NEW YORK -- Sabrina Solomon visited the NHL offices in Manhattan on Aug. 18 for a day of meetings with League officials, among them chief marketing officer Heidi Browning and Commissioner Gary Bettman.
She presented ideas about how the NHL could better appeal to younger fans through several avenues, such as family-friendly ticket packages, kids-themed online trivia contests and a "Welcome to Hockey" educational app.
Did we mention that Sabrina is an 11-year-old who is starting sixth grade Wednesday?
"To meet with so many people that took my ideas seriously and asked me questions and getting to present my presentation was really special," she said.
Sabrina, who lives in New York, initially wrote to Browning after reading a profile of her in the Wall Street Journal published Feb. 20.
"My mom saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about Heidi and she said that she wanted to grow the fan base by attracting younger fans and more casual fans," said Sabrina, a New York Rangers fan who is a defenseman on a team based out of Long Island City, New York. "My mom suggested that I write a letter to her and come up with some ideas and see what she thought about them and it went from there."
Browning, who joined the League in October 2016, had the letter land on her desk in March.
"As a young and enthusiastic hockey loyalist, I think I am well-positioned to assist in the NHL's goal to connect with a more casual viewership," Sabrina wrote. She also offered to work during the summer as an unpaid intern.
Sabrina said she did not expect much of a response.
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"I thought that I wouldn't get anything," she said. "They'd say, 'Thank you for your ideas' and send a letter with a sticker or something."
Browning was charmed by the letter and had a lot more in mind than a sticker.
"In that [Wall Street Journal] article I talked about some of the opportunities I saw after joining the League. She touched on all of those: that she was a young, passionate fan and she could help me find ways to get casual fans more interested in hockey and then more importantly how we could attract younger fans," Browning said. "And she offered up her services free of charge to work for the summer, which we couldn't do. But we did want to welcome her in and listen to her ideas."
Browning worked with Rachel Solomon, Sabrina's mother, to set up the visit. Her first meeting was with Browning and a roomful of executives from different League departments, among them Kevin Westgarth, vice president of business development and international affairs; Paul LaCaruba, director of corporate social responsibility; Amie Ray, director of direct marketing, database marketing and web analytics; and Joslin Warren, director of commerce and development, consumer products licensing.
"I collected a number of people from different teams across the League thinking it would be good for her to be exposed to different kinds of jobs and people and what they do here," Browning said.
Sabrina wowed the group with a graphic she handed out and the presentation of her ideas.
"She held herself with amazing poise," Browning said. "It far exceeded expectations because I didn't expect her to bring a formal presentation. But it was very well thought out and she had some really good ideas that we thought, 'Hey, we should really think about these.' Some of the ideas we're already doing, but that doesn't matter because they were told through her voice and what she sees. It's so important to listen to what she sees as a fan. We know what we do to market the game, but we don't know how it resonates with fans, especially younger generations. To hear it expressed through her words was really cool."
After a tour of the League offices, Sabrina met with NHL Commissioner Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and repeated her presentation.
Sabrina felt Bettman and Daly, much like the other executives, were invested in her ideas.
"They asked me lots of questions and they told me a lot more about the NHL and what they're trying to do," she said. "They took me seriously, and to know that someone with so much influence in the League really cared about what I had to say was very nice. Even though they have people whose job it is to come up with these things, they were listening to my ideas and it was really special."
Though Sabrina can't intern or work for the NHL until she reaches college age, Browning said she will be staying in touch with her, with an eye on her having a special role for the League.
"She inspired an idea that I want to implement here, which is a young fans council," Browning said. "It is critically important to keep our finger on the pulse of young fan attitudes, insights and ideas. We are developing the qualifications for the young fan council now. Of course, Sabrina will be the first member."
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