NWHL Volunteers Invest More Than Money
George Speirs is a businessman. A former marine, he now owns a photography studio, as well as invests and manages properties. He is also a Hockey Dad, who, by his own admission, has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
“It’s tough seeing girls’ hockey take the backseat to boys’ hockey every time,” Speirs said. “When I first met with Dani [Rylan, NWHL founder and commissioner], I walked in with that chip on my shoulder. A half-hour meeting turned into two hours, and I left feeling a lot better about the future of girls’ hockey.”
That chip on his shoulder is one of the reasons why he decided to become one of the NWHL’s investors, or, in his eyes, donors. As Speirs puts it: “An investor is someone who is looking to make money. I’m not looking for anything back.”
Among those who are following the development of the NWHL, there has been some concern over how the league will succeed financially. While Rylan already has a successful business under her belt (a coffee shop named ‘Rise and Grind’ in New York City’s East Harlem) brand new businesses are risky investments in and of themselves.
Adding in the following facts: hockey is something of a niche sport outside of Canada; women’s sports occupy the bottom tenth of the sports totem pole; and finally that there is already a pro women’s hockey league, albeit one that doesn’t pay its players, and you have a recipe for a disastrous flop.
Plenty of businesses with passionate people behind them fail in the first year. There’s no shame in it; sometimes the market simply isn’t there or word doesn’t get out fast enough. Speirs acknowledges this when I bring it up. But he is quick to point out those businesses don’t have Rylan at the helm.
“Dani takes it personal, but she doesn’t have a personal agenda,” he repeated over the course of the interview. “And that’s huge.”
Spiers initially met with Rylan to learn about the different ways he could invest in the league, and was given a list that included full or partial team ownership. However he has donated to the NWHL’s operations rather than in a specific team at this time, citing that the bigger picture seemed more important to him.
While he’s located near the New York Riveters home rink, it made sense to him to invest in the future of the league as a whole rather than one aspect of it. “At this point in time the entire organization [is more important] instead of just an individual team,” he said. “If I donate to the Rangers and not the NHL, the Rangers will do well, but what about the League? It’s the same for the NWHL. If the NWHL doesn’t succeed then the individual teams won’t matter.”
But when asked what he deemed an appropriate measure of success for the NWHL, Speirs said its success wasn’t going to me be measured in terms of dollars but in possibility and in the doors it opened for women in the future. “We’re talking about it, aren’t we? We’re getting the conversation going. It’s already a success in that sense.”
And at this point, it seems like that’s true. Whether or not the league lasts for decades is almost unimportant. The fact that it has generated such interest from players and fans alike, not to mention the passion of the people involved in building it, means that if this iteration of the league doesn’t succeed, another will.
Speirs is one of those passionate people.
“I do have a personal interest in [the success of the NWHL], and it’s my daughter, Samantha. She has personal aspirations to play in college and since Dani has come along, [Samantha] wants to go to Northeastern, the Olympics, play in college and afterwards. She has huge, huge dreams and like any parent, you want to give the answer to those dreams. If this can help her achieve that, I want to,” Speirs said.
“But there’s more to it. The women who coached my daughter, they ran out of places to play. It’s for them, too. And it’s built around them right now, but it goes deeper. It goes to my daughter, to 10-year-olds that want to play that makes this worthwhile.”
As to what it’s like to help get this off the ground as a volunteer, Speirs admitted that it was crazy, energetic and exciting.
“Being involved in the start of the NWHL is like being involved in the forming of the Original Six,” Speirs says, laughing. Just a few minutes earlier we were talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs and how sharp their uniforms are, simple and clean. “It’s an Original Six team, how can you go wrong?” he had asked. Thirty years from now, people may say the same about the Whale, Riveters, Beauts and Pride.
Volunteering his time and donating services as a photographer and fundraiser gives him the opportunity to do what those who helped found the NHL did.
“I can sit back 30 years from now and say that I was involved in that, I was a part of that. It’s huge. It’s definitely Dani’s legacy, but if I have the opportunity to be involved in the making of history, that’s huge.”
Every league has to start somewhere. The Original Six got off the ground because they had people behind the scenes who were passionate about the sport and gave far more of their own volition than reasonable. Just as Rylan, Speirs, and the NWHL staff are doing today.
These are people that want to see women’s hockey not just grow, but flourish. And if they have their way, it’s inevitable.