The NHL was honored with the League Humanitarian Leadership Award at the fifth annual Sports Humanitarian Awards, presented by ESPN and sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, at L.A. LIVE's The Novo on Tuesday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman accepted the award, celebrated for using the power of sports to make a difference in their communities and throughout the world.
"It is awe-inspiring, daunting and intimidating for us, as a League, to be here," Commissioner Bettman said in his acceptance speech.
Through various strategies and goals, the NHL has excelled in educating and inspiring the hockey community and will receive a $100,000 grant donated to the charity of its choice, one focused on growing the game and exposing it to new audiences.
"We are really excited about this one because we never won this particular award," said Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. "It's a big deal for the League to win it. I think the work that we've been doing particularly off the ice has really played a significant role in our winning it."
In his speech, Commissioner Bettman thanked Davis and her staff.
"You run social impact for us, and you put it all together," Commissioner Bettman said of Davis. "And without your effort and the effort of your team, I wouldn't be here tonight."
A one-hour recap of the event will be shown by ESPN on July 18 at 7 p.m. ET.
Since Davis started with the NHL on Dec. 4, 2017, her group has attacked what she calls three broad categories of barriers: economic, infrastructure and cultural. Among the endeavors are the Declaration of Principles, Future Goals, Hockey Is For Everyone and Learn to Play. The latter has reduced economic barriers by offering sponsored equipment and registration to boys and girls ages 6-8. More than 50,000 children have participated since Learn to Play was launched for the 2015-16 season, including a record 29,000 in 2017-18.
Commissioner Bettman said the Declaration of Principles, which was launched on Sept. 5, 2017 and was signed by 17 hockey governing bodies, is "a statement of the values our sport stands for.
"First and foremost it's about inclusiveness and diversity, but it's also about leadership and physical fitness and doing the right things in life. And that's something that I think all of us here tonight can agree upon, can work together on and can really make the world a better place by adhering to those values."
Davis said, "The comprehensive approach that we have taken to increase access to our sport, while at the same time helping youth develop life skills through the sport of hockey, and celebrating diversity and inclusion in our game, is why we have been named as a leader in this particular space. It gives us pause that we continue to have work to do and that we should stay vigilant in our quest to ensure that, as we say, indeed hockey is for everyone."
A big part of that has been nurturing relationships on and off the ice, with many NHL teams benefiting from those relationships being a pathway to fandom. Davis cited the Tampa Bay Lightning for their community engagement before and since beginning play in the 1992-93 season. Fan affinity and development grew in Tampa, Los Angeles and in particular Las Vegas, with high hopes for the newest market in Seattle.
"This notion of relationships are everything," Davis said. "I think it's really part of the ecosystem of the League and it was part of that long before I came. We've been intentional about ensuring that we are clear about the kinds of relationships we need to build. Stakeholders like community partners have been one that maybe we didn't understand was a really critical pathway to fandom."
Nevada once had five sheets of ice throughout its borders, but hockey immediately prospered in the state when the Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL at the start of the 2017-18 season.
"Ball and street hockey have been a critical component of breaking down some barriers, and getting kids and families engaged in the sport," Davis said. "[The Golden Knights] know in order for them to make their sport welcoming across the state with all of their fans, they have to be looking at innovative ways. So they've used Learn to Play and the Future Goals program as two particular tools to get families engaged in the sport. It's paid off significantly for them."
It's paying off for the NHL, but Davis and her team has eyes on the next level. They want to attract millennials and Generation Z through technology, entertainment, food and new, progressive avenues. Female empowerment in sports and business is increasingly prevalent; more than 42 percent of NHL fans in North America are women, and more are becoming influential decision makers. Davis is the first NHL executive to be featured in Adweek's top 30 most powerful women in sports, a list that includes United States women's soccer team captain Alex Morgan, NBC Sports Group CMO and Executive Vice President, Content Strategy, Jennifer Storms, and World Wrestling Entertainment Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon.
"We in sports not only have the privilege of doing something that we are passionate about, and doing something that is fun and exciting and competitive and entertaining," Commissioner Bettman said, "most importantly we have a platform that can make a difference in communities and make a difference in people's lives."