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Investors step up to buy NWHL’s Boston Pride

The Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League has been purchased by a team of investors, led by Cannon Capital managing partner Miles Arnone.

It’s a significant step for the NWHL, which is aiming for sustainability as many of the sport’s top stars have opted to sit out this season.

The NWHL owns and operates the four other franchises. Pegula Sports & Entertainment — which also owns the Buffalo Bills and Sabres — relinquished control of the Buffalo Beauts back to the NWHL after severing its ties with the league in May.

Arnone, who lives in Boston, said he has been interested in women’s hockey “for a long time.” He says he intends to hire a full-time team president, as well as “improve sponsorships, run more substantial ticket sale drives and focus on merchandise sales and outreach to the community.”

“When you have localized ownership like we do, it’s a lot easier to connect the team to the community,” Arnone said.

The 2019-20 NWHL season begins on Oct. 5 with the Metropolitan Riveters visiting the Pride.

The NWHL still sets the league salary cap, but Arnone says if the team can “grow commercially” it will “advance the state of economics as it pertains to the players; then we can afford to pay the players better.” Arnone says he has been in touch with the Pride’s coach, former NHL player Paul Mara, and met with the players Monday night. Arnone says he will focus on other ways he can improve conditions for players, including how they travel to games, what type of facilities are available for practices and what resources, such as equipment, are made available.

Entering its fifth season, the NWHL has expanded its schedule to 24 regular season games for each team. The league also increased its salary cap to $150,000 per team — up 50 percent from $100,000 last season. Additionally, for the first time, players are receiving a 50 percent split of revenue from all league-level sponsorship and media deals. That includes the league’s three-year streaming partnership with Twitch, which was announced this month,

The improvements come at a time of upheaval in professional women’s hockey. Following last season, the NWHL’s rival league, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, made the surprise decision to fold. Shortly after, nearly 200 players — including some of the sports top stars, such as Team USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight, plus Canada’s Marie Philip-Poulin and Shannon Szabados — announced they would not be playing in any professional league next season as they await the formation of a “more sustainable league.” According to a statement released to the players: “We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game.”

Arnone said the boycotting players did not deter him from getting involved.

“There’s a lot of ways to think about the state of women’s professional sports and people are entitled to their own perspective of best way to go about it,” Arnone said. “Hopefully down the road there will be a way to get everyone back together.”

In a statement, NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan thanked Arnone and his investors “for their belief in our league and players.”

“Miles has a love for the game and deep connections in the New England community,” Rylan said. “The Pride’s new ownership is passionately committed to the team for the long haul, and we are confident they will set a new standard for how professional women’s hockey teams are run in North America. Their dedication to investing in the Pride’s infrastructure, player development, and every aspect of the sport and business is a game-changer.”

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