Expansion Rumors

Will Seattle's Next Pro Sports Team Be In...Women's Hockey?

They might just beat the NBA to the punch.

By Angela Cabotaje March 23, 2022

Women’s Pro Hockey Seattle ambassadors like Alexis Haire make their case for an expansion team.

Seattle sports fans have been through it. We've had highs (the unleashing of the Kraken and, hey, Sue and Megan are both coming back). We've had lows (sob, fine be that way, Russ). We've had reason to despair and hope (please, Sonics, for the love of all that is good, come back).

Our fervor, and viability as a profitable market, hasn't gone unrewarded. In recent years, Seattle has lured professional teams in all manner of sports—most recently in men's hockey, but also cricket and rugby and women's soccer (again). While whispers of a triumphant NBA return have percolated for years, our next sports franchise might actually be in women's hockey.

"I think it's realistic that within three to five years, with the interest in pro hockey on the West Coast, that could be feasible," says Zoë Harris, founder of Women's Pro Hockey Seattle, a not-for-profit organization campaigning to bring a women's team here.

Harris modeled WoProHoSeattle, as it's been dubbed, after the NHL to Seattle campaign spearheaded by John Barr, the hockey-fan-turned-advocate who many credit as the reason why we have the snazzy new Climate Pledge Arena and the Seattle Kraken at all. (Barr is now a WoProHo advisor.)

WoProHo gathers a crowd at a March 2019 viewing party.

Right now WoProHo is focused on rallying the existing hockey community and new fans around the women's game, and showing support for recreational leagues growing girl's and women's hockey. All that advertises to women's hockey leagues that, hey, Seattle fans will turn out if our fair city is graced with a team.

Of course, there are a lot of things out of Harris and her WoProHo team's control, like an ownership group willing to fund a team. Perhaps the biggest is the ever-evolving state of professional women's hockey leagues.

The National Women's Hockey League, founded in 2015, rebranded last year as the Premier Hockey Federation and recently announced a $25 million investment, with an intention to expand from six to eight teams. The rub: None of the teams are located on the West Coast. The closest ones are in Minnesota and, soon, Calgary, meaning it's unlikely an expansion team will come to Seattle without at least a few other teams in the same time zone.

Here's where it gets, er, murky.

Earlier this month, rumors swirled of a competing league soon to be launched by the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, with a multimillion-dollar funding deal to cover the next eight to 10 years and partnerships with several NHL teams. The new league seemed likely to launch this fall...until, just last week, the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman asked if the two sides could meet to discuss forming a uniform league. (They are set to meet today in New York.) 

Although it all seems like a whole bunch of instability, Harris likens these changes to the beginnings of many up-and-coming sports leagues, including women's basketball.

"We also saw this early in women’s pro basketball, where the ABL and the WNBA leagues operated at the same time, but during different seasons," she explains. "While the ABL secured the top talent and paid top year-round salaries and benefits during the traditional basketball season, the WNBA prevailed as a league by playing during the ‘off season’ despite lower seasonal salaries and benefits—with the primary reason for the WNBA success being their TV coverage, bigger sponsorships, more connections in the sports industry, and the general glamour of being connected to the NBA."

All that healthy competition can lead to rapid expansion, and more of a chance for a proven hockey market like Seattle to wind up with a franchise sooner rather than later.

Whether two women's hockey leagues end up coming to fruition—and if a team lands in Seattle—is still yet to be seen. But there's one thing that Harris is adamant about: despite what the keyboard pundits claim, women's sports are popular and profitable when given a fair shake.

According to UNESCO, women make up 40 percent of all athletes but only receive 4 percent of sports media coverage. When given the air time, they shine.

Take the recent gold medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada at the Beijing Olympics. The match-up garnered 3.54 million viewers on NBC and 1.3 million on CBC, making it the second-most watched hockey game (including NHL games) in the U.S. since 2019. 

To the naysayers, Harris says, "Do your research. That argument is old and tired."

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