The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, September 20, 2019
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Should investors choose?
Below, you’ll read the majority of my conversation with Dani Rylan earlier this month. Something that stood out to me was her comments about sponsorships in the weeks between the folding of the CWHL and the beginning of #ForTheGame.
After the NWHL salary cuts in the 2016-17 season, we started getting the #OneLeague language. At the time, the reasons to move to one league were 1) to have the best talent competing night after night, and 2) to not have fans and sponsors have to choose between the two leagues.
I never bought into either of those too much, but the latter point especially. To my absolute horror, Dunkin’ has supported both the Mets and the Yankees for years. Further, just as you get used to the “Pepsi Porch”, a business either steps away from their team partnership and/or another competitor comes with a heavier change purse.
My point is, companies usually don’t choose just one thing to support. That would be akin to only marketing on one subway line. You’d miss the opportunity to tap into as many markets and make as much money as humanly possible. That is, after all, the legal obligation of a company.
All of that said, companies can certainly decide they’d rather do business with one company over another. That is presumably what, for example, the New Jersey Devils have done. It will be the PWHPA, not the Riveters, on the Jumbotron tonight. It’s the PWHPA, not the Riveters, who call Barnabas Health Hockey House home. Alternatively, Dunkin’ – like in baseball – has decided to support both the PWHPA and the NWHL.
So what does this all mean? Did the PWHPA go after similar NWHL/CWHL sponsors, or did they come to them? Both?
Well, I don’t think we know just yet. I think it is possible that other NWHL deals or partnerships have been soured by the boycott. I think it is possible companies, for one reason or another, have opted to support a person/concept that makes sense for their target market and will yield favorable results for them. I think it is possible that we see other sponsors like Dunkin’ dip their toe in all of women’s ice hockey.
I also still think there is a reality that exists where once again two different post-college models will exist. However, knowing exactly how stingy businesses and federations (looking at you USSF, USA Hockey, and too many others to list) are with women’s sports investments, I’m reconsidering if a fragmented market is best down the road?
We shall see.
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This Week in Women’s Hockey
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Boston Pride get private owner, NWHL open to selling other four teams.
Nate Oliver with a Buffalo Beauts mailbag for The Hockey Writers.
Abby Ostrom joins Boston University staff.
The Founding 4 Pod is coming back! For now, listen to my interview with NWHLPA director Anya Packer chat about Twitch, new player contracts, and much more!
The #DreamGapTour starts this weekend, The Ice Garden has your preview.
As noted last week, 4 Nations Tournament cancelled, Swedish NT and federation remain without a deal.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo takes a look at the new look for Buffalo Beauts.
With former The IX Hockey guest Fredrik Glader promoted, Danish women’s team gets new head coach.
Tweet of the Week
It’s business, baby! Fine to feel a certain kind of way, but that doesn’t inherently mean it’s wrong. On the other hand, being petty in the name of “just business” usually is more apparent than one might think. Face up to hard decisions, but rise above pettiness, for the sake of the game.
Five at The IX: Dani Rylan, NWHL Commissioner
I would love if you could indulge me and tell the story of why you started the National Women’s Hockey League?
Dani Rylan: Yeah, so the idea started as one team to join the CWHL. That was a New York Riveters and then that that was an opportunity did not pan out for various reasons, as I’m sure you’ve read about. And so then instead of just one team, I decided to start a whole league, so four teams across the Northeast. And couple months later, we played our first game, this is the cliff notes version, and here we are five years later.
I’ve recently spoken to a few players about what they remember about that opening weekend.
Oh, yeah, the opening weekend was one that I’ll never forget. I was actually talking to a player about it recently as well, just the autograph line at Aviator (where the New York Riveters played in season one) went on forever. The number of fans who were so emotionally impacted by us existing and creating a league, and paying women for the first time ever. [It was] this opportunity that no one else had provided women in the United States yet and to see that all come to life and all that hard work come to life was emotional, say the least. And obviously had trials, tribulations, bumps, and bruises along the way. But you know, being here five years later, with a lot of opportunity ahead of us and a lot of growth behind us, and projecting us to the next phase that has been pretty cool.
