The Premier Hockey Federation is doubling down on its commitment to women’s hockey by announcing plans to increase its salary cap to $1.5 million per team for the 2023-24 season in an aggressive bid to grow its talent pool by offering players the opportunity to earn a living wage.
The increase, announced Wednesday morning, will double each team’s current cap of $750,000 this season, and is part of an overall three-year $25 million commitment approved by the league’s board of governors 11 months ago. The PHF currently consists of seven franchises, although commissioner Reagan Carey told The Associated Press that expansion is being considered once again after the league added a team in Montreal this season.
“This is just another example of us going full steam ahead with what we know can be a great sport for an even bigger audience, and doing more for the players who are involved,” Carey said. “We consider this announcement a victory for anyone who cares about women’s sports, but especially women’s hockey.”
The approval came at the league’s winter meetings, and the salary cap jump now represents a 900% increase from 2021-22, when each team’s salary cap was $150,000. As part of its cash inflow, the PHF also began providing full health care benefits to players this season, while also increasing the league’s operations staff and improving team facilities.
“It’s a huge commitment and reflects the dedication of everyone involved with PHF and the understanding of the importance of getting to this historic number,” Carey said. “I think this certainly demonstrates the strength of our league and the business development model that we have been working towards and continue to create. It just speaks to the confidence and direction of the PHF.”
CLOCK | Carey on his vision for the PHF:
Expansion ‘in the file’
As for the expansion, Carey said, “it’s certainly on the docket,” without providing further details or a timeline.
This season’s salary cap increase led to Mikyla Grant-Mentis becoming the first North American hockey player to sign an $80,000 contract with the Buffalo Beauts. Under a cap of $1.5 million, a roster of 20 players would average each player earning $75,000 per season.
Carey said all seven teams have exceeded 75 percent of their salary caps, with some already hitting the cap.
“This is an incredible development and a testament to the unwavering commitment of the people who are making it happen,” PHF Players Association executive director Nicole Corriero wrote in a text message to The AP. “More importantly, the AP recognizes the many past and current players who have served as trailblazers for the league and the sport as a whole… The success of this league and continued growth would not be possible without them.”
The influx of money means teams will be in a position to offer salaries of more than $150,000, which would be more than US and Canadian national team players are currently compensated. Attracting female national team players is seen as the last hurdle for the PHF to establish itself as North America’s premier arena for women’s hockey.
Most of the national team players have refused to join the PHF. Instead, they formed the Women’s Professional Hockey Players Association, which partnered with investors and NHL franchisees to form their own league. Initial plans to introduce the league later this year have been indefinitely pushed back to 2023.
Boost in PHF financing
The increase in PHF funding coincides with the league’s review of its business and ownership model, which included changing its name from the Women’s National Hockey League two years ago.
PHF teams are now privately owned, although some ownership groups control more than one franchise. In addition to Buffalo and Montreal, the league has teams based in Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Toronto.
The NWHL was founded as a four-team start-up in 2015 by Dani Rylan Kearny to become the first North American women’s hockey league to pay players a salary. Initially, the league controlled all of its franchises while relying on outside investors to make up the revenue gap from ticket and merchandise sales to pay for salaries, travel, and administrative costs.
The PHF now has numerous sponsorship deals and broadcast deals with ESPN+ and TSN Canada to broadcast all of its games.
Carey, in her first year as commissioner, could not have imagined this level of financial commitment to women’s hockey a decade ago during her eight-year tenure overseeing the women’s game at USA Hockey. The challenges then were finding creative ways to keep national team players and prospects in the sport because there were few options to earn a living while playing hockey after college.
“To see how far it’s come, no, it would be hard to imagine that this is where we are. And to recognize how many people have to be a part of that commitment to move things forward is humbling,” Carey said. “Just an exceptional amount of traction and forward motion in a short amount of time.”