NBC Sports and the National Women’s Hockey League are teaming up to make sports history in 2021: for the first time ever, women’s professional hockey will be broadcast on a major national TV network.
NBC Sports and the NWHL announced on Tuesday that NBCSN will exclusively broadcast the 2021 Isobel Cup semifinals and finals (the equivalent to the NHL’s Stanley Cup) on Feb. 4-5, 2021. The six-team league will play its entire season, including the playoffs, in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York.
“Our partnership with NBC Sports is monumental for the visibility of the NWHL,” said commissioner Tyler Tumminia in a press release. “Never before has women’s professional hockey had the opportunity to reach so many people on American television in the United States. As we have seen with the WNBA and NWSL this year when women’s major league sports leagues are given a strong showcase, viewership is increased and countless new fans connect with the teams and players.”
Critics of women’s professional sports continually grumble that no one cares about watching women play the same sports that men do, but the numbers beg to differ. Ratings for the 2020 WNBA Finals were up 15 percent over 2019. The National Women’s Soccer League shattered ratings records for several of their CBS broadcasts in 2020, and saw the viewership numbers from their title game increase by 300 percent over 2019.
In the meantime, viewership for the NBA was down across the board, including the Finals. The NHL saw their Stanley Cup ratings drop by 50 percent. MLB’s World Series ratings came in at all-time lows. While the number of people watching men’s professional sports is shrinking, the number of people watching women’s sports continues to rise.
You can’t make anything more popular by hiding it away. People won’t become fans if they’re not able to watch the games. The deal with NBC Sports marks a new era for the NWHL, and hopefully that momentum will spread to all women’s sports in 2021.
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