Campus News

Students tackle NWHL’s attendance problem in Innovation Sprint

Hadar Borden, at the podium, speaks to participants of the Innovation Sprint.

Hadar Borden (at the podium) speaks to participants at the Innovation Sprint. Photos: Douglas Levere


Published March 5, 2019 This content is archived.

“To be in the same room as the executives we met with today really put a lot of perspective on what actually goes on in the business world. ”
Eugene Naab, UB finance major

UB students ventured downtown to the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter last Friday for the Innovation Sprint, where they took on the tall task of how to increase attendance for teams in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

The format for the event, sponsored by UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, was a pitch contest, where students met for the first time and worked together in groups to create a pitch worthy of implementation in the real world.

“As our students interview for internships and employment opportunities, prospective organizations look to glean what are candidates’ inherent traits and approaches to solving problems,” said Hadar Borden, program director for Blackstone LaunchPad, noting that prospective employers “learn best when our students are able to share an experience where they demonstrated their approach.”

“Most interviewers are conducting behavioral-based interviews,” she said. “The Innovation Sprint affords our students a story to share, an example to draw upon that is outside of the classroom, most closely aligned with what they might experience in the ‘real world.’”

What separated the Innovation Sprint from a normal pitch contest was its unique partnership with Pegula Sports & Entertainment (PSE), which owns the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts franchise, as well as the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres. The Beauts were one of the inaugural teams when the NWHL was formed in 2015, and is the first team not directly owned by the league.

Like other younger professional sports leagues, the NWHL does not garner large crowds, with average attendance hovering near 1,000 per game. This issue prompted PSE to focus the Innovation Sprint on increasing attendance for the Beauts.

After forming teams and getting acquainted, students went into brainstorming mode as Borden instructed everyone to write down every idea they had on sticky notes — even if it was crazy or likely a bad idea.

With a large pile of sticky notes accumulated when time expired, each group voted on its best ideas, PSE executives also providing input. Once in agreement, groups had an hour to create a three-minute pitch for their idea to the PSE executives, with the winning pitch having a chance of being implemented in the future.

Each presentation to PSE tackled a variety of different problems the Beauts have, and provided possible solutions. One of the most common points made regarded the Beauts’ attendance numbers in terms of the family demographic and its potential for improvement.

Children make up only 2.7 percent of attendance at Beauts games, according to research provided to students by PSE. Many pitches proposed that the team get involved with school community projects or organize school field trips to games, which would spur interest in the youth demographic and lead parents to take their children to games.

The winning pitch was presented by group 6.

Eugene Naab (fourth from left, with microphone) delivers Team Six's winning pitch. Photo: Douglas Levere

The winning pitch came from Team Six’s vision of marketing each Beauts player’s individual brand. The group advocated that the team focus on individual players in its social media strategy, and establish a program called “Nights with the Beauts” that would feature a meet-and-greet event in conjunction with every home game.

The group also suggested collaborating with the Buffalo Sabres’ social media accounts and Just Dishin’ Hockey, a lifestyle hockey apparel brand, as other opportunities to make the Beauts’ name known in Buffalo.

Team Six supported its meet-and-greet idea by arguing for flexibility and versatility in targeting different demographics. One event could be a 21-and-over event where fans enjoy drinks with Beauts players, while at another, children could shoot goals with players after the game.

Members of Team Six won autographed hockey sticks from Buffalo Sabres players for their winning pitch.

John Saulter, a member of the winning team and a marketing major at UB, said his team was successful because of the number of great ideas that were brainstormed in the early stages of the event, as well as the head start the team got by arriving early to the event.

“We threw almost everything that we thought of at the wall,” Saulter said. “We saw what would stick, and that’s what we ended up with. There were a lot of different great ideas we had, but this was the strongest one that we thought we could present with the most clarity in three minutes.”

“This one really combined a lot of our ideas into one,” added Eugene Naab, another Team Six member and a finance major at UB. “When we put the ideas down on paper, we started categorizing how to get there, and it just came all together. It was one of those things where in the moment it just made sense.”

Both Naab and Saulter said they were pleased with the practical aspect of the contest, and praised the networking opportunity it presented.

“This is something you can take with you the rest of your life, no matter where you go or what you become,” said Naab. “To be in the same room as the executives we met with today really put a lot of perspective on what actually goes on in the business world.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” he said. “It was very interesting to meet new people, and the connection we had right out of the gate was great.”

Added Saulter: “I think this is extremely important. You can use it on your resume of course, especially when winning an event like this. There’s also getting out and speaking to professionals; everyone talks about that, but you don’t really understand it until you get there.”

Borden also called the Innovation Sprint a rousing success, especially with the participation of students from many backgrounds and majors, which, she said, is something that Blackstone Launchpad strives for.

“I thought that students leveraged their experiences from their classes to respond to the pitch,” she said. “I was blown away by the diversity of the students represented from various academic programs and life experiences. They truly leaned on their lived experience to respond to the challenge.”


What a powerful model for experiential learning! It has all the components for high impact, particularly the genuine community partnership and diverse participation.

Students see the value immediately and understand their skills in the context of our community and their futures.

Debra Palka