On Tuesday, the NWHL announced a change in their governance structure. Tyler Tumminia is the new commissioner, and Dani Rylan Kearney is the President of an investor group that owns Minnesota, Connecticut, Buffalo, and Metropolitan.
A few writers from The Ice Garden chimed in with their reactions to the news and thoughts on the changes.
All in all, this seems like a natural adaptation by the league to accommodate for private ownership of its teams, which goes hand-in-hand with both stability and expansion. Stability and expansion are two buzz words that should be music to the ears of every fan of the league. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the economics at play here, but this makes sense for the league. Dani Rylan Kearney still holds a significant position of influence — one that plays to her strengths — and this should streamline things between the four league owned and operated clubs and the Toronto Six and Boston Pride.
Tyler Tumminia is clearly qualified and capable, which makes me wonder if the “interim” label might be very temporary. Of course, that — and everything else — will depend on how things go in January and beyond when the NWHL is scheduled to return to action. The chaos and uncertainty wrought by COVID-19 poses a huge threat to a league like the NWHL. This decision to restructure addresses a lot of needs and should, in principle, make the league better and stronger off the ice.
I won’t lie that this is more business-y than I can probably understand. From what I do get at a simplistic level, this will take two aspects of what Dani Rylan Kearney was doing as commission - running the league and trying to find new private ownership for the four league-owned teams - and split them up. Rylan Kearney will be able to focus on the latter and new Commissioner Tyler Tumminia will run the league itself. This makes sense to me.
It also divorces the league and the four centrally owned teams making it more like men’s sports. It’s a solid move that has me cautiously optimistic in their forwarding thinking, though a move to a more traditional model is the part that has me most worried.
The aspect that intrigued me most is that the new Commissioner Tyler Tumminia is coming from outside hockey, a first for North American women’s hockey as both Dani Rylan Kearney and Jayna Hefford are former players. I’ll be looking to see how Tumminia’s different background will impact the moves she makes. Assuming some of her duties as commissioner will be similar to what she was doing as chairman of the Toronto Six, I don’t think it’s a stretch to be confident in her ability to find new and different partners for the league. This will be a great case study to see if the leader women’s hockey needs should come from outside hockey.
I’ll admit to being initially very surprised by the appointment of Tyler Tumminia as interim commissioner, but honestly, after a night of reflection…it makes a lot of sense. Historically, women’s hockey has relied on current and former players with business education to lead (think, obviously, of Dani Rylan Kearney, Jayna Hefford, and the player board of the PWHPA), I think that Tumminia will bring an outside perspective that the NWHL might, at this point, really need.
A lot of people have brought up what this might mean for the relationship between the NWHL and PWHPA, and right now, I don’t think much will change. The idea of Rylan Kearney stepping down was brought up in the past and didn’t seem to be one of the largest points of contention, so I think we’ll really have to wait and see what this next season brings in terms of partnerships, facilities, access, and more.
Anne hit the nail on the head when she mentioned that an outside perspective is needed. Tumminia is a new voice in the room, someone who doesn’t have deep prior ties to the league or the game itself. The same can be said of coaches in a locker room in any sport: sometimes even if a new coach isn’t drastically changing the strategy, the fact that it’s a different voice can be refreshing.
It also helps that Tumminia is no stranger to overseeing the operations of a sports franchise. As senior vice president of the Goldklang Group, she helped run five minor league baseball franchises (including my hometown Hudson Valley Renegades, what up New York-Penn League!) with such partners as minor league sports legend Mike Veeck and actor Bill Murray. All this is to say that the league appears to be in capable hands with Tumminia.
As for Dani Rylan Kearney, I’m reminded of a Ron Swanson “Parks and Recreation” quote about whole-assing one task as opposed to half-assing two. Rylan Kearney has been the face and driving force of the NWHL, through good times and bad, for five years. For the league to truly grow to her vision, she needed to get some of the load off her shoulders. She now gets to focus specifically on the growth and less of the nitty-gritty operations as league commissioner. It seems like that’s the right step for her and the league.
The news was a bit shocking at first. But after soaking it in, it would appear that Dani Rylan Kearney was balancing both jobs - as commissioner and as president of the four franchises not independently owned. This move allows her to focus solely on the latter, and to get the 4 franchises the ownership they deserve so that they could be on par with the 2 franchises that do have independent owners.
Hearing from players in Boston last year, and previously Buffalo, about having the benefits of having an owner, it’s clear to me that it is necessary for all of the teams in the league to take the next step in its evolution by being independently owned. This would allow for full growth of the league the way it should be, as well as create a level playing field. It won’t happen overnight, but nonetheless a step in the right direction.