The NHL Uses Technology to Pave the Way for Greener Sports
While historians believe that ice hockey has been around since the Middle Ages, the modern sport developed at the end of the 19th century. The National Hockey League (NHL) was founded in 1917 and now has 32 member clubs, serving up games to more than 670 million fans in arenas across North America.
What most people don’t realize: the NHL is a sustainability pioneer in the sports industry.
I sat down with Omar Mitchell, vice president of Sustainable Infrastructure and Growth Initiatives at the NHL, to record a Better Together podcast. We discussed why the NHL is focused on environmental stewardship and how technology can help understand and manage the organization’s carbon footprint. Listen to the full episode here.
“When we think about things that we need for the continuation of hockey, we need things like natural ice, cold weather, and fresh water,” said Mitchell. “We also need vibrant and healthy communities where we can play our sport.”
Mitchell explained the environmental impact of holding games indoors: “We play in what is essentially a giant refrigerator and we use a lot of energy — not to mention the lights we use to illuminate the ice’s surface.”
Environmental sustainability is a priority for the NHL. That’s why Commissioner Gary Bettman initiated the award-winning NHL Green program, launched at the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, announcing its mission to embed sustainable business practices across the League and its member clubs.
In 2014, the organization issued its first sustainability report, which was also the first of its kind created by any North American professional sports league. The report included a carbon inventory for the League, allowing the NHL to have an initial understanding of the environmental impact of its Clubs.
“It was a documentation of all the scope one, scope two, and limited-scope three greenhouse gas emissions associated with our game and with everything around hosting these events throughout the calendar year,” said Mitchell. The three scopes look at an organization’s emissions from both direct and indirect sources.
Mitchell explained that this was a complex undertaking because no one had previously assembled and calculated a similar carbon inventory. It meant manually gathering and analyzing data from across all its venues. While painstaking, this first step was critical and powerful: it established a baseline for the League that helped them refine their goals and strategy.
After the League issued its second sustainability report in 2018, it became clear that there was an opportunity to modernize the data collection and processing by using a modern technology platform. “We needed an innovative platform that could help us streamline that data collection, make it easier for all stakeholders to be able to input that data, and to visualize and process it — so that there are meaningful insights that our Clubs and venue partners could act on.”
That was the impetus for the NHL to co-innovate with SAP on a new digital platform to gather and process this data from all Clubs, now called NHL Venue Metrics. The organizations had successfully collaborated to develop the SAP-NHL Coaching Insights mobile app, based on SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP), which delivers real-time player and game data to coaches. Based on this joint success, the League again turned to SAP to tackle this new challenge.
The 2014 sustainability report showed that 70% of the NHL’s carbon emissions came from its venues’ energy consumption. The data and analytic capabilities within SAP BTP have helped the NHL start to generate insights from the data with the goal to turn it into concrete actions that can reduce the organization’s carbon footprint.
NHL Venue Metrics has also started to improve access to data for Club and League stakeholders; finding time to analyze the data to drive sustainability decisions can be challenging. With the data collected by NHL Venue Metrics, the League will be able to help individual operators identify meaningful investments or upgrades that will help them decarbonize.
For example, Mitchell described the process of replacing older, energy-intensive lightbulbs with LED lights. As some venues started to install new LED lights, the NHL was able to track energy reduction. Not only did the new lights improve venues’ energy impact, but they also created a better broadcast experience for television viewers. As Mitchell explains, these improvements have benefited both the environment and the business.
Moving forward, NHL Venue Metrics will help open up new opportunities for the NHL — and its Clubs and venues — to embed sustainable practices into their operations. Driven by SAP BTP, this solution makes it easier to share knowledge and create best practices across the organization about which new technologies, products, and services can help lower emissions. And even more important: it can help to engage fans by providing transparency into how their Clubs are improving sustainability, as well as ultimately how they can contribute to the success of NHL Green.
“The millions of fans who watch our sport can be positively impacted by the League’s efforts and, hopefully, embed sustainability into their lifestyle,” said Mitchell. “That’s where we’re going to have a network effect that’s going to move the needle positively in our climate fight.”
Now that’s a hat trick: one where technology helps the business, environment, and fans’ experience.