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Archive for March 3, 2023

March 3, 2023 — The role of “disruptor” in women’s sports

Since the beginning of the women’s sports revolution coming after the 1996 Olympics, there has been professionalization of many team sports, such as soccer, basketball, softball, ice hockey, volleyball, and lacrosse.

There have been leagues which have become the standard of competition within each sport. At the same time, however, there have been disruptors which have vied to become the top promotion of the sport.

I’m writing this because this weekend is another weekend of hockey games run by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. This group has many of the top stars in North American women’s ice hockey who do not play in the Premier Hockey Federation, the seven-team circuit which has been around since 2015. The PHF has roots in the old National Women’s Hockey League, which merged with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in the 2010s.

The PWHPA has been playing a touring schedule, visiting such varied locations as Truro, Nova Scotia and Tampa, Fla., and will finish out next weekend in Palm Desert, Calif.

Pro women’s hockey isn’t the only sport to have competition for players and fan attention.

When the WNBA started play in the spring of 1997, there was already a women’s pro league. The American Basketball League was a single-entity league which sought to develop itself as a league before bringing in team partnerships in each city. The ABL also had a pretty good level of competition because of the number of national-teamers playing in the league.

The ABL, however, ran out of funds and also suffered somewhat from its marketing. A number of the cities that the league chose — Richmond, Philadelphia, Columbus, Long Beach, and San Jose — have never had a WNBA side.

In soccer, there have been three USSF-sanctioned Division I leagues — the WUSA, WPS, and the NWSL. But there has also been lower-division soccer with a mix of amateur and college players, such as the National Premier Soccer League and the USL “W” League, with other competitions being planned for 2024.

And in women’s lacrosse, there was an era with two competing leagues, the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League and United Women’s Lacrosse, before evolving into Athletes Unlimited. But after two seasons of unified competition, the By The Pros promotion, signed 22 players who competed in an exhibition last December. There are no planned on-field competitions yet scheduled for 2023.

Now, what some call “disruption” may instead be thought of as “competition.” There are seemingly a lot of people and companies willing to invest in women’s sports — although the last decade and a half is full of cautionary tales in women’s pro soccer.