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Column: NWHL investor documents leak aims to damage reputations

Cherie Hendrickson smiles at NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan as she is recognized on Boston Pride Day. April 22 2016, Boston, Mass. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Thursday evening, Apr. 21, Excelle Sports broke the story that the NWHL was in danger of being sued by an initial investor in the league for approximately $200,000 if it did not received a grant of extension or repay Michael Moran in full for an investment of $184,971.10 by 5 pm Friday, Apr. 22.

The NWHL, which only recently celebrated its first birthday, has faced a large number of public relations crises since its inception, such as NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan discussing firing a coach with his players without informing his general manager, the drama-filled exit of former COO George Spiers from the league, an anonymous source revealing missed payments to Bauer Hockey for equipment, and so on and so forth, but none that had quite the financial implications as this latest story does for the small league.

The Excelle story was well-researched; it covered player sources as well sources familiar with the NWHL’s offices, asserting that Rylan herself was in the process of filing a restraining order against Moran for what a league PR person seemed to implicate online were instances of sexual harassment. It also included, an anonymous and vague statement from a player that Rylan had misused league funds and been abusive towards players.

The focus, however, has been on the potential suit by Moran against the NWHL.

Moran was qualified as an informal investor by the league Friday when pressed for comment, replying to all who asked with the following statement:

“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.”

Additionally, the league commented exclusively to Jen Neale of Puck Daddy that it would focus its energy internally and that it was refusing to bow to so-called scare tactics.

“We are continuing to focus our energy on what we can control, and we can’t control outside threats,” the league said. “There’s an unbelievably bright future for the NWHL. Fear-based tactics have no place in the women’s sports industry and will not stop our exponential growth.”

Monday, however, saw the release of another article on Excelle, detailing many of the financial transactions between Moran and the NWHL, in what seems to be an attempt by the leak to shore up Moran’s reputation as an investor, formal or not, and the burden of proof on the NWHL to demonstrate that Moran was not a volunteer, as they stated.

Today’s Slapshot has reached out to Moran for comment multiple times; he has not responded. We have also reached out to the NWHL in light of the recent report by Excelle and are awaiting a reply. We will update this article when warranted.

Excelle‘s source provided Bank of America statements that demonstrated Moran to have provided a minimum of $142,490.55 to the NWHL through sums both large and small, though the letter from Moran’s attorney to the NWHL and Dani Rylan states that he invested a minimum of $184,971.10. However, what stands out is the closing two sentences from the initial letter from Moran to the league on March 24, 2016, published by Excelle:

The letter, as published on Excelle, underlining our own:

Letter from John G. Cronin, attorney representing Michael Moran, to the NWHL and Dani Rylan, originally published on Excelle Sports.

Letter from John G. Cronin, attorney representing Michael Moran, to the NWHL and Dani Rylan, originally published on Excelle Sports.

The underlined portion reads as such: “We trust you are aware that cases such as this filed in the federal court are regularly reviewed by the media. Our hope in making this settlement compromise is to avoid negative publicity that could jeopardize the future of the league and chill interest from other investors.”

The information given in these documents is demonstrating a level of transparency the NWHL has never come remotely close to reaching before. It provides a fascinating look into the league’s advertising strategy (mostly through Facebook, it appears).

However, the timing and kind information also suggests that Excelle‘s source isn’t necessarily interested in shining a light on the NWHL’s use of its funds but rather in protecting Moran’s reputation, and in doing so is making it more difficult for the league to draw new investors.

The leak, as Puck Daddy pointed out, is not coming from inside the NWHL. Indeed, it may very well be Moran himself or his attorney, John G. Cronin, as Cronin couldn’t share these documents without Moran’s permission, otherwise he would be in violation of attorney-client privilege. That, however, is far from a definitive conclusion.

Regardless of who the leak is, the fact remains that this type of leak is an unusual and even poor business tactic to take: it effectively burns all bridges between the information source and the league without remorse.

While making such information public might force the NWHL to buckle under pressure and returns Moran’s money, the likelihood of this publicity also making it much more difficult for the league to sign replacement investors is high.

Given that the NWHL is in its first year of business and probably did not turn much of a profit, if it earned one at all, this also lowers the probability that Moran will have all of his money returned to him, lawsuit or not.

In fact, it makes it seem as though the leak’s true goal is to gut the league’s reputation, not get Moran his money back.

 

Correction: This article previously stated the amount being sued for as “$1874,971.10” when it should have been “$184,971.10”.

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