A former National Women's Hockey League executive filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to recoup more than $200,000 he said he invested to help launch the inaugural season last year.
Mike Moran is demanding his investment back after a dispute with NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan over what he says was his 40 percent stake in establishing North America's first hockey league to pay female players a salary.
Moran was the NWHL's chief marketing officer and made payments to cover expenses, including securing ice time, hiring a public relations firm and helping the league meet its first payroll in October, according to the 11-page suit filed in Massachusetts U.S. District Court.
Upon stepping down from his role because of what he called a "soured friendship" with Rylan, Moran said an agreement was reached in which his investments would be considered a loan. He said attempts to negotiate a repayment plan ended when talks broke off in February after another league executive, George Speirs, was fired.
The NWHL issued a statement calling Moran's lawsuit "frivolous and personal."
"The intentions of the individual who filed it were never about business or recouping finances, but a malicious attack to undermine Dani Rylan and the work of many behind the scenes," the league's statement said. The NWHL said it will provide a further response in legal documents being prepared by its attorneys.
The league has teams in Boston, New York, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York. The NWHL is separate from the five-team Canadian Women's Hockey League, which is planning to begin paying players' salaries next season.
As part of the suit, Moran is also seeking to be paid roughly $50,000 in salary for eight months work as a league executive. Moran said he did not receive a salary while other league officials, including Rylan, were paid between $80,000 and $90,000 a year.
Moran said he agreed to provide the NWHL seed money when he and Rylan first discussed forming the NWHL in 2013. Upon launching the league last year, Moran said the two agreed that he would have a 40 percent share of NWHL profits and Rylan would have 60 percent.
Moran acknowledges in the suit that the agreement was never put in writing "because Moran and Rylan were friends and had been friends for years."
The dispute over Moran's stake began when he said he discovered an email Rylan had sent to another individual indicating Moran had only a 2 percent share.
The NWHL business model was essentially a startup venture relying on investors. Rylan, however, has been careful in not naming league investors, revealing the league's bottom line and discussing how sustainable the league can be after having just one major sponsor in Dunkin' Donuts last year.
The NWHL has already announced that it is committed to playing a second season.