News broke Thursday night that the National Women's Hockey League had announced to players that it was cutting their salaries in half. After launching in 2015 as the first women's hockey league to pay its players, who earned between $10,000 and $26,000 for their inaugural season, the NWHL will no longer specify what its salary scale looks like.
In a conference call Friday afternoon, league commissioner and founder Dani Rylan attempted to put a positive spin on the news, mentioning that the league's sole public investor, Dunkin' Donuts, offered an additional $50,000 to go straight to the players. "We are in meetings with investors every day," she added.
The revelation of a sudden cut in pay would be bad enough for the players, but they weren't even consulted. Rylan admitted that neither the players nor the NWHL Players' Association were involved in the decision. Instead, the league unilaterally attempted to address its financial insolvency by divesting the athletes.
"It was a decision we were thinking about for a while now," Rylan said. "Unfortunately we had to make this business decision to save the season.
"We fell short on some projections and had to pivot away from that decision. The decision was, do we want to exist? Do we want to save the season? We had to make the appropriate decisions to do so."
Rylan indicated that should the league see an increase in revenue over the second half of the season, player salaries might be partially restored.
Rylan also said that no paid front office staff––including general managers as well as herself––had taken a pay cut as a mitigating measure, citing the fact that the majority of staff were volunteers and that they ran a "lean team."
This afternoon and into the evening, players will discuss whether to sign an addendum to their contract that acknowledges and commits to a decreased salary for the remainder of the season.
Ashley Johnston, defender for the New York Riveters and its captain over the past two seasons, was also on the call and said the decision was "gut-wrenching," adding, "We had no idea [about the lack of funds]." Despite the apparent lack of transparency inside the NWHL, Johnston stated that she hoped to continue to play for the NWHL, and that she knew others would, as well.
"This is a place that we all want to play," Johnston said. "We are all invested in this league, we all want it to succeed."
While Rylan did not commit to a hard number for salary cuts across the board, Johnston confirmed that she, at least, would lose fifty percent of her salary for the season.
Some players will feel the impact more than others, which Rylan admitted. Those who signed for under $15,000—a group of at least 30 players—now will earn salaries as low as $5,000 for the season. Such a decrease in pay could affect whether players are able to keep renting in areas with a high cost of living, like New York and Boston, and whether they are able (or willing) to return for the 2017-18 season. The decision was intended to save the season and the league, but it might have the opposite effect.
Players will still receive a 15 percent commission from sales of their jerseys and shirseys, which may soften the blow a bit for the fan favorites in the NWHL's ranks.