Today’s guest columnist is Reagan Carey, commissioner of the Premier Hockey Federation.
We hear it almost everywhere we go—at board meetings, conferences, at the rink and the gym, from leaders in politics and entertainment: Sports played by women are not just something that’s nice to have; they are becoming a must-have for brands, media and stakeholders.
Still, not everyone believes that, and the bottom line is that sports is a business, not a charity. So making the case for ROI, rather than just urging people to “do the right thing,” is becoming a priority for leaders of teams, leagues and properties. The competition between sports properties that involve women, while warranted and healthy, is fierce, even with the investment and brand pie growing.
What’s the opportunity vs. the risk?
After half a year in my role as commissioner of the Premier Hockey Federation, I have been in the meetings, doing the pitch decks, and listening and speaking to investors, potential new franchise holders, the stakeholders of the game, and most importantly the athletes, so that we as a league can answer the million-dollar question: From a business standpoint, what’s in it for you?”
Our answers are becoming pretty clear as we are underway in our eighth season of professional women’s hockey in North America.
As we took the reins this past spring, we had to guarantee that anyone kicking the tires would find a stable business model. We made sure our teams had solid business plans, and we significantly enhanced player compensation, with a 150% increase in salary caps over last year, while providing full medical benefits. We doubled the number of league office staff and increased our collective years of leadership experience to support our business-development plan.
We are building a strong community of purpose-driven fans, investors and sponsorship partners to ensure our valuation consistently increases.
In addition to our business model, we benefit from decades of growth in female ice hockey participation—a more than 210% increase since the sport made its debut in the 1998 Olympic Games. The most recent women’s Olympic gold-medal game secured 6.4 million viewers. At the same time, there has been a 200% increase in NCAA Division I women’s hockey programs, ensuring the PHF’s feeder system is thriving. We are not riding a wave; the women’s hockey community is generating a tsunami.
We’re building a PHF brand, and a business property, that everyone in the women’s hockey system can get behind, from youth groups, to pro athletes, to business leaders and everyone in between. This has been enhanced by a $25 million commitment early last year from our investors to strengthen our financial infrastructure. That reassurance was invaluable in creating a unified, solid internal base to build on.
On the external side, we wanted a better platform to reach our fans, and worked with our media partners, ESPN and TSN, to craft a longer-term, more comprehensive agreement so that fans knew where and when they could watch our athletes. We then worked with the teams to make sure another key element of engagement, facilities, continued improving. As we start the season, three of our teams have new, upgraded homes in their markets, while our expansion team, the Montreal Force, has put together a schedule that has home games not just in Montreal but in key locations across the province of Quebec this winter. We needed to establish that the environment and experience for our fans and athletes was first rate, and I think we are well on our way.
That brings us to the dollars, and the enterprise value we are building across not just our league, but for the sport of women’s hockey. We are a business of inclusion and transparency, focused on building a unique blueprint for pro leagues, and in many ways, the fan of the future. Still, we know opportunity with the PHF, or with any property that is not deeply established in this challenging economy, is very much a fluid investment. There will be no shortage of fits and starts. But that’s the case with any new sports entity, and getting in early has value.
I was involved with the best athletes in the world during my time at USA Hockey, and fully realize the commitment those elite players made to put the sport in position to win gold in the business realm across North America. Now, by establishing a firm business base, and answering the questions the investment community is asking us, we are presenting a case for growth that is tangible, not speculative. Not even a year in, we’re happy to show our work. You can see what we have done, talk to those involved, and find out that, as Maren Morris likes to say, “The bones are good.”
Before being named PHF commissioner in March, Carey served as director of women’s hockey at USA Hockey and general manager of the U.S. Women’s National Team, and worked with the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers.