PHF rides strong tailwinds into Sunday's final
A year ago around this time, the Premier Hockey Federation was wrapping up its seventh season in Florida, with the Boston Pride taking home the coveted Isobel Cup at the practice home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and with North America’s largest broadcast audience for professional women’s hockey watching on ESPN2 and TSN. While the product on the ice continued to improve, questions about the league’s viability were still awaiting answers. There was also talk about the long rumored launch of a second league under the umbrella of the PWHPA with backing from Mark Walter, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and CEO of Guggenheim Partners. While the PHF finished the 2022 season on an uptick, what did the future hold for the league?
Two of the biggest questions last year were answered. First, was a massive new $25 million financial commitment by the PHF Board of Governors, and second, and maybe a more important move, was the naming of Reagan Carey as PHF Commissioner. While Carey, who brought world-class NHL and NBA executive experience to the league and widespread respect as a senior leader at USA Hockey, didn’t officially start until later in the spring, the buzz she created soon after the 2022 finals was palpable.
As we fast forward to this weekend’s 2023 PHF Championship between the Toronto Six and the Minnesota Whitecaps, being played Sunday at Mullett Arena, the home ice of the Arizona Coyotes, it is now clear that over the last 12 months, the PHF has shown a marked improvement in every category imaginable under Carey. While the rumors of another league still linger, Carey and her team continue to make inroads as the only professional hockey league in North America built with a community of inclusion, respect, and global growth with a talented player pool and some of the sport’s most notable international leaders. Consistent communication with players and an emphasis on transparency are also key pillars under Carey's ‘new era’ regime.
“While we still have a lot to accomplish, especially on the marketing and brand building side, every day we are creating something special for our players, fans, and partners by growing a culture that is fueled by integrity, respect, and transparency,” said Carey. “Our players are our first priority and we set out to make sure they are put in the best position to have both athletic and career success by providing full medical benefits, a new salary cap of $1.5 million, which is the largest in women’s sports, and better facilities to practice and play games.”
There was also an expansion question, with rumors of several new franchises coming on board. Carey solidified the league’s vision and led the outreach in her first few weeks as commissioner. The PHF added the Montreal Force, which has enjoyed a stellar rookie year by successfully bringing professional women’s hockey to communities across Quebec. The Force also partnered with TVA Sports to create French language broadcasts of women’s hockey for the first time.
“Engaging our fans every day has become a bigger priority, and I think we took some solid steps forward this year with new venues, more grassroots programs, and special events like the All-Star Game in Toronto and our neutral-site game in Pittsburgh that had the support of the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Carey noted. “All of that originated with our talented club leadership and there’s more to come.”
This weekend the league visits the desert where TSN and ESPN2 will carry Sunday night’s 2023 Championship game live and where fans in yet another NHL city will have the opportunity to learn more about the PHF and its athletes. While interest in league expansion, additional brand partnerships, and new investment dollars remains high, Carey -- whose work leading the PHF earned her the top spot in The Hockey News’ annual “Most Influential Women in Hockey” this past winter -- is laser-focused on completing the mission of this season.
“The sports industry is starting to recognize the incredible value and potential of professional women’s sports,” said Carey. “The WTA, LPGA, WNBA, and NWSL are now rightfully seeing new levels of investment and interest and that activity is accruing to our benefit. Our phone is ringing, there is no shortage of interest, and we are talking to potential new cities and partners. The goal is to make sure they are quality markets with the right infrastructure and smart money that can help fuel the league’s growth. We want to be sure we have the right pieces in place so that everyone in the PHF and throughout our sport is in a position to succeed.”
That success can also bring competition and it seems every year there are murmurs about a second women’s professional hockey league. While many in the hockey industry, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, think women’s hockey is best served by just one league, Carey is not put off by the talk of competition or concerned about the rumors.
“The fact is expansion, as we have seen with one team this past year, is not easy. You have to not just have financial backing, but you have to have the right partners who share your vision and values,” Carey added. “As we approach our ninth season, we can say that creating, building, and sustaining a league is not an easy task, many fail. Our actions and accomplishments will continue to be the metric that reflects our experience, vision, and commitment to the sport. Our community is growing ever larger and stronger. All are welcome to join us as we continue paving the way forward.
“We are steadfast on what we are doing and backing it up by delivering for our fans, our brand partners, and most importantly, our elite athletes,” said Carey. “We will work with anyone who wants to help grow our sport. Our progress this past year as a viable and thriving entity stands on its own merits. That’s a fact and there is a bright future ahead for all who are with us.”Enjoy the game Sunday night on TSN and ESPN2!