The National Women’s Hockey League has its sights set on expanding to Canada, and sources say it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team in the Greater Toronto Area as early as next season.
This season marks the first in more than a decade that professional women’s hockey doesn’t exist in this country following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League this past March, and Sportsnet has learned the NWHL has plans to fill that void as soon as it can.
Expansion to Canada is looking more possible thanks to another investor, which the league revealed Thursday.
“The funding gives us the flexibility of either selling an expansion market or our league owning it at the outset,” NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan told Sportsnet, in an email.
Entrepreneur Andy Scurto has joined a stable of more than 20 NWHL investors. The founder of an insurance firm that he sold in 2017, Scurto led and recently completed a round of equity funding for the league.
“It’s a privilege for me to participate in the NWHL and to join my partners in the league in driving growth for the future,” Scurto said, in a statement. “Having been very involved with youth hockey as my daughter has played for many years, I see the value sports has to offer and I’m especially passionate about building women’s professional ice hockey for the current and future generations of players. The NWHL and the players have advanced the sport and the league beyond its start-up phase, and there is more to come in the years ahead.”
Scurto joins a group of investors that includes Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman and the former co-owner of the New Jersey Devils, Michael Gilfillan.
With Scurto’s involvement, the NWHL says it can increase current infrastructure and enhance player development.
“This provides us with long-term viability,” Rylan said in an email. “This empowers us to invest in our most sustainable revenue streams. We had our best off-season in corporate partnerships this summer, so we’ll continue to focus our resources on procuring strong alignments that will lead to more support for our players and business.”
Changes the NWHL has implemented this season include its first paid media rights deal with Twitch, an expanded season of 24 games over the course of six months and a 50-50 revenue split with players for all league sponsorships and media deals. That means players who signed for the highest end $15,000 salaries are now making $18,900, with the potential for increases depending on other sponsorship and media dollars.
The NWHL also found a private buyer for the Boston Pride this season, a group of private investors led by Miles Arnone.
“To continue to grow the NWHL, and women’s pro hockey in general, it’s important we do two things: We have to build league infrastructure and we have to expand local ownership of teams,” Arnone told Sportsnet, in an email. “The capital raised supports the former so we can improve operations, expand into new markets, upgrade broadcasts, build relationships with our communities and sponsors. Combine that with local ownership and we will drive more revenue over time and by extension increase player salaries. That’s what will create a virtuous cycle of growth.”
Rylan says the private ownership has “been phenomenal for the Pride and our league,” and the NWHL is looking for owners for its other four teams.
A Canadian franchise — which would bring the NWHL to six teams — has been on the league’s radar ever since last season. The American-based league had plans to expand to Canada following the CWHL’s collapse, but those plans went awry after many of the world’s best players decided to sit out this season of women’s pro hockey in North America (the NWHL is the only option) until they feel there’s a sustainable league on offer.
The GTA makes sense for the NWHL’s foray into Canada since it provides a nearby rival for the Buffalo Beauts, and because more than half the Beauts roster currently hails from Canada.
With 15 Canadian-born players on its five rosters this season, the NWHL would no doubt see that Canadian content grow if the league forges ahead with expansion plans in this country.