PHF Chairman addresses commissioner search, Digit Murphy hiring, expansion and more

PHF Boston Pride players celebrate after scoring in the 2022 Isobel Cup Championship game
Michelle Jay

April 26, 2022 – Update: This story has been updated to include new information from the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) regarding the minimum salary for individual players and team roster size limits for the 2022-23 PHF season. 

Originally Published: April 20, 2022

On Tuesday evening, On Her Turf interviewed Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) Board of Governors Chairman John Boynton about a variety of topics, including the timeline for announcing a new commissioner, league expansion, the decision to hire Digit Murphy as the new President of the Metropolitan Riveters, and the role of BTM Partners in league governance.

On Her Turf also asked about Boynton’s role as chairman of Yandex, Russia’s largest tech company, which has reportedly played a role in suppressing factual information and promoting propaganda related to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. He declined to comment.

Here are the biggest takeaways from that conversation.

When will the new PHF commissioner be hired?

According to Boynton, Ty Tummunia‘s successor as PHF commissioner will be announced “very soon, and possibly even this week.” Tumminia, who took over as commissioner in October 2020, announced in February that she would be stepping aside after this year’s Isobel Cup Playoffs.

“We are deep into the search process. We started out with a really great set of candidates… and worked down through a list of finalists. And we interviewed the person we believe will be the next commissioner,” Boynton said, going on to clarify that he was not a member of the search committee himself.

According to Boynton, the committee was led by Connecticut Whale owner Tobin Kelly, and there were six people involved in the search process: three members of the Board of Governors and three senior staff members.

Boynton declined to provide names of the hiring committee members or provide a number of how many members of the hiring committee are also members of BTM Partners. “I’m not sure that’s really relevant,” he said.

When the PHF (then NWHL) was founded, the league owned and operated all four franchises. In the last three years, there has been a transition from league ownership to private ownership of teams — a strong sign of growth — though two of those ownership groups currently control more than one franchise. The long term goal — according to the league website — is for every team to be owned by its own individual ownership group. But until this happens, the current joint ownership structure has the potential to create conflicts of interest.

During the 2021-22 season, BTM Partners owned three of six PHF teams and thus had three of six seats on the PHF Board of Governors. John is chair of the Metropolitan Riveters (and chairman of the league), his wife Johanna Boynton chairs the Toronto Six and business partner Miles Arnone chairs the Boston Pride. In addition, Digit Murphy is Senior Vice President of BTM Partners, while Bryant McBride is a partner.

When On Her Turf asked about the composition of the search committee and pointed out that the current ownership structure could result in a concentration of power, Boynton replied:

“We have an ownership group that is completely aligned around our mission, right? We are trying to build a league that is the best league we can build. And we are getting slammed in the press by people like you, honestly. If I look around, show me another group of people who plans to invest $25 million in their players over the next three years. Show me another group of investors in women’s hockey who have spent more than $15 million in the last three years building a league. We are working as hard as we can to build the best league we can. So I don’t know why the ill will.”

After On Her Turf pointed out that media accountability is important to the development of women’s hockey, Boynton replied, “By the way, I think most of the players in this league are thrilled with their experience… You know, change takes time. And if you look at the amount that we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, to me, it’s pretty dramatic. And we’re moving fast. We’re proud of what we’re doing. And we think we’re doing an excellent job. Are we perfect? Of course not. Right. But we’re doing our best to make this league the best it can be. And that’s why it’s a little bit upsetting when we have certain journalists who just tend to be consistently negative and seem to be unable to see the positive in what we’re doing.”

UPDATE: Premier Hockey Federation appoints Reagan Carey as new commissioner

Is the PHF still planning to expand next season?  

Earlier this year, the PHF announced that the league would expand from six to eight teams for the 2022-23 season. The two new teams are expected to be based in Montreal and a U.S. city to be determined. Boynton didn’t provide any additional details on Tuesday, but said he hopes more information will be available by the “end of the first week of May.”

Boynton did say that – while BTM Partners is responsible for the Montreal expansion team – a different ownership group will control the other expansion team. He also confirmed that the sale of the Toronto Six — which was announced on March 7 to an all-BIPOC group that includes Angela James — has not yet closed.

What went into the decision to name Digit Murphy as President of the Metropolitan Riveters?

It was announced last week that Digit Murphy will take over as President of the Metropolitan Riveters, the same position she most recently held with the Toronto Six. The decision received some blowback from PHF fans and staff members.

“Digit was the one who launched the Six and she built that franchise from scratch and did a hell of a job with it,” Boynton said. “We (BTM Partners) were pretty hands off in our first year of owning the (Riveters). But we see an opportunity to really support the staff better, bring more resources to the team, build a team that we hope will compete more effectively next year — and do it all with a very strong culture that we think will be very much like what Digit was able to do up in Toronto.”

According to Boynton, Murphy will also be “supervising a transition of the front office (of the Six) and hiring a new president for that club” as the team transitions from BTM Partners to its new ownership group. He did not address Murphy’s current role as SVP of BTM Partners.

