The Premier Hockey Federation has been bought out by investors in the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which clears the way for a singular professional women’s hockey league in North America.
The Mark Walter Group acquired PHF “assets,” per a news release, and plans to build on the foundation of the seven-team league to launch a new league in 2024. The PHF will cease operations.
The Mark Walter Group has been working with the PWHPA and Billie Jean King Enterprises for the past 14 months to plan for a new league. PWHPA players formed a union earlier this year and have been in the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.
Ratification of that CBA would be the final step in forming the new league. The PHF was told that its “infrastructure will be the foundation” that the new league will build itself from, ESPN reported.
The Mark Walter Group will back the league financially, and King and Dodgers president Stan Kasten will be among the board members.
“I have always believed that professional sports should bring the highest levels of performance and organization, and this new league will have the backing and resources it needs to represent the very best of women’s hockey,” said Mark Walter, who is the controlling owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
More than 120 players had signed full-time contracts with the PHF for the upcoming season. Those contracts have been voided using termination language in those contracts, but players will still receive severance and a period of continued health benefits. The PHF was not unionized.
The PHF, originally dubbed the National Women’s Hockey League, was founded in 2015. While the league became the first women’s hockey league to pay players, more than 200 of the top women’s hockey players opted to forgo participation until receiving proper resources. Thus, the PWHPA was formed.
Over the last four years, the PWHPA has played in showcase events. The PHF, meanwhile, underwent a name change, expanded and increased its salary cap to $1.5 million. Despite calls for a unified league, the PWHPA planned to move forward apart from the PHF over concerns about its business model and long-term viability, The Athletic reported last year.
The new league is expected to launch in January 2024, as announced Friday by The Mark Walter Group, Billie Jean King Enterprises and PHF governors Johanna and John Boynton.
The PWHPA had been aiming to launch a league for the 2023-24 season, The Athletic first reported in March. A start date is contingent on the ratification of a new CBA, with PWHPA players voting over the coming days. (PHF players will not be included in the vote.) With the expectation that the CBA will pass, the league would launch in 2024 and the CBA would run through 2031.
A CBA being ratified prior to the start of a league’s launch would be a first for any women’s professional league. The WNBA adopted its first CBA two years after its inaugural season, in 1999, while the NWSL took 10 years to ratify its first CBA. While the PHF had league bylaws, it did not have a CBA in place.
The number of teams in the new league and the locations of those teams are still being determined.
The seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto. The new league is expected to have six teams of 23 players each, three in Canada and three in the United States, with Boston, Buffalo and Connecticut likely nixed, per reporter Ian Kennedy.
pic.twitter.com/APw5PyOuNu— PWHPA (@PWHPA) June 30, 2023