“I get the press release, jumped out of my seat, slammed my hands on my desk and said no way,” Battaglino said. “I was literally freaking out.”
The partnership with Twitter, officially announced on Tuesday, will provide a hefty lift to the league, which wrapped up a tumultuous second year of operation in March. In 2015, the N.W.H.L. became the first North American women’s professional hockey league to offer players salaries. But last year, difficulties in obtaining new sponsors forced the league to impose pay cuts, leading to increased questioning from fans and players about its sustainability.
The league has also held some appeal for major media broadcasters. Before Twitter, ABC News live-streamed the Isobel Cup, the league’s championship game, in March. During the 2015 season, New England Sports Network, which has the same owners as the Boston Red Sox, also streamed games.
“We are thrilled to feature more live professional women’s sports on Twitter by collaborating with the N.W.H.L.,” Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Fans around the world will now be able to view live the fast-paced, exciting action on the ice on the same platform where the conversation about hockey is happening.”
The deal includes 16 regular-season games, the 2018 All-Star Game and two exhibition games where league players will compete against the Russian women’s national team. Currently, the league has franchises representing New York, Boston, Connecticut and Buffalo.
“It’s a landmark partnership for the N.W.H.L.,” said Dani Rylan, the league’s commissioner and founder. “We believe it will lead to other opportunities because of the increased exposure.”
Online streaming is a growing market for professional sports leagues. Last year, the N.F.L. streamed Thursday-night football games on Twitter; this year they will move to Amazon.com. Recently, Facebook has streamed games for the N.B.A. Development League and Major League Soccer.
The N.W.H.L.’s deal with Twitter is for one year, although Rylan said she hoped it was the beginning of a long partnership. The W.N.B.A. agreement was for three years, and Twitter paid that league an undisclosed guaranteed sum for the right to stream 20 regular-season games this summer.
The women’s hockey league did not release financial details, but it said it would collaborate with Twitter on marketing and promotion of the league and broadcasts, and that the live-streamed games “will also include advertising packages with TV-style ad spots.”
“This is a big first step that is about visibility and growing the game and the league,” Rylan said, adding that it could be a steppingstone to a network deal. “The idea that anyone can watch us from anywhere, at a time when we have just four franchises but expect to grow in the coming years, is very exciting for us.”
Tuesday’s announcement arrives at an exciting time for women’s hockey. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which is entering its 11th season, recently announced a partnership to expand to China this fall. The sport is also expected to be a marquee event at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, particularly stateside after the American women’s national team won a public fight for equitable support in March.
Although both leagues will be without top American and Canadian stars who will be training for the Olympics, a wider platform on Twitter could help cultivate popularity for formerly lesser-known players.
“It’s saying to a huge audience, at least experience us,” Battaglino said. “It’s an experiential sport. You can’t just look at box scores and say, ‘1-0, cool.’ You watch five minutes of our game, and you’re captivated. If what we haven’t done in the past isn’t groundbreaking enough, I think this is shattering the glass ceiling that people have put on women’s hockey.”
The list of games to be available exclusively on NWHL.twitter.com or twitter.com/NWHL, will be announced in September. All other N.W.H.L. games will remain available for streaming on the league’s website.