PWHL SVP Jayna Hefford balancing patience, promise of establishing women’s hockey in New York

PWHL New York UBS Arena
(Dennis DaSilva/UBS Arena)

ELMONT, N.Y. — Jayna Hefford, one of the most decorated women’s hockey players of all time and now the senior vice president of hockey operations of the newly-formed Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) knows that she has to practice patience. 

The six-team league which launched just two months ago on New Year’s Day has already made remarkable steps forward. They’ve smashed attendance records — a Jan. 6 game in Minnesota drew 13,316 fans at Xcel Energy Center, the home of the NHL’s Wild — and secured important national broadcasting and regional sports network deals.

“We’re thrilled with the launch,” Hefford said on Sunday before PWHL New York took on Minnesota at UBS Arena. “I keep looking at the calendar and we’re only two months in so we’re keeping things in perspective that it’s still early. But we’ve outpaced all of our projections as it relates to attendance and I think media coverage and sponsorship and merchandise sales, all those areas we couldn’t be happier with how we’ve launched.”

But New York is going to play a vital role in all of this to help secure the new league’s place in the sporting landscape in North America.

“I really believe in the importance of New York and what New York means and the sporting community here,” Hefford said. “This is a really important market for us.”

Jayna Hefford
Jayna Hefford (Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Collision via Sportsfile, Flickr)

This is where patience comes into play. Not only is Hefford trying to help establish the PWHL — the concept of a pro women’s hockey league has failed on multiple occasions across the past two decades — for long-term success, but doing so with one of its “Original 6” franchises competing in a market with eight “Big 4” men’s sports teams, two men’s and one women’s pro soccer clubs, and a WNBA franchise. 

It has prompted a soft launch of sorts within the New York City Metropolitan area. PWHL New York had five of its nine scheduled home games played at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, CT, home of the New York Islanders’ minor-league affiliate. The other four, including Sunday’s matchup with Minnesota, at UBS Arena, which is the Islanders’ full-time home. 

Attendance has not met the same heights as elsewhere around the league, like that 13,000-plus in Minnesota or the 8,646 that watched Montreal host Ottawa on Jan. 2. PWHL New York’s four games at Bridgeport have brought in an average of 2,273 fans per night. The first two games at UBS Arena averaged 2,165 fans.

The right timing, however, is helping. A non-football Sunday afternoon game against Minnesota set a franchise attendance record of over 4,000.

“We knew it would be challenging because there’s a lot of competition and there’s a lot of professional sports teams here and it’s a big market,” Hefford said. “But we believe in the product or presenting it and how it can be different and innovative and a new property for people to fall in love with… We know we have to work hard here but we’re excited about this market.”

A full-time home could potentially help lay the roots of securing a more permanent fan base. Members of PWHL New York have expressed hopes of even calling UBS Arena their full-time home one day.

In the interim, homes in Elmont and Bridgeport provide a unique opportunity.

“Long-term, it would be wonderful that [they] have [their] own home somewhere,” Hefford said. “In the short-term, I think we look at the opportunities we have to expose our game and our team to different markets so there can be a real positive in what we’re doing here.”

For more on PWHL New York, visit AMNY.com