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NHL achieving community goals

World Cup of Hockey 2016 shows where corporate social responsibility, League business meet

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The case study was the World Cup of Hockey 2016, a way for the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to gauge its effectiveness in bringing corporate social responsibility initiatives to a major League event.

But the individual impact could be seen in a video shown midway through a panel presentation given by Jessica Berman, the vice president of special projects and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the NHL. It could be seen in the faces of the 103 people who were sworn in as Canadian citizens during the World Cup, including that of Daniel Alfredsson, the former Ottawa Senators captain who joined the NHL in 1995 from Gothenburg, Sweden.

Berman said the video still gives her goose bumps.

"The NHL really looks at social responsibility in two ways: First and foremost, we talk about social responsibility as a platform to do good," Berman said during her presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday. "If you ever hear Commissioner [Gary] Bettman talk about CSR or community impact, he'll always say we do this work because we want to do good and we do it because it's the right thing to do. So, we always say that first.

"Secondarily is that there's also a way to do good and do good business."

The idea has been to integrate the NHL's corporate social responsibility initiatives with the strategies of the League's business, to marry doing good and good-for-the-League, in order to have the leeway to do even more good. 

"I think historically it was viewed as, if we talk about [CSR] as a business strategy that undermines the credibility of our effort from a social standpoint," Berman said. "I really think in 2017, we have to get over that hurdle. It's our job in the CSR department to make sure that we're meeting both of those objectives, that we're doing good for the right reason and we're also doing good business and providing that value from a business perspective. We have to achieve both of those goals."

In the case of the World Cup of Hockey 2016, the NHL and NHLPA believed it would be able to empower new Canadians through the sport, to raise participation and expand diversity, to make them feel more connected to their communities. For this reason, the tournament was such an important case study.

"We really looked at what is the impact that this tournament wants to make, from a business perspective?" Berman said. "We want to raise the level of the game from an international perspective. We want to put ourselves on the radar, to show how global our game is. How can we raise the profile of the diversity of our game, really reshaping how we look at diversity, in terms of country of origin?"

In doing that, the League looked at Toronto, host city for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and a city in which 50 percent of residents were born outside of Canada. The idea was to use the sport of hockey to reach out to all those new Canadians, to help integrate them into the Canadian culture, to help them belong. 

"We think the sport of hockey, particularly because it is designated, by statute, as the national sport of Canada," Berman said. "What better way to make [people] feel a part of the culture than to give them access to a sport that they might not otherwise have access to?"

The project itself wasn't the end goal. The NHL is attempting to quantify the impact; to find a way, through data collected during a four-year period, to determine how powerful the project was, what connections it formed, how it affected the new Canadians it was designed to serve. 

It was that data-driven approach that Berman wanted most to explore at the MIT Sloan conference, the confluence of two aspects of the business that might not otherwise seem compatible.

"We can have philanthropic, charitable social goals, but also try to align with our business objectives," Berman said. "Once you get over that hurdle, then you can really start to use the measuring tools that other areas of the business use and apply them in our world."

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