SBJ/March 27-April 2, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL unifying community efforts

A puck drop with a bomb-sniffing dog garnered coverage from non-sports outlets for the NHL.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The NHL has invested heavily in its corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, establishing platforms such as Hockey Fights Cancer, Hockey Is for Everyone month and NHL Green.

Now, the league wants to amplify these efforts and integrate them throughout its business.

“Much of the work that has happened in these areas has grown up in the community relations context, and it’s now moving into business objectives,” said Jessica Berman, NHL vice president of special projects and corporate social responsibility. “Not so that it can become another business line, but that we can grow it and make it bigger.”

One goal of Berman, whose role at the league recently shifted from general counsel to overseeing these programs alongside Omar Mitchell, vice president of corporate social responsibility, is to unify the NHL’s efforts under one name to drive more attention to them.

“From a marketing perspective, if we can strategically put these different pillars under one unified umbrella so that we can collectively message it, drive brand affinity towards it and get our clubs involved even further, we can tell those stories even better,” Mitchell said.

Through that unified voice, the league hopes to elevate related stories in local markets. For example, Mitchell noted that as part of military appreciation night in Anaheim earlier this season, the Ducks had a bomb-sniffing dog drop the ceremonial puck. The league pushed the video and story through its digital channels, resulting in millions of views and coverage from non-sports outlets. “We truly believe these stories talk to a different audience,” Berman said.

Part of the challenge with such efforts is that the effects are hard to measure. While things like the amount of donations or visits to a hospital are easily tracked, the spread of awareness is often just anecdotal.

“Everyone knows these efforts have value, but if you really want to take it to the next level we have to show that with numbers,” Berman said. “We’re trying to find creative ways to measure our impact and measure our results of what we’re doing so that we can get more resources, allowing us to do more.”

The league is also doubling down on its local efforts alongside its clubs. As part of the league’s Centennial Fan Arena touring attraction, the league is providing each team a diversity grant for local community outreach. For example, Berman said, teams can use the grant to provide a form of outreach to any group or organization that is underserved by hockey, such as programs for girls or inner city youth. As part of the league’s recent Hockey Is for Everyone month, all 30 teams and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights held community-related initiatives during February.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has long been a champion of these initiatives, and has pushed for further investment and work across these lines. In addition, Chief Marketing Officer Heidi Browning, who was hired in September, is now overseeing the league’s environmental initiatives and its public affairs efforts.


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