The Premier Hockey Federation players association had high expectations of its next CEO.
Fortunately for lawyer Alex Sinatra, whom the PHF approached to fill the vacant position, his requirements did not include any real hockey skills.
“They assured me that not having played hockey and didn’t know how to skate wouldn’t stop me from doing a fabulous job in this position,” Sinatra told ESPN last week before her official announcement as Executive Director. “I’m not in the hockey world. I love hockey, I love to watch hockey, but I have never played hockey. So I come with an experience that these players don’t have. They are professionals. on the ice, and I’m the professional in business creation, marketing, and law. “
Sinatra may be new to hockey, but she’s not exactly new to the sport.
Growing up, Sinatra was a competitive gymnast with Olympic aspirations before a serious injury derailed her dream. The experience led her to consider a career in pediatric orthopedic surgery, but ultimately it’s business – not science – that interests her.
Sinatra then decided she would go to law school to become the next superagent, a la Jerry Maguire. But Sinatra quickly discovered that the agency side wasn’t for her, triggering an existential crisis of what to do with that degree she was in the process of earning.
The answer pivoted to sports law. Armed with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Texas A&M and a JD from Texas A&M University Law School, Sinatra got her first try and began to put together an impressive resume.
To date, Sinatra has served as in-house legal counsel for multinational corporations and a family that owns multiple sports teams, wrote for USA Today’s NFL Wire, worked for a professional indoor soccer team, and established his own consulting firm which helps women and minorities in sport. industries develop their activity.
This latest attempt introduced Sinatra to Mallory Souliotis, a PHF Boston Pride advocate. They had known each other for about a year when Souliotis first approached Sinatra about the post of PA executive director at the end of 2021. Anya Packer had held the position since 2017, but left to become chief executive of the Palestinian Authority. Metropolitan Riveters of the PHF. Souliotis believed Sinatra would be an ideal candidate to succeed Packer, and Sinatra was immediately intrigued. After meeting other PHF members, Sinatra quickly found a group deeply invested and committed to long-term change.
“I have worked with professional athletes all my life, and the amount of organization these ladies have shown is unmatched, unprecedented,” said Sinatra. “They were able to have a representative from each team on the phone with me to have a two hour conversation about where they see the players’ association and how I can fit in with that. They asked me questions. very sharp. They asked me where I see the league this season, where I see the league and the players’ association in a year. It showed me that they were really dedicated and that they had a connection extremely strong in creating something very special and long lasting for the sport of women’s hockey, it really sold me.
The next step for Sinatra was to learn about the main issues facing women’s hockey. She describes researching in the 1800s, when women first adapted in Canadian leagues and charted the evolution of the men’s game alongside women.
This led her to overcome these more modern hurdles, especially the potential for a unified women’s hockey league in North America. Currently, there are two main entities – the PHF and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). The six-team PHF – which was renamed from the National Women’s Hockey League ahead of the 2021-22 season – has players at five US-based clubs and one outpost in Toronto. The PWHPA was formed when the Canadian Women’s League collapsed in 2019, by a large number of American and Canadian players who chose not to join the then NWHL. Rather than traditional teams, the PWHPA has hubs – three in Canada, two in the United States – and they play tournaments across the continent.
Reconciliation has been a general goal, but the leagues currently operate under two different business models. The PHF has player salaries and doubled its cap to $ 300,000 for last season to allow an average salary of $ 15,000 on rosters of 20 people. In addition, the league’s revenue sharing agreement offers additional bonuses. PHF Commissioner Tyler Tumminia said in 2021 that even though the COVID-19 pandemic had challenged their league, there was still progress with major sponsorship deals.
The PWHPA does not pay its players in wages; instead, they’re eligible to win a share of $ 1 million in prize money via the team’s success in the league’s Dream Gap tour. And each of their hubs has a naming sponsor. PWHPA Commissioner Jayna Hefford has long said that the PWHPA seeks to have health benefits, a living wage and the proper infrastructure in place to move forward with a unified league.
