National Women’s Hockey League justifies huge player salary cuts

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The National Women’s Hockey League made headlines in its inaugural 2015-16 season as the first women’s pro hockey league to pay its players.

In Year 2, it’s making headlines for slicing those salaries in half, to keep the league afloat.

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NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan confirmed on Friday that the League is cutting player salaries across the board. She wouldn’t confirm a report by The Fourth Period that the NWHL was cutting salaries by 50 percent, but Ashley Johnston of the New York Riveters didn’t dispute a “50 percent cut” when the number was used in a question to her on Friday.

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“In the interest of keeping the league economically viable, we had to enact salary cuts, effectively immediately,” Rylan said. “We’re doing everything we can to build the league, and in the process we’re learning that sometimes you have to take a step back.”

Despite the NWHL having mulled the decision for quite some time, Rylan said the players were informed of the cuts on Thursday night. She said it was a decision made without any input or negotiation with the National Women’s Hockey League Players Association, which allegedly represents the players in such matters. “[They] didn’t have a say,” said Rylan of her league’s players.

Teams have played roughly five games this season. The players will sign an addendum on their current contracts to implement the cuts. Rylan said she wasn’t sure if all the players will accept the cuts, but a number had reached out to see how they could help the league, going forward.

Puck Daddy’s Jen Neale reports that the cuts are equal for all players, from the U.S. Women’s National Team players to fourth-liners working jobs outside the league to make ends meet.

The NWHL was founded in 2015 and has franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York. Its primary sources of revenue are ticket sales and gear sales. Rylan said that attendance is below projections for the League this season.

Despite making some broadcast partnerships, Rylan was unable to close a significant media rights deal after the inaugural season.

“We fell short on projections. We had to pivot,” she said.

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The NWHL also receives money from sponsors, including Dunkin’ Donuts, which Rylan said offered up $50,000 when news broke on Thursday that the player salaries are being cut. She said that money will go directly to the players.

Rylan said that many of the league office’s personnel work on a volunteer basis, but said that league and team management would not be taking pay cuts. If the NWHL sees an increase in revenue in the second half of the season, Rylan said they would seek to increase the players’ salaries.

Rylan said that despite speculation that these salary cuts could act as a catalyst, “there is no new news” to report about a potential merger with the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and that an in-season merger wouldn’t be in the cards anyway.

Rylan said she believes there’s still a bright future for the NWHL. “This is a huge setback for us, but the future is still bright,” she said. “We have every hope and expectation that the league will be around for years to come.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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