Players on the number one ranked UBC Thunderbirds hockey team are speaking out after learning there will be no national television broadcast of the Canadian university (USports) women's hockey finals this weekend.
"We're really upset because this could be our year and we're not going to be playing for our families and friends on TV," said defenceman Kirsten Toth, speaking from Napanee, Ont., where the T-Birds play QueensThursday.
"We only found out a week ago, so that doesn't leave a lot of time to raise hell." she said. "All the teams are disappointed. This was our one opportunity to play on TV and get the exposure and it's been crushed."
Men's tournament on TV
Sportsnet has broadcast both the semi-finals and championship games of the women's and men's tournaments in recent years, but this year only the men's tournament will be on TV.
Graham Brown, CEO of USports, blames poor attendance and low viewership. He says the decision to drop television coverage of the women's tournament was made months ago.
"It wasn't entirely Sportsnet. It was a joint decision," said Brown.
"We only have so many events that we can put on and between the two of us we had to choose the ones that had both numbers and looked good on TV," he said. "And unless we could ensure that it was going to look good on TV — which we couldn't — it wasn't going to be a championship we could televise."
At last year's tournament in Calgary, only 500 tickets were sold to the final between UBC and McGill. An estimated 10,000 people watched the game on TV.
Brown says he's determined to get the women back on TV next year, but two things will need to change to make it happen.
Business, not philanthopy
First, USport and the host school will need to do a better job selling tickets and filling the stands. And member schools of USports will have to pony up for TV production costs.
"Television companies right now are struggling with their own financial issues and changing landscape. It's very difficult for them to continue to be philanthropic. They're not making any money off our product right now," said Brown.
Chicken or egg?
The story captures a longstanding conundrum in women's sport: there is little media coverage, which leads to low public interest, which allows media outlets to justify the lack of coverage.
Toth says she speaks for the entire Thunderbirds team who believe that in 2017 their sport deserves better.
"I'm worried that no one is fighting for us and this will just be swept under the rug like it always is for women's hockey," she said.
"Everyone always says just be thankful for how far you've come and all the progress you've made. That's great, but at the end of the day, it's not where we want to be."
Games from the the 2017 USport women's hockey championship will be streamed live at OUA.TV.