Monday, 22 August 2016

Distorting The Facts

For the last few months, I have avoided the conflicts and lawsuits that seem to be following the NWHL around. There have been all sorts of rumours and speculation about the league and its finances, and I have done my best to avoid the discussions that concerned these rumours and speculation. Today, however, I found myself watching what seemed to be an interview done with NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan that was nothing more than a distortion of facts and the spreading of half-truths.

Former BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg launched Cheddar, a "finance news network aimed at the under-40 crowd" found exclusively on Facebook earlier this year, and Dani Rylan appeared on the Facebook Live broadcast of Cheddar this morning. Her intention was to promote the NWHL to those people watching the broadcast which numbered at 110 viewers when I was watching, but it seemed that all she was interested in doing was stretching truths and facts into whatever spin she needed.

Here's an abbreviated video from the Cheddar Facebook site. I'll disseminate what Miss Rylan said in the full interview that I watched below.

Ok, let's break this down, shall we?

Rylan mentioned that expansion was a possibility in the future with potential owners "approaching us all the time". I believe that this statement is entirely untrue. Three of her four franchises have already moved to new arenas this season that have a smaller seating capacity than where they previously played. If the league was truly looking to get bigger by a whole team, they wouldn't be downsizing 75% of the league.

Secondly, the loss of two major investors who have filed lawsuits seeking their investments back would most likely scare off other investors. The fact that there is proof of bills not being paid or falling into default would also scare off potential investors. No one wants to throw money into a sinking ship, so the expansion talk is entirely untrue. Yes, she flashed up the map with the stars on new locations, but there is a 99.9% chance of that never happening. Heck, she couldn't even keep a team in New York City where her league offices are located, so where are these expansion franchises going?

Rylan stated that the league was averaging about 1000 fans per game last season. That's a great number for a league in its first year, so why are teams downsizing? The Boston Pride are the reigning Isobel Cup champions, and they have moved to a facility that is outside metro Boston and only holds 660 people maximum. If the league truly is growing its fanbase, the league shouldn't be moving to smaller and more remote facilities.

One can make an argument that costs will be lower at a more remote facility, but that goes against all logic. If the league is growing and more people are showing up, arenas are usually keen to encourage teams to return since they make more money as well. Instead, the league has pulled up roots for three teams and moved them to smaller facilities. It makes no sense unless there are costs that need to be controlled because finances are tight. Maybe that attendance figure of 1000 fans wasn't entirely true?

Rylan made the bold claim that "one-third of the league plays for their respective national teams". This is a disgusting distortion of a fact. We already know that the Russians aren't coming back to the league and it appears that Nana Fujimoto also has walked away. Tatiana Rafter and Sarah Casorso have yet to suit up for Team Canada. So who exactly are these national teams?

The truth is that of the 68 rostered players - 17 players per team - one-third of them would be the 22 US national team players and Janine Weber. Weber plays for the Austrian national team. 23 players of 68 total players is one-third of the league, but only two national teams are represented and Americans make up 96% of that one-third. She would have been better off stating that one-third of the players in the league have represented America on the international stage. That would be entirely truthful and accurate. Instead, she distorted the truth about her league to make it sound more prestigious.

Rylan stated, "We are a media company." Do the players know about this? The NWHL is not a media company whatsoever. They produce content that is carried on some medium - internet, TV, radio, etc. - but they are not a media company. I get that Miss Rylan isn't an English major, but you cannot claim to be something you're not. Otherwise, HBIC is a media company. And I can tell you that it is not. Nor will it ever be unless I am gifted some large amount of money or the keys to some media company. I produce content, but the medium is the internet. Confusing the two terms is a major blunder.

Rylan stated that the NWHL is seeking the same types of commercial and sponsor deals that the men get. I appreciate this honesty because it would help the league immensely, but there are problems with her statement in that even her main sponsor in Dunkin' Donuts hasn't given the league the cash infusion it truly needs. Sources indicate that the deal negotiated with Dunkin' Donuts provided the league with $80,000 cash - not even enough to cover salaries for one month of play - while Dunkin' Donuts got prime real estate on jerseys and a ton of free publicity with the players using their individual $400 gift cards.

While she may be seeking the same types of deals that the NHL and the minor-pro leagues get, there's a major difference in that they have lasted the test of time and have generated a major fanbase in each of the markets in which they reside. Keep seeking these deals, though, as they will help your league. Just don't be surprised if they don't materialize.

In talking about these new commercial and sponsor deals that she is seeking, Rylan stated that the fans of the NWHL give the "same number of impressions" when compared to men's hockey. This is entirely a lie. In fact, it's laughable. If she thinks she generates the same number of "impressions" as the AHL or the ECHL does with their sponsors, she's delusional. There are zero metrics for her to base this statement in any sort of truth. She doesn't even reach the same number of fans on a seasonal basis as the ECHL averages per month. Therefore, this is a bold-faced lie.

Rylan's claims of players in the NWHL making salaries "almost comparable to minor-pro leagues" is technically true, but also a distortion of the facts. The average NWHL player will earn a salary around $15,000 for a 24-game schedule or about $625 per game. That's not bad money for a startup league, but there are some items not covered by the team that the lower-tier minor-pro leagues cover.

The SPHL, the league that Shannon Szabados plays in, pays its players somewhere between $300 and $325 per week due to the weekly $5600 salary cap, but apartment rent and most meals are covered by the team. They also help find jobs for the players in the communities in which they play which do not conflict in any way with the team's schedule. Looking at that, it's $300 clear above rent and most food, making it easier for the players to live on what appears to be a meager player's salary. Add in some extra cash from the jobs they work in their off-ice time, and some of the players get by fairly nicely.

The NWHL doesn't provide for housing or meals from what I have been able to gather, and I have yet to see them find job placements for any player. If they have, those announcements have been kept very quiet which is contrary to good marketing. In order to attract players, you'd think that the league would want to celebrate its achievements in helping players. Instead, we hear crickets. Suddenly, $625 per game doesn't really feel like a lot of money when you factor in rent, food, and transportation to and from games.

Look, I know that Dani Rylan is going through some tough times right now both as the league's Commissioner and on her own. The lawsuits from failed friendships and investors have to weigh on her somewhat, and there are rumours that additional lawsuits are on their way as companies begin to take action for bills unpaid or delinquent. However, the last thing she should be doing is distorting the facts about her league in order to make it sound better.

I'm concerned about the future of 68 women who could arrive at a rink one day to find out that games have been cancelled. In the end, the women on the ice are the ones who will suffer, and it's not fair that they have to bear the burden if things don't come out positively for the NWHL.

The show that Dani Rylan appeared on was called Cheddar. It's almost appropriate with all the cheesy lines she was using on the program.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


William Whyte said...

This is by and large fair comment, but one point of correction -- the new Pride venue is about as much Metro Boston as Harvard was, it's not further out of town and is pretty convenient by public transport. Disappointing that it has a smaller capacity, but maybe rental costs were considerably lower.

Teebz said...

Good comment, William, but there are still questions.

Arenas who have seen a ton of fans coming in usually invite a pro league back with lower costs because they are making money. Because we get zero financials or reasons for the moves, the logical reasons would be because (a) the rink didn't make money and wants to make up the difference, (b) the attendance numbers were largely inflated by the league, or (c) both.

While I get that public transportation makes it easier, it's the same distance as the Boston Blades are from the center of Boston and the complaint about the Blades was that "they're too far out of town".