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Volume 22 No. 27
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Kids stuff: NHL creates Gen Z board for advice

A few months after joining the NHL as its chief marketing officer in October 2016, Heidi Browning spoke to the Wall Street Journal about some of the league’s plans to attract younger fans to the game.

Browning, who came to the NHL from music streaming service Pandora, received several notes from fans and industry members about her comments, but one in particular stood out — a letter from 11-year-old New York City resident Sabrina Solomon, who outlined several things she thought the league could do better to reach fans like her. Browning invited Solomon to the NHL’s Manhattan headquarters in September 2017, and Solomon, joined by her mother, brought a detailed PowerPoint presentation that she went over with various NHL executives, including Commissioner Gary Bettman.

“She had some great ideas, but one of the things that really struck me was that there were more than a few that we were actually already doing,” Browning said. “This is an avid fan that actually knows rules just based by the number, but she wasn’t aware of some of the marketing that we were doing, so we knew we needed to do something.”

That moment was the impetus for the league to create the NHL Power Players, a youth advisory board it launched last week that will be filled with Gen Z hockey fans. The league will look to mine that board for advice on hockey-related topics that are important to kids ages 13 to 17.

In the past, the NHL has held focus groups with both millennial and Gen Z fans to better understand their mindset and attitudes about hockey. However, Browning noted, most of that research was done looking at casual hockey fans, not avid fans like Solomon.

“Our goal is to have this advisory board inform our strategy, from marketing to the fan experience to the game itself,” Browning said. “We also think there is the added benefit of letting these young fans educate others their age, and parents, about why they like hockey and the NHL.”

Sabrina Solomon wrote to NHL CMO Heidi Browning in 2017 about ways the league could better reach avid fans like her, the impetus for the creation of NHL Power Players.
Photo: getty images

The NHL currently is accepting applications from fans in the U.S. and Canada in that age range. Bettman and Browning, among others, will interview and select the 10 who will join the inaugural board next month, which will convene for the first time in June. Browning said the league will select 10 new members each season.

Browning said she expects the group to meet via video chat at least quarterly, with additional meetings and discussions on different topics spread across the season. Browning also will travel across North America and meet with the board members, as well as host them at NHL games and facilitate meetings with the teams in their respective markets.

“I truly believe that the Gen Z generation will be the most diverse and most influential generation of our lifetime,” Browning said. “We need to make it a priority to do our best to understand the attitudes and perceptions and desires of this extremely interesting age group when it comes to media, technology and sports.”

Asked if Solomon will be on the board, Browning said with a knowing laugh, “She’ll have to apply just like everyone else, but I’d say she has a pretty good shot.”