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Montreal's Kristin O'Neill moves in on goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens during the Professional Women's Hockey League’s training camp in Montreal, on Nov. 18.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Late Thursday night, as the hours wound down on the final work week before the Christmas break, I was refreshing my e-mail and thinking I really should get a new pastime. For several weeks, I’d been calling around, looking for news that at least one Canadian broadcaster had signed on to carry games of the PWHL. The new league, which is supposed to turn the page on years of dysfunction and chaos in North American women’s pro hockey, launches on Jan. 1. The radio silence didn’t seem promising.

Then, reading a story about the PWHL on the CBC’s website, I stumbled upon a mention that the public broadcaster itself would be carrying the very first game, New York at Toronto, on its main TV channel and GEM streaming service. I dove deeper into an obscure corner of the site, and discovered CBC will actually stream more than a dozen additional games through the season.

The PWHL website had nothing about this – nor, as far as I could tell, did any of the league’s social feeds.

Fans of women’s sports are used to putting up with nonsense and inconvenience. Like Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire, they know they have to execute their fandom backwards and in high heels.

But the PWHL only announced its existence on June 30. By insisting on a puck drop a mere six months later – leaving insufficient time to attract sponsors, create individual team branding or distinctive merchandise, strike broadcasting or streaming deals that might bring in meaningful ad revenue (or even, apparently, issue news releases letting fans know how they could watch the games) – the league seems to be setting itself up to fail on a number of fronts.

Worse, it may be handing ammunition to the trolls – the toxic commenters always chirping that women’s pro sports don’t deserve attention or financial support.

Here in Toronto, there are reasons to be optimistic about the arrival of the PWHL. The local team, which will play at Mattamy Athletic Centre (née Maple Leaf Gardens) sold out season-ticket memberships and single tickets for all 12 of its home games, albeit in an arena with the league’s smallest capacity of roughly 2,600. Sales for the Ottawa team at TD Place are also brisk, including a home opener against Montreal that’s expecting 8,000 fans, which would set an attendance record for a women’s hockey league game in North America.

Photos: PWHL unveils jerseys for inaugural season

But there are hiccups, which could have been avoided with more lead time. Two of the six teams will be vagabonds, with Montreal playing seven of its home games at the Verdun Auditorium and four at Place Bell in Laval, while New York will play four games at UBS Arena in Belmont Park, five at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., and three in locations that haven’t even been determined. The marketing staffs can’t be having an easy time trying to convince fans in those cities to embrace the new “home” team. As of Friday, sales seemed to be going slowly for many of the games, especially in Laval and Bridgeport, with sometimes thousands of tickets still available.

Men’s pro sports are such well-oiled machines that it can be instructive to take a step back and realize how much effort goes into keeping them running smoothly. The NHL announces its schedule in June, giving broadcasters more than three months to sell advertising before the season kicks off – timed perfectly to coincide with the fall shopping season. The NBA drops its schedule more than two months before the late October tip-off. Teams in those leagues have armies of staff to beat the drums. And the broadcasters have long-term contracts with the leagues, so even during the off-season they fill their airtime with programming to ensure that, by the time the new season kicks off, fans are primed to tune in and spend.

The PWHL has no history or pre-existing infrastructure to lean on. CBC has had little time to market the games it will carry. There are rumours that other Canadian broadcasters may pick up some matches, but if they do, they’ll be wedging them into schedules that were set long ago – with sports that they’ve already invested in. And we still don’t know which outlets might carry the games in the United States.

To be sure, TV viewership was never going to be huge out of the gate. While supporters of the PHWL like to point out that women’s hockey regularly pulls in millions during the Olympics, league play hasn’t. One of the PWHL’s predecessors, the PHF, streamed its matches on the gaming platform Twitch, until ESPN picked up the rights last year. That may have helped attract younger viewers, but it won’t build a mass audience. The games need to be on platforms and channels where casual fans can stumble across them.

The league will eventually clear these hurdles. It’s backed by Mark Walter, the billionaire co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just promised US$700-million to Shohei Ohtani over the next 10 years; odds are he can spare a few million here and there to ensure the league gets onto a stable footing. He surely knows there won’t be profits for years – that, like all backers of women’s sports, he has to be in it for the long haul.

And if he’s patient, the valuation of the league should skyrocket, just as it has for teams in the NWSL and the WNBA. There’s a core fanbase that’s been waiting for a league of their own and is eager to evangelize. Sponsors and broadcasters know they can do well by doing good. Backing women’s sports, especially when it’s still relatively inexpensive to do so, is both smart investing and canny politics. Regardless of what the trolls will say.

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