Building the Player-Fan Connection with the NHL’s David Klatt

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The National Hockey League (NHL) is stacked with elite athletes and wildly passionate fans from around the world. The one thing that connects them all? Social media. 

In 2019, the league entered a partnership with Opendorse, built to help players leverage social media to further connect with fans and build valuable personal brands. The partnership encourages NHL players to publish their most powerful moments – highlights, in-game images, and other media – to their personal social channels with the tap of a button.

To understand how the league is assisting players and growing the game with Opendorse, we caught up with David Klatt Director of NHL Social Media and Social Player Development.

Tell the Athlete’s Story

“A core piece of what gets players in our league excited about Opendorse is the ability to tell their team’s story and support their teammates,” Klatt shares, describing how the NHL assists players.

Every athlete has their own story to share. And in 2020 (and beyond) social media has become the ideal athlete channel to share that personal point of view. The NHL helps athletes identify their story as soon as they come into the league as rookies, and encourages more social media education on a club level. With this support from the league and clubs, NHL players can identify their preferred types of content and understand how social can help them achieve personal goals.

“It all comes back to an interest in finding what each player is excited about and tying it to how they want to use social media.” 

Social media in sports can feel repetitive. A highlight here; a beautiful photograph there. Klatt and the NHL understand that to be successful, athletes should to embrace their unique interests and off-ice activities. While action shots and highlights typically perform well in the athletes’ feed, players are encouraged to share what matters most to them.

“Sports fans are just as interested in who a player is once he takes the pads off,” he says. 

Ready for the Moment

Day-to-day consistency is important for athletes to establish a lasting fan connection on their social channels, but big moments drive unrivaled engagement. 

“I think most of the NHL players that are using Opendorse are excited to receive photos of themselves and their teammates playing the game and celebrating some of the biggest moments in their season on the ice,” Klatt says. “We’re also seeing a huge uptick in the number of athletes who are interested in receiving that content away from the rink.”

Big events such as the NHL All-Star Weekend allow for athletes to post unique content where they’re interacting with their friends across the league. They can take fans behind-the-scenes of what the All-Star experience is like from the inside. 

Klatt sees events like All-Star Weekend, the Winter Classic and Stanley Cup Playoffs, as significant growth opportunities for athletes and the league itself. He says, “these are huge moments in each player’s career every single season and we’re using Opendorse to help them tell that story in way we wouldn’t be able to if we didn’t have a tool like this.” 

Community service and philanthropy is another area of interest. Specifically, Hockey Fights Cancer allows athletes to give back to their communities and fans in a more personal way. Combining storytelling and custom content, this campaign is a big moment for the league, clubs, athletes, and fans. 

“It really does involve all of us, you see league-wide how invested the players are in the campaign,” Klatt says. 

Following a 142-day pause in the 2010-20 NHL season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL returned to play in two “bubble” zones in Toronto, ON and Edmonton, AB –  another moment in 2020. From arrival photos to sharing the highs and lows of the bubble experience, Klatt described the players’ embrace of social in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, “Players were excited to share that with fans because it had been months since fans have been able to be charged up about hockey to return.”

Growing the Game

The NHL is focused on preparing players to share the story that happens on the ice, while empowering athletes to connect with fans off of it. It’s important then to help them develop a more personal connection with a social strategy to support the athlete-fan connection. 

“There are a growing number of casual fans who are learning about our sport,” Klatt describes. “As our sport continues to reach those new communities, we are really excited about that touchpoint they will have with the players they see take the ice.”

This community connection starts at a club level. The NHL works closely with their 31 clubs to ensure there are plentiful resources and content for athletes. 

“As a league, we are very focused on making sure our clubs have everything they need to fulfill their own player publishing strategies,” he says. 

And how does the league get all of this content out to their hundreds of athletes and clubs? Opendorse. “It’s new technology, so it’s exciting to be a part of bringing that to our sport.” 

Ultimately, the NHL is helping connect teams, athletes, and fans to continue to grow the game. Klatt’s commitment to the mission is clear, “We’re excited to do everything we can to put them in a position to achieve their goals.” 

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