I’ve learned a lot in the past year about the notion of thought leadership and what it takes to become an expert in the market. I learned that thought leadership is more than just establishing a point of view; it’s also interacting with potential thought leaders to unlock their ideas.
Along the way, I’ve created a fusion of work that reflects one of my life’s passions: hockey. What started a year ago as a single blog discussing the evolution of the hockey fan experience has morphed into a series that has resonated with hockey fans and the business aspect of sports.
Which recently led to my next question: What’s next? My blogs took a personal turn when I was given a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The story here is a combination of experiencing the game as a fan and a player, and most importantly, of giving back.
A fan’s dream come true: Playing a game to give back to the community
I’m no stranger to charities as my daughter, who became a Type 1 diabetic at the age of 14, and I have been involved in fundraising and events related to our charity of choice, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). But when the opportunity came to help NHS Human Services, I knew that I had to help.
NHS Human Services helps improve the lives of special-needs individuals and their families. One of its focus areas is autism. As an employee of SAP, I’ve seen my company do great things to support this initiative, including our Autism at Work program.
So when Brian Propp, a hockey hero to legions of Philadelphia Flyers fans and who leads the Flyers Alumni team, showed me the NHS Human Services annual charity hockey game “Goals for Giving” last year, I immediately committed my (modest, but never lacking in passion) hockey talent to this year’s event.
My intent for joining this year’s event was to raise money for NHS and play on the NHS Blues team that took on the Philadelphia Flyers alumni team in early April. Plus, Brian added a new twist: He invited some of his Flyers “legends” alumni teammates to play on our team. Very quickly, this event became a twofold dream come true – a fantasy hockey camp and a charity fundraiser for a great cause.
I was deeply touched by my friends and colleagues who helped me raise money for the NHS charity event, and I am equally grateful to my employer’s Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) program. This is a perfect example of our CSR philosophy of participation and how technology can make the world run better. Between the NHS website; social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; and e-mails, I not only met my fundraising goal – I crushed it (hockey fist pumps for all!). And the impact of corporate matching gifts, SAP’s newly relaunched program, certainly helped my cause. Even though I have never met some of my sponsors in person, we were all on the same team. Technology can perform wonders in uniting people for a common purpose through crowdsourced fundraising and the creation of a virtual team.
My day, my time
I’ve quoted for years the late hockey coach Badger Bob Johnson, a legendary coach at the college and NHL ranks who popularized the phrase, “It’s a great day for hockey.” For me, Sunday, April 3, 2016, was just that. After years of travel hockey, tournaments, and more for my children’s teams across New England and Canada, I realized that this was my day and my time as I made my way to the Flyers Skatezone Northeast Philadelphia Rink. I drove to the rink with a sense of purpose, adventure, and anticipation.
As the only NHS Blues player from outside the Philadelphia area, I was jokingly told not to bring any of my black and gold Boston Bruins attire to the game. As promised, I came into the rink that morning wearing a Flyers sweatsuit jacket. I momentarily felt like a rock star as my NHS Blues #27 jersey waited for me in the locker room, hanging at my spot.
Brian Propp and my fellow NHS Blues teammates greeted me warmly. Brian introduced my team to the “voice of the Flyers,” announcer Lou Nolan who would call the game and the Flyers Legends who would be playing alongside us:
- Todd “The Fridge” Fedoruk, a skilled forward also known for “enforcer” skills
- Larry “Izzy” Goodenough, an offensive defenseman on the Flyers’ second Stanley Cup team
- Kjell Samuelsson, a tall, talented defenseman, Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, and the current director of the Flyers Player Development organization
- Ray Allison, a top draft pick of the Hartford Whalers who later came to the Flyers, and someone I vividly remember seeing play while I was in college
As we posed for a picture together with these Flyers legends, I joked that this was really the AARP All-Star team. There was a time when being middle-aged implied that life was somehow “over,” but not with this group! As all 16 of my NHS Blues adult players joined our Flyers legends for on-ice warmups, I felt a sense of awe, accomplishment, and familiarity all at once. After watching the event a year ago, I finally “made it,” thanks to hard work, passion, and the amazing support of my friends and colleagues!
The Flyers Alumni took to the ice for their warm-up and some familiar faces from the past came out in the black-and-orange Flyers Alumni jerseys:
- Bob “The Hound” Kelly, a player once described as half hockey and half football player, scoring the 1975 Stanley Cup winning goal (BTW, he was one of my late father’s all-time favorites!)
- Joe Watson, once a Boston Bruin, a two-time Stanley Cup Flyer defenseman, and a great Flyers ambassador
- Brad Marsh, an imposing defenseman who played for both the Bruins and the Flyers and is the current Flyers Alumni president
- Danny Briere, a recently retired elite, skilled forward, and Flyers playoff hero who skated his last NHL shift for the Colorado Avalanche just one year ago
Besides these outstanding players, ranging in age from their late 30s (Briere) to their 60s (Kelly and Watson), the Flyers alumni team was rounded out by other players with varying experience, age, and tenure with the Flyers organization and AHL/minor league teams. Certainly one of the most colorful was Frank “The Animal” Bialowas, a true “enforcer” if there ever was one in the tradition of the Broad Street Bullies and the “last of the gladiators.”
The biggest thrill was clearly playing and defending against Danny Briere – a first-round draft pick and one the most skilled hockey players I have ever seen. My defensive partner and I kept him and his line off the scoreboard until the Flyers Alumni scored with the only puck that hit the back of the net while we were on the ice. Danny was very gracious, lining up for a photo and signing a Flyers puck for me. And defending against “The Hound” in front of our net was amazing – I think my dad would have been proud of me for keeping his favorite Flyer off the scoresheet and then hanging out with him after the game. The sold-out crowd saw the Flyers Alumni win the game, 4–2 and outshot the NHS Blues by 47 to 12. And yes, we all slept very well that night!
Afterwards, we all celebrated with the Flyers alumni in a wonderful post-event reception. I had brought along some prints of my 2016 NHL Winter Classic hockey card – a cool promotion that gave me my one and only hockey card for my #27 in a Bruins jersey. I signed some for the incredible special-needs boys and girls and their siblings and friends who attended the event.
For a brief moment in time, I was transformed from a services and thought leadership marketer to a hockey hero. It felt great! One of my mentors had said years back, “To give is to receive back many times in return.” And this experience clearly proved that concept.
I can’t wait to participate in the 2017 NHS Goals for Giving Event. And #48, Frank “The Animal” Bialowas: I’ve got your number, and we’ll drop the gloves (for fun) for a great cause!
Fred is the senior director and head of Thought Leadership for Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP.