On Wednesday, an anonymous e-mail was sent to various women's hockey media members, including Today's Slapshot and Yahoo's Puck Daddy, both of which have posted the full text of the e-mail. The lengthy correspondence alleges that the NWHL failed to make payments to Bauer Hockey for equipment they provided for the league and makes the unsubstantiated claim that "All of our vendors the Arena's, Equipment companies, clothing vendors, people who have given loans no one has been paid [sic]."
The anonymous source, who claimed they were an employee of the league, provided screenshots of emails to back up their claims regarding Bauer, but did not provide proof for any of their other accusations, including the league’s financial insolubility and Chad Wiseman’s status as an international employee.
In a joint response from the league and Bauer, Commissioner Dani Rylan stated that, "In our dedication to pay our players first, we missed a payment with Bauer. We have since paid them and are looking forward to working with Bauer Hockey again this season." At the beginning of the season, the only thing we knew about the NWHL’s financial backing was that the league had private investors. While the league has stated an intention that its teams become franchises, throughout the inaugural season the league has owned and operated all four of its present teams. Over the course of the season, partners and sponsors emerged: Dunkin’ Donuts became the NWHL’s first major sponsor in December, and others are mentioned on the NWHL Foundation’s page.
The kind of cash flow problem that Rylan mentions in her statement is both typical of youthful startups like the NWHL and understandable given what the public knows about the evolution of the league’s sources of revenue. Given that the NWHL has made right their problems with Bauer, it seems like this particular issue is resolved.
While ideally the NWHL would ideally be turning a profit in its first year, that’s not the reality for many new businesses. Establishing a brand and creating a scalable operation at the expense of profitability is not a new business tactic, nor is it necessarily the wrong one. The NWHL is focusing on rapid growth and expansion to create a long-term future for the league. Whether the league can keep the lights on--and its players equipped--as they move forward is a pressing question, but that they fell behind on their bills initially isn’t the red flag that this anonymous letter-writer seems to think it is.
Consider the NWHL’s sole competitor in women’s professional hockey, the CWHL, to which this missive was initially addressed. The CWHL did not fully equip players initially, nor did it expand at a rapid rate; in fact, the Canadian league’s chief survival strategy seems to have been consolidation. In nine seasons, the CWHL has created a single expansion team, the Boston Blades, who have struggled to establish a foothold in the New England regional market that the NWHL has taken by a storm. Regardless of opinion about the CWHL’s business strategy, comparing where it stands after a decade with the position of a league that’s less than a year old just doesn’t make sense.
Yes, the allegations in the anonymous email that was sent yesterday are concerning. However, the e-mail's timing seems awfully convenient coming on the heels of the controversial expansion announcement, and the chief concerns outlined therein have been addressed by the league. Bauer and Rylan have issued a statement; Joel Leonoff’s role in funding the league has been public since February. The NWHL’s initial reliance on angel money is only salacious if you know nothing about starting or running a business. Maybe, like the NWHL, this anonymous letter writer should have Googled it.