With the National Women’s Hockey League looking to turn over a new leaf come season six, a report on Monday evening suggested that Dani Rylan has resigned from her post. In turn, Toronto chairman Tyler Tumminia has been appointed as interim commissioner.
As Seth Berkman of the New York Times reports, the league, headed into its sixth season, has prioritized a new model based on independent team ownership. That said, the NWHL is seeking to secure ownership for four of its six teams.
While this story has many twists and turns, it’s important to note that Tumminia has vacated her ownership post with the Toronto Six. First things first, the NWHL made this decision as they now seek a change from their current operating model to an unincorporated association. As such, they will have a six person board of governors with the goal in mind of ensuring “alignment of interest between the league and its teams.”
Given the new position of the league, Rylan Kearney will reportedly stay on with the league she laid the foundation for with one goal set in front of her. This is to attempt to secure independent ownership deals, which if done successfully, will ensure a long lasting future for women’s pro hockey. As such, she is now seeking deals for three of the league’s original four hockey clubs. Those are the Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters and Buffalo Beauts.
She will also look to do the same with the league’s first expansion team, the Minnesota Whitecaps. As reported by The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian, this decision sees the league instate a model that is more aligned with how other pro leagues are operated. In doing so, for the foreseeable future, Rylan Kearney shifts gears, named as president of the four hockey clubs.
This decision is made on the heels of the league’s sixth season and evolving women’s hockey. Looking at the NWHL’s history, in prior years, the Beauts were owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which own the Sabres and Bills. However, with the landscape of game put into question, they relinquished control back in May of last year.
This wasn’t the only team with an agreement in place with the NWHL. The New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey league had a “strategic partnership” in place with the Riveters. However, in similar concern as the Pegula’s, this partnership collapsed just one week later.
With the league having taken a step in the right direction to grow the game since that time, they confirmed a historic moment in April with their first team established in a Canadian market. Before we get to where things stand now, however, the Boston Pride saw some growth of their own as the franchise was purchased in September of last year.
This was done by a group of investors at a Boston based law firm known as Cannon Capital. In doing so, it saw Miles Arnone, the group’s managing partner, named owner of the Pride. It also saw Hayley Moore repositioned on staff as the hockey club’s president.
While that marked a new beginning, the Toronto team, now known as the Six, were launched with the idea of continuing this trend. In doing so, it saw Tyler Tumminia named as Toronto’s chairman and Johanna Neilson Boynton as owner. Team management was formed by Digit Murphy, who was named as team president before the official announcement.
Before these new changes were made possible, the NWHL was led by an investor group, who, as part of their guidance, were responsible for four teams. However, that’s where Tyler Tumminia steps in, using her experience to maintain the league’s longevity. For context, Tumminia has a history in sports, having run minor league baseball teams in various positions.
The roles she took on included both a focus on marketing as well as sponsorship. With a resume like that in the fold, Tumminia becomes an ideal candidate to step in and guide the league upon a venture of change.
Speaking of the league’s advancement and what her role does to keep women’s hockey viable, Tumminia said Monday in a statement, “This is a time of opportunity and transformation for the NWHL, and the changes we are making across the league will fortify a foundation for continued success well into the future.”
If you’ve been following the long storied saga of women’s pro hockey in the states and in Canada, you’ve probably seen the stories which label Rylan as a controversial figure holding women’s hockey back. In keeping that in mind, one could quickly jump to that conclusion for that change, however, it certainly goes much deeper than that as Rylan changes roles with her eyes now on the prize.
However, while Rylan brought the pro game to America, the league’s founder pushed the boundaries for every inch of respect. She did so at a time when the sport was continuing to grow in the CWHL. While pro hockey at the time was not paying, that’s where the former Harvard captain was rather quick to dive in, in part to help change that reality.
She did so as the league started play, but with a rocky start, something she’s worked to fix since. Many would agree that she has, as it became a stepping stone for the progress made since. As Berkman notes in the New York Times, the league ran into roadblocks in year two, as they struggled financially, which greatly affected the players.
Not only did it mean cuts to salaries, but also made for lawsuits, now a distant memory. This was at a time of development as the foundation was growing with the pro standards of women’s hockey. It was at a time where players went back and forth to see what fit their needs best, such as Brianna Decker. Other notable figures included Hilary Knight, then Decker’s teammate in Boston.
Since then, she’s been committed to changes and significant strides as a result have been made. In 2019-20, she raised the bar to the point where the highest paid player received $15,000. While stories of poor management have surfaced, Rylan has not only risen, but exceeded beyond what many of the league’s followers could have imagined. From establishing deals with premiere sponsors like Dunkin Donuts, Chipiwich and Twitch.tv, Rylan has been the sole leader in growing a revenue and providing players a home.
However, like all things, there’s a time for life, there’s a time for growth and a time for death. Looking to instil a vote of confidence, Ty Tumminia said on Monday to the New York Times, “This is a time of opportunity and transformation for the NWHL, and the changes we are making across the league will fortify a foundation for continued success well into the future.”
With evolution being the primary factor here, the league now flips the page with Tumminia, who is handed the torch, assuming daily operations. She will do so with the NWHLPA as the two work together for the betterment of the game. As Berkman’s report suggested, part of Tumminia’s duties will entail attracting partnership deals with major brands.
As it is, across the United States, hockey is hard to come by, let alone follow, and while women’s hockey has long gone unrecognized, Tumminia will work to change that narrative with a broadcast rights deal. While MSG and NESN have both displayed league highlights, the goal at hand is to be picked up by a major network.
With a new model to be set in place Tuesday, John Wawrow of The Associated Press notes that the league’s new business plan will be steered by the investor group. It’s a board reconfigured by the league with the goal in mind of one assigned to each team. There will certainly be a period of adjustment that follows internally with these drastic changes.
As mentioned by The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian, “From Day 1 of founding the league, the goal was to have all teams under private owners.” With that next measure now put to action, Salvian continues, “It’s been five years, two of six teams (Boston and Toronto) have ownership groups. You could call it a slow burn to 100% ownership. But this shift should fast track things if executed right.”
While a new era of pro women’s hockey begins, this next step will be critical as the league pushes for stability. In a statement from Andy Scurto, one of six investors who remains on the board, he acknowledged Dani Rylan Kearney for advancing the league to the several heights it has reached.
“We would like to thank Dani for her role in founding the League and bringing it to where it is today. Dani has made an enormous impact on women’s hockey and led the NWHL from inception through its first five seasons, setting the stage for the next phase of growth.”
Touching on Tumminia’s background, Scurto went on to say of the former Six chairman, “Tyler brings a wealth of relevant experience and we are confident that she will help take the league to the next level.”
With improvements paving the way for this decision, John Boynton said Tuesday on behalf of the board, “For everyone who cares deeply about the NWHL and women’s hockey – especially our incredible athletes and impassioned fans – this is a landmark day signaling the start of a new era of growth. It begins with governance and a new structure and will result in major steps forward for the League on the ice, in our arenas, and as a business.”
With her newest challenge set out before her, Ty Tumminia concluded with her sights set on the future, “I look forward to collaborating with our partners in the NWHL and our expanding community of fans to create a special place that honors the rich talents of women’s hockey.”