Women’s Hockey Lures Investors Amid PHF Ownership Push

The Toronto Six won the 2023 Isobel Cup in overtime at Mullett Arena on the Arizona Coyotes’ ice during the Premier Hockey Federation’s championship last month, which landed on ESPN2 and saw a 219.4% jump in viewership year-over-year. In addition to claiming a trophy, Toronto may soon be able to claim its own ownership group—something the formerly single-entity PHF has long been looking to change and now might have the momentum to accomplish.

The PHF is in talks with five investor groups about buying existing or potential expansion franchises, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Washington, D.C.-based Cleveland Park Capital investment firm founder Scott Jaeckel is among the individuals interested in owning an expansion team, as is another investor based in Chicago, the people said. The league is also engaged with three potential owners/ownership groups with ties to Ontario that have expressed interest in the PHF’s existing Canadian franchises, particularly the Six.

More from

Jaeckel did not immediately respond to a request for comment. John Boynton, CEO of BTM Partners, which owns the league’s two Canadian teams, declined to comment on specifics but said the conversations regarding team sales and expansion are “intense and ongoing.”

PHF commissioner Reagan Carey, who took over the league last May, also declined to comment on the people involved in any ownership conversations but confirmed the league in recent months has had an increase in inquiries from investment groups that are “strongly interested in buying franchises.”

The now nine-year-old league is hoping to command between $5 million and $7 million for an existing or expansion franchise, reflective of a 10x revenue multiple for the average team, according to one of the people familiar with the talks. Carey said the league hopes to find separate ownership for its established clubs before it considers adding new ones.

“We have a long-term goal [of] distinct ownership,” Carey said. “We’re not an overly patient group, so we’re going to field all the interest and act on that as quickly as we can.”

Carey said that as recently as the start of the past season, the league has “had to make an effort” to find investors. “That’s changed quite rapidly over the course of the season, especially the second half,” she said. “I think people are getting excited about the momentum and the vision we have for what’s ahead.”

The PHF, formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League, was founded as a single-entity operation in 2015 and only recently disentangled itself from team ownership. The 2023 campaign saw the debut of the Montreal Force, which brought the league to seven teams, several of whom currently—and temporarily—share ownership groups as outside investors are found. If all goes well, Carey hopes to have a few new owners in place before the start of next season to unwind some of that connective tissue.

“I think there’s equal interest [from investors] in existing versus expansion, but we’re focused more on the existing at the moment,” Carey said. “There’s a lot of upside and energy to expand and continue on that track, but we’ll also be responsible. That’s the balance. We’re always trying to make sure that whatever we do, we’re prepared to make sure it’s sustainable.”

The Force share a Boston-based ownership group, BTM Partners, with the Six, the Boston Pride and Metropolitan Riveters franchises (though each is chaired by a different member of the ownership group). BTM has unsuccessfully tried to divest itself of at least one of its ownership stakes in the past. Early last year, the Six were reportedly sold to a new group for somewhere between $3 million and $5 million, but the deal fell through. A handful of those would-be owners bought in as limited partners, including former Canadian hockey star Angela James, while BTM Partners ultimately maintained principal ownership.

NLTT Ventures also still temporarily owns more than one club, holding both the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps. The Connecticut Whale is the only PHF team that does not share ownership.

But unlike its peers in the NWSL or WNBA, who are also pursuing expansion and welcoming new owners, the PHF has an emerging competitor also looking to become the top women’s professional hockey league in North America—the PWHPA.

Led by four-time Olympic medalist Hilary Knight, who left what was the NWHL in 2019, and several of the sport’s most decorated players, the PWHPA remains much of an unknown.

The rival league is backed by Guggenheim Partners chief exec and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, as well as Billie Jean King Enterprises, and is reportedly preparing for a 2023-24 season, though details around teams and season plans are still to come. Deloitte and Canadian financial services giant Scotiabank are also tied to the PWHPA, whose impending arrival has many questioning the viability of two pro leagues.

The PHF’s owners, for their part, made a $25 million investment in the league. Significant year-over-year boosts to the salary cap, which will increase again for 2023-24 as it doubles from $750,000 to $1.5 million, were part of that commitment.

At the league level, the PHF cemented its relationship with ESPN in a two-year deal that included international distribution in Canada via TSN, and signed an extension with a key partner in Discover. Carey views last season as a proving ground and says the league is now seeing an uptick in sponsor interest going into its ninth season.

It is also thinking about how to deepen its partnerships with NHL franchises, which resulted in milestones like the PHF’s championship in Arizona, though she clarified that the league is not looking to “latch onto NHL teams for investments,” as has happened in the past. The Buffalo Beauts, for example, were owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and NFL’s Bills, from 2017-2019.

“There’s a lot of [NHL] interest in supporting the league … but it’s not our entire focus for investments,” Carey said. “It’s more of a partnership; we’re interested in finding ways to support each other.”

With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams.

Best of

Click here to read the full article.