As for the departure of Anya Packer as Riveters general manager, “We asked (Anya) to come back as GM and she is not coming back. It was totally her choice,” Boynton said, adding that the Riveters will hire a new GM for the team ahead of next season. “We think that, to run these teams properly, you need to a president and a general manager.”

On Her Turf confirmed this with Packer in a phone interview.

“When I looked at the new role as general manager that got really narrowed by new hires in the org, it was no longer for me,” she said. “It’s a great role for whoever does take it on, but it just no longer suited me personally.”

Packer isn’t the only person to depart the Riveters organization in the last week.

Former head of Riveters Communications Jess Belmosto, as well as members of the stats team, also left.

Murphy has been criticized for her prior association with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, an organization that has been condemned as transphobic. Although Murphy has since left the organization and said she has done “a deep dive of what it really means to be inclusive,” Belmosto cited her hiring as a specific factor in the decision to leave the organization.

“Her coming aboard really really really made it hard to even think of staying,” Belmosto told The IX. “It made me sick even thinking of working under her knowing her beliefs and how she has treated employees in the past. I knew in my heart I couldn’t stick around. I can’t change her and never will.”

Asked about the recent staff departures, Boynton said he had a call with nine staff members on Tuesday and that it went “very well.” He went on to add, “One of the headlines that we’re sharing with the staff is that what the Riveters did this year was great. They’re doing a lot of great work and advocating for a lot of great causes.”

As for what he would say to fans who feel alienated by Murphy’s hiring — especially regarding her prior association with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group — Boynton said:

“I would say that Digit, for 40 years, has been a tireless advocate for women and has made a huge impact, a hugely positive impact, on the world of sports. I think she believes strongly in inclusion, and empowerment, and diversity. I think if you look at the organization she built for the Toronto Six, one of her goals was that the organization should reflect the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area, and she did that. I don’t think there’s another team in this league that has as much diversity in their front office as Toronto has. So I think that Digit is a fabulous advocate. And I think that, as the Riveters fans to get to know her, I think they’ll come to appreciate all that she has to offer because it’s a lot.”

What will PHF salaries look like next season?

In a press release Wednesday morning, the PHF outlined some of its plans for “roster building” ahead of the 2022-23 season. One of the highlights is that the PHF is implementing a salary cap floor of $562,500, which is 75 percent of next year’s $750,000 salary cap — part of a $25 million commitment announced in January.

Creating a salary cap floor is a major step in ensuring that teams are spending on player salaries as advertised. That said, the release says nothing about how this will be enforced (the PHF hasn’t historically released salary information) or if there will be individual player salary minimums.

Minimum player salaries have been a crucial in other women’s leagues like the NWSL and WNBA to ensuring that no player makes below a specific income threshold. In their first ever collective bargaining agreement, the NWSL Players’ Association negotiated a minimum salary of $35,000, while the WNBA’s most recent CBA specifies the minimum salary for rookies in 2022 will be between $60,471-$72,040 and $72,141 for veterans with three years of service (per HerHoopsStats). (Note: while the PHF has a Players’ Association, unlike the WNBA and NWSL, it is not a union that can collectively bargain for player rights.)

Following the phone interview on Tuesday, On Her Turf followed up with Boynton via email to ask whether the league had enforced minimum player salaries this past season. Boynton replied that there was a league-wide minimum, but when asked what it was, he replied that he wasn’t sure, and then followed up with, “I’m sure all complied; we all abide by the rules we set together.”

After Wednesday’s announcement, On Her Turf again followed up — both with Boynton and PHF Senior Vice President of Communications Paul Krotz — but did not initially hear back.

A member of the PHF Players’ Association who did not wish to be identified told On Her Turf that there is a “recommended” base salary of $20,000, but that the individual salary floor is lower to accommodate practice players and athletes who want to play, but can’t commit to playing the full season.

Update: On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, the PHF followed up with information on individual player minimum salaries. According to Krotz, the minimum salary for a player under contract during the 2022-23 PHF season will be $13,500. Krotz’s email included the following explanation: 

“This figure was established in consultation with the players who preferred a lower number to allow for a broader distribution of pay across team rosters within the salary cap, as well as to allow for exceptions that account for part time or practice players on the roster. Each year there are players that cannot commit to a full season or may only compete in some games due to work restrictions, etc, and the players wanted to be able to accommodate those individuals. It was determined that it would be easier to manage by simply lowering the contract minimum instead of applying rules for special circumstances to allow flexibility for some players to continue playing even if they may be limited based on personal situations related to their career, family, etc.” 

Krotz also confirmed that teams will be limited to a roster size of 25 players for the 2022-23 season. 

Also on Wednesday, the PHF confirmed that there won’t be a draft this season. According to the league press release, “PHF teams have the exclusive right to re-sign any rostered players from the 2021-22 season up until April 30, with unrestricted free agency officially commencing on May 1.” While the release says teams have the “exclusive right” to re-sign players, the same member of the Players’ Association said that players have the right to refuse the contract extension from their current team and wait until free agency if they want to explore their options.

The league’s press release also provided new details about health insurance coverage, noting that the new standard player agreement includes “comprehensive benefits plan with medical coverage from Aetna, plus dental and vision coverage through MetLife. One hundred percent of the premiums will be paid for the players and they will have no deductibles.”

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