Toronto Maple Leafs: How To Stop Alienating Female Hockey Fans

TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 17: Hayley Wickenheiser skates in the Legends Classic game at Scotiabank Arena on November 17, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 17: Hayley Wickenheiser skates in the Legends Classic game at Scotiabank Arena on November 17, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Will a new team in the market cut into the Toronto Maple Leafs dominance?

As hockey slowly begins to return to North America, a new team has sprung up in Toronto. The Toronto Six are the newest team to join the city’s crowded market and may cause a large cut in the Toronto Maple Leafs fanbase.

Honestly, I’m sick of it. Why are women just “happy to be here?” when they’re included in events that they should’ve been in from the start. Female Olympians, Paralympians, and builders of the sport don’t deserve bread crumbs.

Why was Kim St-Pierre the only female (out of two possible nominations) to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? Did you know that there is actually a cap on female inductees, women are maxed out at two while men get up to four!

When I was in middle school, I proudly wore my signed Florida’s Panthers jersey to school on Sports day, only to end up shoving it in my locker after being pounced on by some gatekeeping male hockey fans.

When I watch kids being interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada, it always struck me how the boys were asked hockey career-based questions and the girls were asked more educational or “practical” career questions.

It is usually assumed those female hockey players who wish to play in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) or other professional leagues will attend University, while the same is not said for their male counterparts.

In fact, some hockey players like Matthew Tkachuk who eagerly expressed their joy in not continuing their education. This is because they have the luxury of resources, time, and support that so often allude and fail females.

Not only are the interviews lackluster, but the representation on TV is as well. After enduring many years of “Good ‘Ol” Don Cherry yelling at us through our screens, the Vegas Golden Knights featured an all-female broadcasting team for a game with the Calgary Flames.

Now, the Flames are notorious for already having a female broadcaster (Cassie Campbell) call games, which resulted in a petition to remove her due to the “irrelevant garbage that spews from her mouth.” On International Women’s Day in 2019, the Chicago Blackhawks also featured an all-female broadcast and production crew for the first time in league history.

This may be leading some of you to question why I haven’t mentioned the Maple Leafs. Didn’t they break the glass ceiling with the hiring of Hayley Wickenheiser and Noelle Needham? Pace yourself, this is a long journey.

The Merchandise Gap

Alright, so now that that has been covered, I wish to focused on a specific subsection of hockey fans that are often alienated from the conversation.

Sportsbusinessdaily’s reporter Shira Springer has perfectly summarized my thoughts on female-targeted clothing when she said “pink it and shrink it.”

The Pink tax refers to the extra amount of money women pay for specific products or services. As is often the case, women’s emotional labour is usually cut out of the equation when discussing the workforce (the Smithsonian had a great exhibit on it). Our emotional labour is not only taken advantage of inside the home but also spreads to our hobbies and interests.

"At its core, the Merchandise Gap is about female fans not having the same apparel options as male fans and kids."

For example, growing up I was encouraged to use pink tape for my hockey stick and wear a pink jersey.

I know this is sacrilegious but both me and my sister owned pink New York Islanders and Leafs jerseys completed with matching hats. Many pundits have lamented the negative aspects of the popularity of pink clothing has on female fans.

Beyond it being a marketing ploy, it’s perfectly summed up in this quote from ESPN: “A pink jersey shows the world that you are not actually a fan, since you either don’t know your team’s colors, or worse, you just don’t understand the importance of wearing them.”

While the above clothing line is very enticing, female alienation is now being turned into a commodity and gatekeeping within itself.

Yes, I can name more hockey players than my boyfriend (sorry Alex) but it doesn’t really allow for new female fans to hop right in. They’re usually expected to already know a lot and thus feel ashamed to ask questions for fear of perpetuating stereotypes.

What have the Toronto Maple Leafs done to change this?

In 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs hired former Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser and Noelle Needham as their assistant director of player development and amateur scout for the Midwestern United States.

Wickenheiser thus became one of the first women hired as a skills and strategy coach amongst the big four sports in North America. The Toronto Maple Leafs later worked alongside the Calgary Flames to assist the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in settling their debts.

In 2020, it was announced that the league would be expanding to Toronto and with it, comes affordable hockey games and a whole league dedicated to their female fans and athletes.

The average ticket price of an NWHL game is $20 compared to the

whopping $125.59 for Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

An easy way to make the game more accessible and encourage female hockey fans is to copy what the New Jersey Devils did with the Metropolitan Riveters.

If fans bought tickets to a Riveters game, they would get discounted tickets for a Devils game later that night. The only time women are featured during Maple Leaf games is when they’re clearing the ice in flimsy outfits.

If women keep feeling alienated from sports, and not much is done to address it, every professional league will suffer.

When your female fans are finally fed up with every misogynistic and sexist “hot take” accepted league-wide, it doesn’t take Sherlock to see why.

Are the Leafs Really Canada's Team?. dark. Next

Changes need to happen and what better to start with then when the league begins again in August?