USA Hockey Blinks in Row with Female Players

Apr 14, 2017

By Jordan Kobritz
“Very united. Very strong. Persevering.” Those words were uttered by defender Gigi Marvin to describe the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team’s 2-0 win over the Canadians in the opening game of the Women’s World Championship on March 31. And who could disagree with her?
The players were coming off a two-week standoff with USA Hockey, the governing body that oversees international hockey competition. Instead of practicing for the World’s, Marvin and her teammates announced on March 15 they would boycott the tournament unless they received a new contract. Negotiations on a new compensation package began some 15 months earlier but little progress had been made until the women took a page out of the oldest labor playbook: Pay us or we won’t play. In the end, the hockey federation blinked first. The new agreement was announced less than three days before the puck dropped to begin the game against Canada.
The women were reluctant to take personal credit for their huge accomplishment. After the deal was announced, team captain Meghan Duggan said, “Our sport is the big winner today. We stood up for what we thought was right… I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page.” That may be easier said than done for the brain trust behind USA Hockey. Before they can turn the page, they will have to lick their wounds, and after those heal the real work begins: Building a relationship between the organization and the players they first ignored, then tried to divide, break and replace, before ultimately negotiating a fair and equitable deal with them.
In the end, this wasn’t a victory so much as a total and complete surrender by USA Hockey. However, the federation had little choice. After the women threatened a boycott, USA Hockey made it clear the World Championships, which were played in Plymouth, Mich., would go on as scheduled, even if they had to recruit replacement players. That plan went up in smoke after a desperation call went out to pro, college, high school and post-collegiate players — anyone, it seemed, who owned a hockey stick and a pair of skates – and not a single player responded in the affirmative. In fact, dozens of players announced publicly they had rebuffed the invitation to play and made a point of saying they fully supported the National Team’s efforts.
The women also received support from professional players’ unions representing the four Major League team sports – the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB – along with the National Women’s Hockey League, which is unrelated to the Women’s National Team. Even the Canadian Women’s Team, the second best team in the tournament which stood to gain the most from the absence of USA’s top players, backed their bitter rival.
The final agreement gave players increased training stipends, base salaries of $4,000 per month before bonuses, Olympic performance bonuses of $20,000 for a gold medal and $15,000 for silver to supplement the five-figure performance bonuses the USOC pays athletes in all sports, the same travel arrangements and insurance coverage players on the men’s team receive, and per diem of $50 – up from $15 – for non-travel days at events, again, the same as the men. In sum, under the new contract players could earn $70,000 per year in non-Olympic years and more than $100,000 in Olympic years. The new compensation package provides the equivalent of full-time employment and could potentially keep some women in the sport into their 30s.
There will be indirect benefits as well. USA Hockey and the players will establish a committee to make recommendations on how the federation can improve its marketing, scheduling, public relations efforts and promotion of the women’s game. Last but not least, USA Hockey agreed to add a foundation position to improve fundraising and other efforts for its girls’ developmental teams. Currently, such teams receive virtually nothing compared to the $3.5 million the boys’ program receives, not to mention the additional $1.4 million USA Hockey pours into the United States Hockey League, a top-tier league for 16-20-year-old boys.
The only thing that isn’t included in the settlement is a commitment for additional female representation on USA Hockey’s governing board. According to the organization’s website, only three of the 14 members on its executive committee, or 21 percent, are women. USA Hockey claims to have 91 voting board members, 15 of whom, or 16 percent, are women. According to a report being compiled by the Women’s Sports Foundation analyzing a number of international and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic organizations, USA Hockey is the only national governing body that oversees Winter Olympic sports where women make up less than 20 percent of the board of directors.
On April 7, the women won the World Championship by beating Canada for a second time in the tournament, a come from behind win that ended with an overtime goal. The victory marked the fourth straight time the Americans defeated Canada to win the world title. Overall, the U.S. team has won seven of the past eight World Championships.
Like their results on the ice, the women’s labor efforts were an example of discipline and fortitude. Throughout the long ordeal they stayed united, supported each other and focused on the negotiations to the same extent they did on training for the tournament. That proved to be a winning formula on and off the ice.
The author is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at


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