Vacant red seats outnumbered spectators at a recent Toronto Furies home game. Just 310 people showed up that day at Mastercard Centre, the 1,000-seat practice facility of the N.H.L.’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The turnout was typical for the Furies, one of six clubs in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Sami Jo Small, the Furies’ first-year general manager, often sees larger crowds at her motivational speaking engagements. A three-time Olympian for Canada, she does more than 50 appearances a year across North America for corporate clients.

That’s how Small, 42, makes her living. Running the Furies is largely a volunteer activity, for now.

Through eight seasons as a Furies goaltender, Small saw the difficulties of drawing an audience. She took over the front office in hopes of building something bigger, an enterprise that could pay decent wages to its staff members.

“I wanted people that are willing to put in the time and effort, because they see value in it,” Small said. “Eventually, my hope is that I can pay these people what they’re actually worth. At the moment, we can’t do that. We have to sort of acknowledge that reality right now.”

Small and five other players founded the league in 2007, and she will concede that she expected it to be further along.