Currently, the PHF does not offer full health benefits to players, although their medical costs due to injury are covered. Sinatra said she hoped to speak as much as possible with PWHPA representatives about their issues and would be a sounding board for any PWHPA members who have questions about the future of the sport.
Sinatra’s goal will be to prioritize what PHF players want and help them achieve those goals.
“I would say there are three main [wants] to start, ”Sinatra said. “First of all, there is an increased ability to make decisions for the league. They don’t feel like they’ve been given the opportunity to have a significant impact on how the league is formed, the sponsors that come in, the rules that are created, the policies, the procedures. They want to have a much more practical role. Second, they want to have upgraded standard player contracts. It’s phenomenal that they’re employees and they have a salary, but they want the contract to be a bit more player-friendly, and they really want there to be, as any professional athlete wants, a living wage. And the third thing is more visibility and resources for the game. 96% of [media] coverage goes to sports where men play, 4% of coverage goes to sports where women play. So they’re really trying to see that change and to make people understand that the resources have to be equitable. “
There is always the possibility that the PHF will organize its members and thus generate more bargaining power. Sinatra has discussed this with players before, but warned that there is “a very specific time when you should unionize” and that it is not something to be done in a hurry.
If Sinatra’s to-do list already seems full, well, it is. And those who know Sinatra best say that she is the woman you would want to take on for those kinds of challenges.
Casey Drillette, a project manager who runs her own education business, met Sinatra when they were in eighth grade. She saw Sinatra in her element and no doubt suggests her ability to demand real change for PHF.
“I would say, sit down and take some notes,” Drillette said. “Just give Alex a little time to get down to business and things will go. I’m always impressed with the way Alex takes things and is able to make progress and take action. As a lot of people are talking about. of a good game., and say, ‘I have all these ideas, these are big thoughts that we have.’ And Alex always says, “No, that’s good; we are implementing right now. Let’s do it. “That’s who she is. When Alex told me about this [PHF] opportunity, it really hit me that everything she has done so far has resulted in this. It was really cool for me to see all the different parts of her life come together to make her the perfect candidate for this job. “
Part of Sinatra’s strategy to begin with will be to differentiate the needs and wants of players, and then rank their goals as short, medium, and long term. Afterwards, it’s full steam ahead.
“Do I believe that an improved standard player contract can be negotiated for next season? I believe so,” Sinatra said. “Good employees deserve to be treated like good employees and to have improvements in their employment contracts. We also don’t have a website at the moment so I can see that [happening]. I can see us come up with products that the fans can buy from the player side. I also potentially see [negotiating to] also bring in sponsors from the player’s side. I can see us starting to build a nest egg for these players. “
The other thing Sinatra wants to see changed is the perception that women’s hockey is somehow inferior to the NHL product on display. Much of her career has been spent advocating for women’s sports, and Sinatra wants PHF to be appreciated for who they are, not what they’re constantly compared to.
“People say things like, ‘Oh, women’s hockey isn’t that much fun and they don’t have any income,’” Sinatra said. “My answer is that if you’ve been allocating resources unfairly for so long, of course there will be an economic difference. And we said to the women, “OK, we want you to be the same product as the NHL” and the women have to come back and say, “we are a different product”. Some people in the industry have such an ingrained prejudice against sports where women play that they don’t even recognize that some of the decisions they make are based on gender inequality. inequitable distribution of resources [can] recognize that the choices are about sex and not about product quality. Because anyone who has watched women’s hockey knows it is a quality product. “
Suffice it to say, Sinatra is eager to officially start. When she does, those in her path had better prepare to fight.
“Alex is definitely fierce. I would use that word,” Drillette said. “I would never want to negotiate with her. I try not to argue with her. She just has this very strong moral compass. She’s very ethical and she’s really good at sticking to her moral. If anything. does not suit her morally or ethically, she will stand up for that and it is something that will not go beyond her. “