It might have taken an overtime or two, but the U.S. women’s national hockey team got the victory it wanted in a landmark agreement with USA Hockey on Tuesday evening. It lifted its boycott of the upcoming world championships in Plymouth, Michigan, where attention will shift toward the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Here are our key takeaways from an agreement both sides were calling historic:
1. The women are getting an overdue raise
You heard it often during this negotiation: It wasn’t just about the wages. It isn’t all about money. But make no mistake, money was a big part of it, and the women’s team earned a major raise.
Until this deal was struck, USA Hockey only paid them for training leading into the Olympics, and that was only $6,000 for the six-month residency. This deal could mean six figures for the players if they win Olympic gold. By the final year of the four-year agreement, $950,000 will be allocated in a compensation pool for the players.
The women’s team can focus less on finding ways to generate second or third incomes and more on turning their energy completely toward international hockey success and building the game here in the United States.
2. There are going to be relationships and reputations to repair
This got ugly. Demands were made public at times, with live reactions on Twitter as the two sides went at it.
USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean acknowledged as much to ESPN.com on Tuesday. “I think this was uncomfortable for everybody,” he said.
A landmark deal doesn’t erase what happened. The women earned this because they were absolutely united, and it might be hard to forget that USA Hockey executives like Jim Johannson and John Vanbiesbrouck were working behind the scenes to round up replacement players to take their place. Meanwhile, U.S. captain Meghan Duggan and her teammates were working just as furiously to thwart those efforts.
It’s a precedent-setting agreement, but USA Hockey also angered many fans for the lengths the women had to go in order to get it.
Did it tarnish USA Hockey’s image?
“I sure hope not,” Ogrean said. “I hope we get a lot of credit for resolving this. If you look at the history of this organization and its role in women’s hockey, nobody can say it hasn’t been really, really strong.”
When asked if she believes there will be any residual hard feelings, Duggan told ESPN.com on Tuesday, “Today’s a new day. We’re ready to move forward. We’re excited we were able to reach a compromise, and now we will have the chance to defend our world championship later this week.”
To win over many women’s hockey fans alienated by USA Hockey, the agreement has to be a first step toward a larger picture of serious progress for the sport.
3. Insurance and travel arrangements are now on par with the men
That American men standouts like Patrick Kane or Ryan Suter got to travel business class to international tournaments while women like Brianna Decker and Megan Bozek traveled in coach says a lot about the inequality in the organization before this agreement.
Now, travel arrangements are equal to the men, including an increased daily per diem for nontravel days at events from $15 to $50. The deal also includes an escalator clause; if the men’s perks increase, the women’s will also increase.
It’s less about the spending money on nontravel days and more about everyone in the program feeling like they are in it together; there is no class system. Hockey Canada does a great job of promoting its men’s and women’s teams side by side, and this is a great first step for the U.S. to follow that lead.
4. The newly created Women’s High Performance Advisory Group will give the women more of a voice within USA Hockey
One of the frustrations that built up to a boiling point and then turned into this boycott was the perception among many of the women players that USA Hockey didn’t do an effective job marketing and promoting their sport. The creation of this group should help address this issue, as well as give the women a formal voice at the table.
Hilary Knight said earlier this week, “We felt like we were not heard.”
The Advisory Group mirrors a similar committee at Hockey Canada called the Women’s High Performance Advisory Committee.
“I wish we would have thought about it a long time ago, quite frankly,” Ogrean said. “It could help us make good, intelligent decisions moving forward.”
Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a member of the players’ leadership group, told ESPN.com that the new contract could, overnight, “make USA Hockey a model for what other NGBs [national governing bodies] should take a look at and do for their women athletes. That’s one of the things I’m most proud about, and it’s one of the reasons this feels like a historic moment to me.
“This is going to help generations of women athletes that come after us in other sports, not just women’s hockey.”
There is a lot of room for growth in sponsorship opportunities specific to the women’s team, especially after this high-profile battle. With the right outside voices included as part of these discussions, bringing in much-needed new ideas, the opportunity for exposure and additional income are there for the taking.
5. There is a new opportunity to build on the momentum and publicity of the boycott
This boycott was a major risk for these athletes. Had they not been united, had USA Hockey been more successful in finding replacements, there is a possibility this would have gone unresolved, and many of the women who took up the fight could have been blacklisted from USA Hockey.
They all knew that, but they decided to boycott anyway.
“Negotiations are about leverage,” John B. Langel, the players’ veteran legal counsel told ESPN.com on Tuesday night. “Once these players decided they were willing to skip worlds, there were numerous occasions when they could have blinked or backed down. They never did.”
It’s solved now with the new agreement, but there were serious risks taken, and the execution in taking those risks and earning what the women’s team believed it deserved won over legions of fans.
The very public fight these leaders like Duggan and Knight took on gave them more exposure than success in the upcoming world championships alone would have ever given them. Now comes an opportunity to build on it. The U.S. team immediately jumps into action with a game Friday against Canada that countless more Americans will care about because of this boycott.
Through continued use of social media, a renewed partnership with USA Hockey’s platforms and new fans, there is momentum to be seized for these athletes and USA Hockey.
“So many people around the country, not just in sports, responded to us,” Duggan said, “and I think it was because we were showing what women who stand up and fight for what they believe in can achieve. Especially when we stick together.”
ESPN.com senior writer Johnette Howard contributed to this report.