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PHF commissioner: ‘No doubt’ women’s game can be as popular as men’s

PHF commissioner Reagan Carey presents the Isobel Cup to Toronto Six forward Shiann Darkangelo. (Antranik Tavitian/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Premier Hockey Federation commissioner Reagan Carey is excited about the future of the women’s game.

Women’s professional hockey could be just as popular as the men’s side, Carey said in a discussion with the Washington Post on Wednesday. She highlighted the PHF’s momentum and its push to increase player salaries in speaking, but she pointed to the relative lack of exposure for women’s hockey as an obstacle to its wider success.

“As we get these new opportunities with our media rights and the continued exposure, it’s not a lack of the sport being where it needs to be,” she said. “It’s not a lack of these talented athletes. It’s just a lack of exposure and awareness, and growing that fanbase. So I have no doubt that it can be [as popular as the men’s game].”

The league is looking to build in that direction, having signed a two-year partnership with ESPN to broadcast games. Being able to watch an entire season of women’s professional hockey, Carey said, is “another trailblazing moment for our sport.”

And collaborating with the NHL and the men’s side of the game is something that the PHF wants to continue to do.

“I certainly believe that women’s hockey at the professional level and men’s hockey at the professional level should be teammates,” Carey said. “And working with the NHL certainly provides a lot of resources and support, and they already do that.”

A growing interest in the women’s game has led to an increase in benefits – and pay – for the PHF. The league’s salary cap has grown substantially in recent years and will reach $1.5 million per team in 2023-24 – a tenfold increase since 2021.

The PHF has come a long way from the days when some of the game’s best departed in 2019 over lack of health insurance and low salaries.

Some of those players have started to return, whether it be on the ice or in the front office, and a number of Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association players have made the decision to sign with the PHF in the last year.

“We’re really proud of the advancements we’ve made in a short amount of time,” Carey said, noting that it reflects the confidence the league has in the women’s game. “We’re largely an impatient group. We want to see the future here faster, and we have the right team around us to do that.

“So to be able to be one of the smaller but emerging and thriving leagues for women’s sports in the professional realm, to be leading in salary cap is something, you know, we’re really proud of and hopefully an indicator of where we’re headed.”

While the pay disparity between the men’s and women’s game is still vast – something that Carey said is due to the “infancy” of the women’s professional game – that doesn’t mean that it won’t change.

“This league has been built on a strong vision of being a trailblazer,” she said. “They were the first to pay players – it wasn’t enough at the time – but they were the first to do it. They put a new stake in the ground to say that these players matter, and obviously, there are some bumps in the road with any startup and new league.

“But I think where we are now is strongly that new era phase for this league. … In women’s sports, athletes have had to do so much more than just be elite athletes. And listening to the players and all of us being part of this movement within the PHF and building this new era is important and essential to our success.

“We’re focused on what we can control. We’re focused on what we’re building, and we’re focused on doing it quickly but in a sustainable, responsible way. So, you know, we’ll get there, and, you know, we just have to keep demonstrating and showing everybody what a great sport it is to watch.”