Kasten: Investors’ PWHL business plan exceeds 10 years

(Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
(Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

The ownership group behind North America’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) has a business plan that covers at least a decade, according to Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten who is taking the lead on business operations.

The Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises, financial backers of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), originally planned to launch a women’s league in 2024. The purchase in June of the existing Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) and all of its assets has led to the creation of a single, united women’s ice hockey league in USA and Canada.

Unveiling plans for the inaugural season at a press conference held on Tuesday, Kasten, who is running the operation on behalf of Mark Walter and the ownership group, underlined the investors’ commitment to significant spending to get the product up and running.

“We didn’t do this for the short term”, he said. “We didn’t do this for the long term. We did it for it to be permanent.

“We have plans, so far, our business model goes for 10 years, we’ll go longer when we need to. We understand that this is going to be expensive, especially in the early years, but we think of all those amounts of money not being expenses, we think of them as investments.”

As a single-entity league, the league — financially backed by Walter — owns the teams and hires general managers to run operations for individual franchises. Kasten told reporters that they have received calls from people looking to buy franchises but that the league is not looking to entertain bids at this time.

Kasten declined to divulge the budget for the first season of the PWHL. The collective bargaining agreement struck states that six players on each team will have three-year contracts of “no less than $80,000 [€73,130] per league year” while a majority of other players will have one-year deals.

In terms of marketing spend for the new property, Kasten outlined: “We will be dedicating real money and real budgets toward promotion, community affairs as well.

“We understand that people don’t just come in because you announce that you have a game. We have to have promotions at the games, in the community around the games, we need to be advertising, we need to have sponsorship arrangements that spread the word.

“So, all of those things that you see in modern, professional sports are the tools that we’re going to employ.”

The PWHL is still working on landing streaming deals to ensure every game is available and is aiming to get games on linear television as well.

The league will begin play in January 2024 with six teams playing 24 games (12 home, 12 away), taking a break for the IIHF Women's World Championship in April before finishing the season in late May or early June. Subsequent seasons will have more games and run from November through May and the league will expand in due time, but the league wants to “get the model right first”.

The teams, creating the PWHL’s own “Original Six” as the National Hockey League had, are in Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, the New York City area, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.

The three American and three Canadian teams will play in varying sizes of arenas — though planned to be larger than those in the PHF — to be announced later, with the league saying that multiple home venues are possible with neutral site matchups as well. The New York market may include games in New York City but the league confirmed that it is looking at locations in nearby Connecticut and New Jersey as well.

“We are going to be in some bigger buildings but we know there will be some nights where those bigger buildings don’t look great,” Kasten said. “So, we are working with setting aside some areas in buildings to make the game look better. We are in some big buildings but we are in some AHL [American Hockey League] and OHL [Ontario Hockey League] buildings, which for us right now is a better size than NHL buildings but over the course of the year we will also be in NHL buildings in NHL cities.”

Jayna Hefford, who was the commissioner of the once Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the PWHPA lead operations consultant, is the PWHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations. Former NHL executive Brian Burke, who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in April, is helping run the PWHL Players Association. The new league’s board of directors includes King, sports executive Ilana Kloss and Dodgers senior vice-president of business strategy Royce Cohen.

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