The NWHL’s Boston Pride has been purchased by a team of investors led by Miles Arnone, a managing partner at private equity firm Cannon Capital.
The acquisition makes the Pride the only NWHL team currently owned by an outside investor. The other four teams are currently owned by the league.
Arnone, who has more than 20 years of investment experience working with start-ups and turnarounds, is based in Boston. Crave Better Foods, which signed a partnership with the NWHL this summer around its The Original Chipwich brand, is a portfolio company of Cannon Capital.
Arnone said that living in Boston as a hockey fan, he was aware of the Pride, which launched in 2015 as one of the NWHL’s original teams. He connected with NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan regarding the Chipwich sponsorship in March but began to chat with her over the summer about the potential of having local ownership for the team, leading to the investment.
“The Pride’s presence in the market is pretty good considering that the last few years for the league has been about game operations and the quality of the product on the ice,” Arnone said. “My interest – and our investment group’s interest – in the Pride is because we believe this can be a great business with improved commercial development, which will allow us to pay the players better and create a virtuous cycle.”
Arnone said while this next season of the NWHL, which begins on October 5, will be more about learning and observing for the new ownership group than dramatic changes, he has a few areas in mind in which they will make investments into the team. For one, there will be an increased level of marketing and promotion around the Pride, as well as the creation of more youth hockey initiatives. Arnone also said he wanted to enhance the resources being provided to the players to further their development.
The Pride also plans to hire a team president, Arnone said, who will be tasked with overseeing the team’s commercial operations and engaging other youth hockey programs in the community.
“There are substantial opportunities to grow revenue, whether that is through in-game activities, ticketing, sponsorships or other events,” Arnone said.
However, he said, the Pride won’t be moving away from its current home at Warrior Ice Arena, the practice facility of the Boston Bruins. But since the venue only seats around 800 fans and the team averaged 706 fans per game last season, Arnone said he believes there is an opportunity to host a special event game at a larger venue.
Last season, the Bruins formed a partnership with the Pride around several of its women’s and girl’s hockey initiatives. The Bruins also provide the Pride with financial assistance. That relationship is still ongoing, and Arnone is expected to meet with the organization in the coming weeks.
Arnone declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal but said the investment represents a combination of the cost to acquire the team as well as an injection of cash into the business.
The acquisition comes at an important time for the NWHL, which has engaged M&A firm The Sports Advisory Group to find local owners and investors for all of its teams, as well as prospective expansion teams.
“Miles and his group are going to have an amazing and immediate impact in Boston,” Rylan said. “Their passion for the community and women’s hockey and their commitment to deliver for the players and fans in Boston is palpable. It’s their genuine investment and belief in the business of women’s professional sports that will help prove the sustainability of the NWHL.”
Bringing on a well-capitalized investor that believes in the league is a huge win for the NWHL, which took a hit this offseason when both Pegula Sports and Entertainment and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment severed their relationships with the league regarding the operation of the teams in Buffalo and New Jersey, respectively. Pegula Sports and Entertainment had previously been the only stand-alone owner of a team in the NWHL.
Women’s professional hockey has seen wider turmoil as well, with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folding and a group of more than 150 players choosing instead to not play professionally in North America this season in hopes of another league they deem more sustainable emerging.
However, Rylan and the NWHL have aimed to move forward, instituting a new 50/50 commercial revenue split with current players, signing several new partnerships and securing the league’s first revenue-generating media rights deal with Twitch. Rylan said player salaries will be up more than 26% as a result of the new partnerships.
A large part of the league’s growth will be to find those capable local investors who can take the team’s operations to the next level. Minnesota was the sole team in NWHL last year to turn a profit.
Bill Yates, a senior partner at The Sports Advisory Group, said the response from potential investors thus far “can best be described as significant.”
“The opportunity for growth combined with the positive momentum of the NWHL and its teams are what the potential owners are most excited about,” Yates said. “The league has made it very clear to us that they’re only interested in owners who are committed to developing women’s pro hockey at the highest level for the long run.”
Industry sources said that while there are no other team sales on the immediate docket and there is no timetable on expansion, the league is continuing to move towards growth on both of those fronts.
“We are working with people who will advance the business and brand of the NWHL,” Rylan said.