When it comes to sports, Kim Davis means business. The National Hockey League senior executive vice president recently made a virtual visit to mathematics teacher Desiree Sheff’s Math and Social Justice class to share expertise on social issues in athletics and how the NHL is diversifying its fan base. Student Will Gladstone ’23 met Davis through his work with NHL Power Players, a youth advisory board for the NHL, and introduced her presentation.
Davis began her career journey in the banking industry, where she was first introduced to the NHL as a financial advising client. When the sports giant approached her about joining the company full time to advance audience development, she decided to make a major career pivot. “Something you should know is that your skills are very transferable,” she advised students. “The early years of your career should be your years of exploration.”
Davis officially joined the NHL in 2017 and was charged with increasing access and participation across 32 NHL teams in the United States and Canada. She began by conducting in-depth research with the Brookings Institution to study the league’s demographics. The data showed that the NHL’s audience did not reflect its diverse markets, and that its avid fan base was rapidly aging out of the sport. “As much as we discuss the importance of engaging with multicultural markets, this was greater than doing the right thing,” Davis said. “This was about making sure that our business survived over the course of the coming decades.”
In response to this research, the NHL created diversity and inclusion councils to foster cultural discussions which have led to major structural changes within the organization. The League has made a widespread commitment to entering into new business partnerships with minority-owned or female-owned businesses. All 32 clubs have launched or are about to launch community hockey programs focused on black, indigenous, and person of color (BIPOC) players, LGBTQ+ players, women and girls, and/or people with disabilities. In an initiative to remove the infrastructure and cost barriers to hockey, the league also piloted NHL Street, a recreational youth street hockey program.
The efforts have proven successful. BIPOC viewership of the sport has risen by 25%, and women now represent 40% of the NHL’s overall fan base. Progress was also made in the NHL offices. The league launched a mentorship and hiring program to develop BIPOC and female talent to work on the frontline of the organization’s operations team. The NHL has tracked its progress through a diversity and inclusion report, the first of its kind for any major league support.
Davis has received many accolades for the impact she has made on hockey, including being named one of Adweek’s “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports.” However, she stresses that there is still more progress to be made: “Social justice in the NHL is a movement, not a moment. … My goal is to make hockey the most inclusive sport in the world.”
Sheff says Davis made an impact on her class. “I was so impressed with the questions that the students asked of Kim, particularly about her work on the NHL DEI report,” she says. “Kim Davis’ talk was the perfect way to wrap up our unit on data analysis and storytelling with respect to equity and representation.”