NHL business notebook: Capitals’ innovation, Jennifer Botterill’s emergence as a broadcasting star
The Washington Capitals were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round on the ice, but off the ice, the Capitals were crowned the NHL’s most innovative team this week by Sports Innovation Lab.
The Capitals were the only NHL team to make Sports Innovation Lab’s annual list of the Top 25 Most Innovative Teams In the World, checking in at No. 15 after not being ranked in the 2021 report. The list is formed using a formulaic score that looks at revenue diversification, technology enablement, and organization agility.
Washington has made news in the past year for being at the forefront of some key financial elements that have grown increasingly important to the NHL. Monumental Sports, which also owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, opened the first North American sportsbook inside an American arena in 2021. In the fall, the Capitals became the first NHL team to sell sponsorship on their jersey, Caesar’s Sportsbook, which will debut next season.
Zach Leonsis, the President of Media & New Enterprises for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, was a guest on Yahoo Finance on Wednesday and proudly pointed to the Capitals’ gains in the sports betting space. These gains, according to sources, have always been key points of interest for other NHL teams, who are hoping to replicate something similar in their respective venues when either construction or legislation allows it.
The Capitals have also been aggressive in the sports broadcasting space, launching their own over-the-top streaming network, and while the NHL made non-fungible token rules particularly difficult — some teams scrapped plans completely because of the restrictions — the Capitals were one of the teams that had success selling NFTs.
“The culmination of a lot of those key investments certainly helped us with this list,” Leonsis said.
The international list was dominated by European soccer clubs, with Barcelona and Real Madrid taking the top two spots. It should be noted the Philadelphia 76ers were ranked fifth on the list; the 76ers are owned and operated by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment which also owns and operates the New Jersey Devils.
When it came to North American teams the NHL was the only league without multiple teams included, the NBA had nine teams on the list, there were three from the MLB, and two from the NFL.
Whether you’re reading this piece in the United States or Canada, you’ve likely seen Jennifer Botterill’s work on television during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The three-time Olympic Gold medalist is in her second season on the panel for Sportsnet and is also doing work as an analyst and studio panelist for Turner Sports in its rookie season handling NHL covering in the United States.
Last weekend, Botterill was on air for Sportsnet on Friday evening in the studio for Game 2 of the Calgary Flames–Edmonton Oilers series, had an early morning flight to Atlanta to join the TNT panel for Game 3 between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, and was back on Canadian television Sunday for Game 3 of the Battle of Alberta.
It’s busy, heck three-in-threes aren’t even allowed for NHL players anymore, and Botterill has been catching up on sleep in the air to help stay alert on the airwaves.
“I usually like to get some work done on the plane,” Botterill said. “But that’s not the case right now.”
For Botterill, a second hockey career in broadcasting started after she played her final game for Team Canada in 2010, walking away with an Olympic Gold Medal in the process, and she was approached about being an analyst for the Women’s World Championships. It was a natural fit and combined with keynote speaking roles, she quickly became comfortable holding a microphone and lessons from her playing career translated well — particularly when it came to preparation.
When former players step into the broadcast booth the biggest indicator of success is how seriously they take the preparation and work done behind the scenes. You can tell as a viewer, that those who have come prepared make it a more enjoyable listening experience, and those who don’t tend to have short broadcasting careers.
It’s something Botterill noticed early on and she approaches prepping for broadcasts the way she approached practice when she was playing; you can’t overprepare, the finer details matter.
“I think I was always aware that it would be a part of the role. But I think I certainly needed to learn and to adjust the best way to prepare,” Botterill said. “I feel like it’s a combination of a lot of different factors that I have found that goes into the most helpful and thorough preparation. But as I think about how I’ve approached much of my life, I think I’ve always wanted to I was sort of describe it as this approach of wanting to pursue excellence.”
When it comes to working for two different networks, and two different audiences, Botterill said her preparation doesn’t change much. In fact, there are nuances she’s been able to take from Sportsnet and apply to her time at Turner and vice versa.
With Sportsnet, there is more of a captive, established audience for the sport — it’s Canada — with Turner this season has been about trying to attract a more casual audience to the sport, which the NHL feels has gone rather well with strong cable ratings for both TNT and TBS throughout the postseason.
When it comes to speaking with Botterill, who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame for her playing career, it would be remiss to not discuss the recent developments around the PWHPA, which recently partnered up with Billie Jean King in its efforts to build a sustainable professional women’s hockey league in North America.
“I think it’s outstanding news,” Botterill said. “If you think about the communication they’ve had over the last few years, it’s been about doing things the right way. And some people were to do a lot why hasn’t anything happened yet? And for them, I think they were just working towards something that they thought could be sustainable, right. That’s been a big part of their vocabulary for sustainability… for all these players, in the PWHPA it wasn’t just about an individual professional contract, it was about having the youth and the grassroots level to have these athletes to look up to and to strive towards. And so I think that was just such a big part of their vision.”
(Top photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)