The word of the day on the Boston Pride’s text chain was “wow,” which is to be expected when the league the Pride and five other North American professional women’s hockey teams are part of announced a 150 percent salary-cap bump, full healthcare benefits, name, image, and likeness rights next season, as well as expansion plans and facilities updates.
And as wow-worthy as the $25 million investment from its owners that the Premier Hockey Federation announced on Tuesday was, it was the latest in a series of moves that has left its athletes impressed with the strides the league, the sport, and all women’s sports are taking.
“It’s such a wonderful surprise, something that I don’t know if we were expecting this soon, and I think everybody, all the players, are just overjoyed by hearing this and all the possibilities ahead,” said Jillian Dempsey, captain of the Pride and a Winthrop native. “It’s just all really positive things that are a reflection of the growth made over the past several seasons, and all the work behind the scenes done by commissioner [Tyler] Tumminia, and all the supporting staff and investors and owners.”
Unless disrupted by COVID-19 or unforeseen forces, the PHF expects to expand from six to eight teams next season, with one team in Montreal, the other in the United States, to join the Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whtecaps, and Toronto Six.
In the meantime, with all the teams now privately owned, a broadcast deal with ESPN+ in the United States and TSN in Canada, a trading card deal, and equipment sponsorship, the PHF is part of the rising economic and cultural tide that is lifting women’s sports.
“The entire women’s landscape, I think, is at an inflection point right now, it’s a very exciting time to be a part of it,” said Tumminia, who was named commissioner in August after becoming interim commissioner in October 2020. “To have real true owners come in and understand and be difference-makers, and really rolling up their sleeves and affirming to everyone that they believe in what we’re doing, as well. Providing us that sustainability moving forward, in conjunction with the growth of our sponsors and our partnerships, that’s also imperative.”
In focusing on the growth opportunities of its labor force, the PHF made a conscious decision to work with its athletes in an attempt to stand out from other pro sports leagues.
“The players are the league, that’s what people come to watch,” said Miles Arnone, owner of the Pride. “They’re the people that are on the ice, you know, performing and the fans attach themselves to, and so it only seemed reasonable that they should have the opportunity to benefit from what we believe will be the growth and the value of the teams as a whole over time.
“We don’t want to end up in a situation like many other leagues, where you have players on one side and ownership on the other side, like an MLB, or the NFL, you see a lot of conflict there. We don’t want it, we want to try and create a different model.”
This year’s $300,000 salary cap was already double from the season before, so the rise to $750,000 marks enviable back-to-back annual pay increases. Still, with rosters ranging from 20 to 25, the average salary this season is $12,000-$15,000, while next season it will jump to $30,000-$37,500.
Not that she would want to if she could, but even at next season’s pay scale, Dempsey won’t be able to leave her other job as a fifth-grade teacher at Arthur T. Cummings Elementary School in Winthrop.
“That’s an incredible step in the direction of making a sustainable livable wage,” said Dempsey.
It will take many more eight-figure investments before professional women’s hockey can point to more eye-popping salaries, but every league, including Major League Baseball, the NFL, WNBA, and NWSL, started small.
The PHF sees itself on that same trajectory.
“A lot of times when you have that sweat equity when you have equity in what we’re trying to do from a player standpoint, it just really creates a very solid foundation moving together, forward,” said Tumminia.