wasn’t any yet.



The good thing is that in Canada, hockey isn’t a pipe dream: it’s the nation’s bread and butter. Canada Tire was one of the first significant partners, and they never questioned the viability of a women’s hockey league. They knew the league just had to put rubber to the road and it would be screaming off. Discover and Airsupra were other partners who didn’t need to see to believe.



The partnership team within the PWHL placed quality over quantity in the early days, and didn’t partner with anyone who didn’t see the value they knew the league boasted.


USATSI_22237509Source: © Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports


One of the most important early partnerships was on lock before the league was even publicly announced: the game changing investment from the Walter family. An investment the league has honored by naming the championship trophy after the family. This investment meant that all PWHL could lock down the type of broadcast deal women’s sports has been dreaming of. All games are available to fans, for free. For free! All the games! As any fan of women’s sports will tell you, this is a huge deal. We normally have to hold at least 12 subscriptions, have 3 active VPNs and a working proficiency in Spanish to watch women’s sports. Having games easily accessible was one of the most revolutionary steps the PWHL took, and the fans took that step and ran with it.



Opening night, drew 2.9 million viewers. There has been a 2,557% increase in the league’s YouTube subscribers throughout the season with over 106,000 subscribers and more than 40 million views.



Thanks to fans tuning into every game, and showing up again and again in person, the league now has the data it needed to put numbers behind the dream.



The pitch deck was a living document that inhaled the numbers and exuded confidence. For brands who wanted to jump on board the PWHL train, the price tag had gone up. But crucially, there are still seats on the train.



For established leagues, across both men’s and women’s sports, brand real estate is crowded. Brands on both sides of the northern border began to see the opportunity of visibility in a blossoming league. Paul explained that when talking with Canadian brands, there’s no explaining to be done. Women’s hockey is hockey, and of course it needs to be invested in. Everyone and their mother has played some version of hockey, and has a pair of skates somewhere in the basement. In the United States there is regional viability, with companies located in Minnesota rivaling their Canadian counterparts’ enthusiasm. However, if a call is picked up at Dallas headquarters, Paul knows there is some explaining that needs to be done. All across the United States, hockey has to make space in hearts that are already full of football, baseball, basketball and KFC. 


But the stars of the PWHL have delivered, new fans have been born, and huge partnership deals inked. Some of the league’s biggest partnerships have included e.l.f. Cosmetics, Barbie, Woody Creek Distillers and many more. Scotiabank jumped at the opportunity to be the league’s official bank, and also is the presenting sponsor of the league’s first finals: a best of five series featuring underdogs Boston and Minnesota. As this sparkling season comes to a close, the league is already looking towards next year. Hockey giant Bauer has come on board as the jersey sponsor, ready to give each PWHL franchise its own personal flair for the 2024-2025 season. 


USATSI_22217354Source: © Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

As the league is still looking for partnerships that will capitalize on its early growth, and elevate the league to superstar status, I wondered what the closing slapshot is in these meetings: Why should brands invest in women’s sports?


It’s all there, right in the numbers. In a first of its kind report published by Parity and SurveyMonkey on women’s sports fandom, we found that women’s sports fans are 32% more likely to purchase from a brand that supports women’s sports, or partners with female athletes. Female athletes have also been proven to be more effective brand influencers, with women’s sports fans 2.8x more likely to purchase a product recommended to them by a female athlete.



Partnering with a women’s sports franchise is just smart business: fans want to put their money towards brands that support their favorite athletes. Female fans are also often the decision makers in their households, so cornering a female market is crucial to influencing spending. Finally, women’s sports fans are smart. They know that investment is what makes women’s sports accessible, and they want to make investments of their own to maintain their leagues’ and teams’ viability and accessibility. 



I asked Paul if he had any advice to share for leagues or teams looking to replicate the PWHL’s success. He said gone are the days when a women’s league or team has to settle for whatever a partner is offering. It used to be that a partner would offer, and the budget would bend around what was available: not any more. He encouraged new leagues and teams to map out the budget that doesn’t cut any corners, and plans for the long term. With that budget in hand, don’t settle! There are smart and eager brands out there looking to partner with women’s sports, and reaching partnership financial goals at the outset will set your league up for success, which will in turn return the investment made by the partner. He encouraged leagues to be realistic about the amount of revenue they will get via ticket and merchandise sales, and then make up the difference with aggressive partnership revenue goals.


Here at Parity, the PWHL’s success comes as no surprise, but we are consistently inspired by the excellence and courage of pioneers like the women of professional hockey. Don’t forget to tune in to the PWHL finals, and watch all season long as 5 hungry teams look to become the second squad to hoist the Walter Trophy in 2025!


Visit to purchase tickets and merchandise, and subscribe to the PWHL e-newsletter to receive the latest league updates. Follow the league on all social media platforms @thepwhlofficial plus all six team accounts @pwhl_boston, @pwhl_minnesota, @pwhl_montreal, @pwhl_newyork, @pwhl_ottawa, and @pwhl_toronto. 



About Parity
Minority-founded in 2020, Parity's mission is to close the gender income and opportunity gap in professional sports. By developing high-impact collaborations between brands, professional women athletes and their fans, Parity has proudly put more than $3.5 million in the pockets of women athletes, attracting dozens of brands to the movement in the process. The platform offers connections to more than 1000 women athletes from 80+ sports, including well over 200 Olympians and Paralympians. For more information on how to tap into the rapidly rising influence and popularity of women athletes, visit or follow us on InstagramLinkedInFacebookX (formerly Twitter) and Threads




Skyler Espinoza

Skyler was a DI rower and coach at Columbia and Stanford Universities, and now is a Team USA athlete as a guide for a visually impaired cyclist. She is a world championships medallist, and a 2x Parapan American champion. You can read her blog about women in sports at, and follow her on Instagram @skyler.espinozaa.