Mike Moran, a founding investor of the National Women’s Hockey League is looking for his money back. On March 24, 2016, Moran’s attorney John G. Cronin sent a final notice directly to the league and its commissioner, Dani Rylan, requesting $184,971.10 to reimburse Moran’s investment.
The NWHL had a successful product on the ice during its inaugural season, but questions have lingered concerning the league’s transparency, investors, and sustainability since the league’s launch. A six-figure lawsuit could have huge financial implications, though the true extent is unknown. The worst case scenario is the league being forced to suspend operations and setting back the viability of professional women’s hockey in the United States.
The NWHL and Rylan have until April 22, 2016 at 5 PM Eastern to either pay Moran’s requested amount or receive a written grant of extension. If neither happens, Moran is expected to file a lawsuit against both the NWHL and Rylan personally by the following Monday for the entirety of his investment, which the letter states to be over $200,000.
The letter from Moran’s attorney states the funds he provided to the league and Rylan were a substantial part of the league’s founding, and were used for advertising, logos, and other expenses such as website hosting.
Moran’s involvement with the league appears to have been during the founding and opening few weeks. He also was directly involved in marketing the league, having sent emails to photographers asking about photo rights after the first game was played. His name was also listed as “Chief Marketing Officer” in an email from Dani Rylan to U.S. National Team players, according to a letter provided to Excelle Sports.
Moran’s name is on the WHOIS data for the official website of the league, listing a P.O. Box in New Hampshire for the address.
Reached by phone, Rylan did not have any on-record comments on the letter, a potential lawsuit, or if Moran’s requests for repayment would affect the second season of the league, slated to begin next October. She is scheduled to attend an event in Boston on April 22nd honoring the Boston Pride, winners of the inaugural Isobel Cup.
A source familiar with Rylan’s approach to the impending lawsuit told Excelle Sports that the league front office has been preparing for it since the letter was initially sent in March. This source said Rylan believes the lawsuit is part of a pattern of harassment from Moran, and the final step in a personal vendetta against her.
The source said Rylan was concerned enough about her safety to file restraining orders against Moran and another former employee of the league. Excelle Sports could not confirm if any protective orders had been filed, and Rylan declined to provide any evidence of those orders.
As for Moran, when reached via phone, he declined comment on the contents of the letter at this time as the deadline for repayment has not yet been reached. Regarding the restraining order, he said, “The last time I spoke to Dani was October. She called me on March 15, which I did not answer. If there’s a restraining order, that would be news to me.”
Moran was able to provide a screencap of the missed incoming call from Rylan.
Back in January, Rylan told the Washington Post of the league’s long-term viability, “We’re in it for the long haul. Obviously revenue will determine how many years that means.” The Post stated that the league was set for a second season.
Previously, George Speirs resigned from the league as Chief Operating Officer and Acting GM of the Connecticut Whale in February. An internal source from the NWHL called him “one of the single biggest sources of problems in the league.” He had donated directly to operational costs of the league itself.
Beyond Speirs, the only other known investor is Joel Leonoff, father to Whale goaltender Jaimie Leonoff. As he told ESPNW, even he does not know who the other investors in the league are.
One player who played in the first season of the league said that Rylan isn’t qualified to serve as commissioner. The player said Rylan has misappropriated league funds, and threatened and lied to players. Rylan declined to respond to the player’s comments.
The player also expressed concern about the mystery investors for the league, and said the incident between the league and Bauer Hockey concerning equipment and lack of payment had been a huge embarrassment for the league. Added the player, “I’m pretty sure Dani could go to jail for some of the things she’s done this year.”
UPDATED: The NWHL released a statement responding to this story: “Mike Moran was a volunteer in the early stages of the NWHL’s existence and at no point was a formal investor. While we and our legal team are not aware of any current legal action against us, any future action will be handled by our lawyers and not through the media.”
Read the full letter here: