Women’s Hockey League Branches Out as Private Owners Step In

·4 min read

On May 26, the six-team National Women’s Hockey League announced the sale of the Metropolitan Riveters to John Boynton of BTM Partners, making the New Jersey-based team the second franchise purchased by private ownership this month. The Connecticut Whale was sold to entrepreneur Tobin Kelly, founder of equipment and apparel company Arc Hockey, on May 10. With the sales, only two teams remain without an independent ownership group.

The NWHL, which was founded as a single-entity league in 2015, still owned and operated four of its franchises until last October, when under new governance—and a new commissioner in Tyler Tumminia—the league zeroed in on its private ownership efforts. The Riveters, Whale and Buffalo Beauts, all founding franchises, as well as the Minnesota Whitecaps, the league’s first expansion team, needed individual owners. Investor group W Hockey Partners, at the time under the leadership of former commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney, was formed and took control of those franchises during a reorganization transaction with the goal of selling each to independent ownership groups.

Prior to purchasing the Riveters, BTM Partners already owned and operated the Boston Pride and Toronto Six, giving the group control of three of the league’s four privately owned teams and half the league overall. Boston, the fourth NWHL charter club, became the first independently owned franchise in 2019 when it was purchased by an investor group led by Cannon Capital managing partner Miles Arnone and BTM Partners. Toronto debuted as the league’s sixth club during the 2020-21 season as an independently owned expansion team led by BTM and Johanna Boynton following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

The NWHL described the situation with BTM Partners as a “transitional period,” where the same ownership group holds more than one club, as happened with Major League Soccer in its early days. Investors like AEG and Lamar Hunt owned multiple MLS teams, decreasing their holdings when distinct owners were found. The NWHL said it is comfortable with this approach for now, hoping eventually to disperse ownership more widely over time.

Each BTM team boasts its own leader from the investor group. Arnone leads Boston, while Johanna Boynton, a former Harvard hockey captain and John Boynton’s wife, does the same with Toronto. John, who serves on the NWHL’s Board of Governors, will fulfill the role for the Riveters.

The next step is what the NWHL describes as a joint venture ownership model, wherein groups like BTM Partners, for example, would bring on local owners and investors.

“Since [October] it’s been the goal of the league and its investors to transition over time to a joint venture ownership model whereby current ownership groups of multiple teams find strong local ownership groups who believe in the NWHL and recognize the growth potential for the league and professional women’s hockey,” Tumminia said. “Through these transfers of ownership we build the strength and sustainability of our teams and also enhance the experience and environment for our athletes, which is of the utmost importance.”

The end goal, however, is single franchise ownership groups—something Boynton and BTM Partners support.

“In time we will be divesting ownership of these teams [Boston, Toronto and Metropolitan], such that BTM someday will just have one team,” Boynton said during a press conference. “During this transition to ensure that all of the teams have the support they need, this is the strategy the league has taken.”

The push was part of a broader effort to broaden the league’s financial base, efforts that Tumminia has doubled down on in her role. The NWHL’s recently completed sixth season set records in terms of league sponsorship and broadcast support, bringing on major partners like credit card provider Discover, alongside longtime supporter Dunkin’ Donuts. The league is thus increasingly optimistic about its financial stability, especially given the recent team sales.

Entering its seventh season, the league announced its salary cap would double to $300,000 per team for 2021-2022.

With the Whale and the Riveters under new ownership, W Hockey Partners continues to own and operate the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps. The NWHL said plans for Buffalo and Minnesota ultimately rest with the W Hockey Partners ownership group.

“This transfer of ownership is another step forward for the NWHL and continues the model our investors desire of having great ownership for the teams and to transition out of team operations,” W Hockey Partners president Andy Scurto said in a statement around the sale of the Riveters. “We all share the same goals of building the premier professional women’s hockey league in North America and are eager to help carry the momentum that last season generated.”

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