Purchasing a National Women’s Hockey League franchise might seem risky at a time when the league faces questions about its financial viability and a boycott from some of the sport's top stars, but new Boston Pride owner Miles Arnone is confident he made the right choice.
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The Pride became the NWHL’s only independently-owned franchise after league officials announced its sale to a group led by Arnone, managing partner of investment firm Cannon Capital. A Massachusetts resident and lifelong hockey player, Arnone argues that increased focus on commercial elements, such as sponsorships and ticket drives, will boost revenue and lead to better pay for players.
The NWHL enters its fifth season just months after a group of 200 players, including Team USA stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne-Schofield, said they would not play for any North American pro league this fall because they “cannot make a sustainable living” in the current environment. Despite lingering questions and some of the NWHL’s early struggles, Arnone said the league is primed for growth.
“I don’t have any reservations. I think we have very good relationships with the league, and the league and we are both really committed to this being successful,” he told FOX Business.
In a joint statement last May, the 200 players cited a lack of health insurance and pay as low as $2,000 per season as specific examples of financial hardships they face. The NWHL has taken some steps to assuage concerns, increasing its salary cap 50 percent to $150,000 and enacting a 50 percent split with players on revenue from sponsorships and media deals.
The NWHL increased its slate of regular-season games to 24 this year, all of which will air on Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch via an exclusive three-year deal. While financial terms were not disclosed, players will receive half the haul.
“I would love to talk to any and all of them,” Arnone said regarding players sitting out the season. “We all have the same interest, which is to optimize women’s hockey, to make being a professional women’s hockey player an economically viable thing to do as a standalone and primary vocation – which is not really possible today, except for a small number of players who are on the national team. We all have that same goal in mind.”
Arnone said he approached league executives about purchasing the Pride after Chipwich, which is partially owned by Cannon Capital, became a NWHL sponsor. By building relationships with local companies and luring new sponsors, the Pride will bring in new money that he intends to use to improve team facilities and operations.
Over time, Arnone is betting that improved operations and local outreach will lead to a better on-ice product, more fans and stronger financial incentives for players.
“I met with the players on Monday night for the first time prior to their initial practice this season, and challenged them to challenge us with what they need to be as successful as possible,” Arnone said.
The NWHL’s 2019-20 season begins on Saturday, Oct. 5.