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How the NHL's campaign for good is keeping kids engaged with hockey

Winner Spotlight: Hockey’s Declaration of Principles

How a formal pledge from the NHL is keeping the next generation engaged with hockey

The following interview with Donny Khan, Senior Director Advertising and Marketing for the NHL, is part of our Campaign Spotlight series, which examines this year’s Hashtag Sports Award-winning work. Hockey’s Declaration of Principles, created by the NHL and The Vault, won for Best Engagement for Good which recognizes excellence in championing fan connection which has a positive impact on individuals or society.


What unique objective or goals led to the creation of initiative?

94% of kids playing high school sports will never play at the collegiate level. Of those that do, only 1-2% will make it to the pros. Yet, many parents and coaches continue to push kids with unrealistic expectations. For kids, this has taken the fun out of youth sports. As a result, youth sports are facing a decline in participation across the board.

But those that love the game of hockey know that hockey is different. Hockey teaches teamwork and perseverance. It instills integrity and a sense of humility. It strengthens character and brings communities together.

Declaration of Principles aims to focus on creating better people and stronger communities – not just better athletes. It’s a proclamation of the values inherent and authentic to the sport of hockey.

The Declaration of Principles is a vision statement for the future of hockey. The first of its kind in professional sports, the Principles unite the hockey world under one mission: to deliver a positive hockey experience for all players and families by holding firm to the belief that the true value of the game is its power to strengthen character and teach life skills that transcend the game.

Hockey's Declaration of Principles

How was the initiative designed and produced for your target audience of young fans & athletes?

The Declaration of Principles prompted hockey organizations across the globe to review the way the game is taught and communicated to all key stakeholders, and to adjust to align with the Principles. The NHL also created tangible programs, assets and resources for and with organizations, to demonstrate ways we can bring the Principles to life. Below are some examples:

  • Website launch: www.thisishockey.org was launched where hockey stakeholders, fans and anyone interested can learn more about the initiative, find resources and take a pledge to develop, promote and support positive change in the sport’s culture.
  • TV spot: ‘Thank You, Hockey’ – produced by The Vault, NYC – was released online and ran through the 2017-18 hockey season on external broadcast platforms — NBCSN in the United States and Sportsnet in Canada – as well as platforms of the 17 stakeholder organizations.
  • Poster: A unique downloadable poster with the Declaration of Principles Pledge was created in 10 official languages to encourage worldwide participation.
  • Declaration of Principles Summit (January 2018): A thought leadership summit where ideas were exchanged by subject matter experts on three key topics: athlete activism, diversity & inclusion, and teachable moments of hockey.

How did this work achieve effective engagement and what measurable outcomes were delivered?

Some of the many highlights include:

  • Over 800,000 views and over 2.1 million impressions on social media within the first two days of the launch.
  • The Principles are now introduced to over 30,000 children, each year, in the US and Canada through the Learn to Play program.
  • The broad impact of the program really comes across in a letter the NHL received from Pope Francis himself, which stated: “his Holiness trusts that [the Declaration of Principles] significant gesture will inspire greater appreciation of the pivotal role played by sports and sportsmanship in training future generations to pursue personal excellence and to promote the spiritual values of teamwork, solidarity and mutual respect so necessary for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”
  • In Congress, Representative John Katko (R-NY) officially submitted the Declaration of Principles into the Congressional Record, noting: “It is my distinct honor to recognize hockey’s Declaration of Principles, and thank the National Hockey League, the National Hockey League Players’ Association, and all groups involved in this declaration for their continued dedication to the improvement of Hockey, and by extension the lives of millions of Americans who watch, play, and love the sport.”

What new benchmark(s) in fan engagement does this set? How will this work inspire and move the industry forward?

Through this effort, we are setting new benchmarks for how people perceive and interact with our sport, both in terms of participation and fandom. The Principles and this campaign focus on undercurrents embedded within hockey – from accessibility, to cultural norms, specialization and the value of character and family. More than ever before, we are discussing the future of the game within the context of the role it plays in society. We are now collecting data and analyzing trends that shed light on barriers to participation and factors influencing the experience, providing substance to make decisions to improve.

Other sports leagues and entities have taken notice. Hockey leadership has been approached by leading sports entities in North America to help them emulate the Principles and the platform that it has created to bring solutions to their unique set of challenges.

Can you share a bit about any research that your team conducted before developing this engagement strategy? How are you planning to use the new data being collected?

Hockey’s Declaration of Principles were grounded in the belief that hockey is so much more than a game. That it’s a sport that provides so much more than exercise. Hockey teaches our kids values and helps build character. It instills respect and accountability; character and responsibility. In short, it teaches our youth lessons that they take with them long after they have left the rink. It was this belief, coupled with the knowledge that children were quitting youth sports an alarming rate that led us to bring the hockey community and its governing bodies together and launch the Declaration of Principles.

We relied on the data provided by Aspen Institute’s Project Play, the Sport & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), as well general industry research. The below slide shows some of the quotes and sources we used during our strategy sessions. We continue to work closely with the Aspen Institute and SFIA.

Hockey's Declaration of Principles statistics slide

Additionally, through the NHL and NHLPA’s Learn To Play program, we are not only introducing 30,000 new kids to hockey each year, we are introducing them to the values that hockey teaches and we are committed to putting a greater focus on developing better people – not just better athletes.

Hockey’s Declaration of Principles was one of only 25 inaugural Hashtag Sports Award winners. What does this honor in engagement excellence mean for the NHL and The Vault?

It is an honor to be part of this select group in the inaugural class. Being recognized by The Engagement Academy further confirms that we are on the right path as we work to demonstrate the value of youth sports and youth hockey provide.

Learn more about the Hashtag Sports Awards which celebrate excellence in fan & consumer engagement, and sign up to be notified when entries for 2020 go live this fall.

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