Deodorant company gives women's hockey $1M

The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association announced that Secret Deodorant has made a $1 million commitment to fund their Dream Gap Tour for 2021.

It is the largest corporate commitment ever made for professional women's hockey in North America. The Dream Gap Tour will feature 125 of the sport's top players, 38 of them Olympians -- including Team USA's Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker and Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse. There will be five teams, based in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire. The teams will play in six showcase events across North America, and (for the first time) players will compete for cash prizes, and ultimately the Secret Cup.

"COVID-19 affected our positive momentum and threatened our upcoming season," PWHPA head and Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford said in a statement. "We're so thankful for Secret's ongoing support of the PWHPA. The PWHPA is made up of the best hockey players in the world, the fans deserve a chance to watch these women play and our players deserve to be treated equitably. This is a pivotal moment to create real change in women's professional sports."

The PWHPA was formed in 2019, shortly after the CWHL folded citing an "economically unsustainable business model." Though there still is a professional league in North America -- the U.S.-based NWHL, which recently added a sixth team in Toronto -- many of the top players opted out.

"We didn't want to just jump into the only option, because it was the only option," PWHPA member Alyssa Gagliardi told ESPN last year. "We wanted to make sure we were thinking long term about the future of the sport. I was grateful to have the NWHL opportunity, but looking forward, I want to be part of a professional league where I can make a livable wage, have health insurance, full-time staff, all of those aspects."

PWHPA members say they don't expect the millions that NHL players make, but they do want to be able to have hockey as their primary vocation. The NWHL last year had a team salary cap of $150,000, and almost every player also held a full-time job.

"As a brand committed to empowering and emboldening women, we can't stand by and see gender equality unravel," Secret senior brand director Lisa Reid said in a statement. "Secret proudly stands with the PWHPA and its players to fight for a new professional league to ensure all players -- regardless of gender -- are given the same chance and support to play. ...Countless women are being told they don't deserve the same opportunities as men; tackling professional hockey equity is our first, but not last, fight. The PWHPA and its players represent the top athletes in the sport who deserve to have the same opportunities as the men."