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Power Players: Gucci, NHL Lead Way in Empowering Next Generation
Engaging younger generations in decision making processes through shadow and advisory boards offers rightsholders an opportunity to overcome the supposed Gen Z Problem
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Sport has a Gen-Z problem.
A 2020 Morning Consult study indicated the generation "is much less enthusiastic about sports” than those who came before. Only 53% of Gen Zs identify as sports fans, compared to 69% of millennials, and Gen Zs are half as likely to watch live sports regularly and twice as likely to never watch.
The makeup of executive boards across sports leagues, teams, and federations seemingly provides a clue as to why that is. Few have reached the summit prior to their 40th birthday.
That reality is not unique to sport. Despite making up more than half the world’s population, the group is often underrepresented within corporate and governmental decision-making structures.
To help address the imbalance, several progressive companies –including Gucci– have created shadow boards comprised of non-executive employees to aid the executive board on strategic initiatives. The presumption is a shadow board can bring a unique perspective, one more representative of younger fans.
But if given real power and influence, a shadow board has the potential to transform a business.
Gucci introduced one in 2015 after a period of declining sales. The collective was able to convey to senior leadership that the company was not responding fast enough to trends, which led it to implement a new digital-first approach.
CEO Marco Bizzarri has since credited the company’s profitable turnaround (sales +136% since '19), in part, to the young consumers who have embraced the shift.
For comparison purposes, Prada sales have declined -11.5% over that same period. The company did implement a shadow board.
The NHL has also created a shadow board, albeit of a different –and younger– variety.
Inspired by a letter received from a young fan named Sabrina, the league launched the NHL Power Players in 2019 to gain a more consistent source of youthful insight.
Comprised of fans aged 13-17, the Power Players participate in monthly meetings and provide feedback to the league on subjects important to their generation. The NHL just opened applications for its fifth cohort.
“We cover every topic," Heidi Browning (chief marketing officer, NHL) said. "It's not just about hockey or the NHL. We look at sports, culture, music, food and fashion, all of that, because [it all] matters when you're thinking about how to create relevance with this next generation."
The Power Players program has influenced how the NHL creates content.
“We talk [with our Power Players] to identify who are the relevant creators to them. Because it's not going to be a Kim Kardashian," Browning said. "It's going to be The Hockey Guys, Reagan Rust, or Anna and Bru. And we've worked with a number of these creators and incorporated them into our NHL events at [their] recommendation.”
The league has grown its social following 8% YoY.
The Power Players program has made its mark on distribution too.
The league's Big City Greens alt broadcast was well received and the NHL recently rolled out an experience on Roblox.
It's human nature to make assumptions. But when senior management parlays them into organizational changes without consultation of the demographic they seek to engage, they risk missing the mark entirely.
By empowering the Power Players, the NHL has been able to validate actions with the intended audience. The league gave its internal sounding board a sneak peak of the Roblox product and got some early feedback before making it available to the masses.
While Gucci and the NHL have taken different approaches, it is clear there is an opportunity to overcome the perceived Gen-Z problem. Organizations just need to put their ears to the ground.
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