I wanted to just get that history again to get a better understanding of, if at the time, you under the impression that we needed just one Women’s Hockey League? Or did feel that there was enough talent to have a league in the United States and in Canada?
At the time, we were actually the only professional women’s League in North America, the CWHL started paying their players a couple seasons later. So we were the first at that point. I mean, obviously, from there, we tried to work with the CWHL to bring the two leagues together so there was one strong league in North America. And then when the CWHL folded, by definition, there was one league and an opportunity for a lot of players, investors, brands partners, to invest it in one league that existed and to see us grow.
We saw that firsthand, we had inbound interest for that couple weeks that existed between the CWHL folding and the boycott starting and like I told others, anyone who’s worked in sales, or women’s sports, understands the value of inbound interest. And so for that to exist was, I think, was a signal to the market as to the opportunity that we would have now that there was one league. Having since re-fragmented the market with the boycott, has sent an uncertainty wave back through the market, which definitely slows growth and potential.
If you just look at the hard and soft of it, we’re now in a similar situation where we have a league that’s paying players, and we have more of a loose a loose alliance of players that are looking to promote women’s hockey. How do you plan to move forward as it would appear history is repeating?
This year, we’re going to continue to support the players and the fans that have been with us. And we are continuing to grow. I mean, one of the exciting things about our league is one that we pay the players but to we’re not content with that salary, and we want to continue to drive it. So we worked on this formula with the NWH LPA, with a 50 red split on media and sponsorship dollars that come in at the league level will be shared with the players. And you know, reinforcing the fact that as the business grows, salary grows, and then you further aligning our players with the teams in the league and the brands that support all of us, is our next step forward.
I know that our players are unbelievably pumped about that, and the brands that we’re working with our excited about that as well. And it makes us work even harder for them. I mean, that’s what we work at all the time and now we’re working eight days a week and 26 hours a day to make sure we get this done for the players. So I mean, we’re unbelievably excited about that and are proud to report that salaries have already grown 26% just by this first offseason alone working on this this program.
There’s still a separate and divided women’s hockey landscape right now, even when just talking about players that have played in the NWHL. How do you go about taking that for what it is, but then also being able to glean some feedback that will be productive as the league moves forward in this coming season?
I think it’s more than just the national team players versus the people who’ve played a long time in the league. I mean, those national team players are also getting paid in addition to playing [in the PWHPA showcases]. They’re getting paid by USA hockey, which I think is a noteworthy point. Whereas, the women that you’ve mentioned, like the Julian Dempsey’s of the world, like, she wants to be a school teacher, and she loves that she has an opportunity to make additional money playing hockey and if that didn’t exist for her, that’d be the end of her career. She’s not gonna have the opportunity to travel to play in these exhibition games.
We want to continue to provide a platform for players to grow as athletes, as well as it to grow their brands, if they would like to do that. To continue the continuity between our current fan bases, and the teams, and the players that are in the league. I mean, one of the things that we heard a lot of from the players at the end of last season is that they wanted to play more games. So we accommodated that.
We want to make sure we increase the player salaries as well, which we which we did, as well as a formula to continue to drive them [up], which we discussed before. And more exposure, and we just did this great deal with Twitch. So I mean, we want to hear the players and we want to react and make the appropriate changes to evolve.
I think one of the biggest things here is we’re never content. We’ll never be able to get blood out of a stone and give us the players things that we don’t have. But we want to give them as much as we can. And they’re our priority. And so as much as we can do to drive value to their experience here in the NWHL is what we’re committed do.
I would also just note that one of our priorities is offseason, again, feedback during the regular season was the need for local general managers. So we went out and hired those who we believe to be the best five general managers in North America. I mean, we could not be more excited about the women who are leading our clubs and their commitment to not only the local market, but to growing the league internationally. So we’re so pumped about that advancement, and the opportunity created for those hires as well.