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Connor McDavid’s endorsement deal with CIBC grew out of the family’s relationship with the bank, with which his parents have done business for 30 years. (Amber Bracken for The Globe and Mail)
Connor McDavid’s endorsement deal with CIBC grew out of the family’s relationship with the bank, with which his parents have done business for 30 years. (Amber Bracken for The Globe and Mail)

THE PROSPECT

How CIBC secured Connor McDavid as its spokesman Add to ...

The decision to make teenage hockey star Connor McDavid the face of Canada’s fifth largest bank was secured in the days after a dinner at an upscale French restaurant in north Toronto this past November. But the origins of the deal reach back three decades, to a neighbourhood branch that served McDavid’s then-newlywed parents.

The Oilers’ 19-year-old sensation will be introduced as a spokesman for CIBC in one- to two-minute ads that will be available online beginning today. As part of the partnership, CIBC’s wealth-management division will invest and protect McDavid’s earnings. Along with an entry-level salary of $825,000 (U.S.) and bonuses potentially worth three times as much, the rookie has income from a long list of endorsements with companies such as equipment- and sportswear-maker Adidas-Reebok-CCM (reportedly worth $1-million per year) and BioSteel, a sports nutrition drink.

Connor and his parents, Brian and Kelly, met with CIBC president and CEO Victor Dodig, and executive vice-president and chief commercial officer Stephen Forbes over dinner in November at Auberge du Pommier.

Forbes noted that Connor ordered a cheese plate for dessert and shared it with his mother. He was recovering from a broken clavicle at the time, and mentioned that he planned to drive to Erie, Pa., to visit the family he lived with while playing for the Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. The drive is seven hours round-trip.

“My thought was, ‘What a respectful kid,’” Forbes says. “He is perfect for our brand, and it is perfect for him.”

The deal with CIBC was finalized in December. It grew out of the family’s relationship with the bank, with which Connor’s parents have done business for 30 years.

The idea was suggested by Doug Berk, the McDavids’ long-time banker, and then hammered out during discussions between the family, Connor’s agents at the Orr Hockey Group and senior bank executives.

For years, Forbes lived down the street from the family, in suburban Newmarket, and attended some of Connor’s hockey games when he was a kid.

“All banks could provide the care, responsibility and expertise in wealth management the McDavids were looking for,” Forbes says. “There was no lack of partners for them to choose from. The difference in this case, and the reason the relationship works, is that I know Brian, Kelly and Connor. That is what separates us from the rest.”

Kelly McDavid’s father worked for the Bank of Montreal when she was growing up, so she had accounts there. When she and Brian got together 30-odd years ago, however, she combined her accounts with his.

“When this deal came about, it seemed like a really good fit,” Kelly says. “It is the only bank Connor has ever had an account with.”

The Oilers’ No. 1 draft pick recalls being 10 or 11 when he opened a savings account with $10.

“I was excited because I got a bank card, even though there was no point because there was no money in the account to speak of,” he says. “I remember how grown up it made me feel.”

McDavid opened his first chequing account in December to pay rent to his teammate Taylor Hall. Until then, he never had any bills. He deposits his bi-monthly paycheques, and to this point has made no major purchases.

“I am probably the most boring guy ever,” McDavid says.

On a rare day off in late February, a Sunday to savour in the midst of his first season in the NHL, he used the break to shoot two commercials for CIBC with Percy, the bank’s chatty penguin mascot. CIBC is employing the lightning-quick centre as part of a campaign it introduced last summer to promote some of its products. An animated Percy is employed in those television commercials, with an actor in a penguin costume featured in online ads.

Hockey stick in hand, McDavid stands at one end of a driveway in a swank subdivision on the west side of Edmonton. There is a net at the opposite end, guarded by the trash-talking penguin awkwardly clutching a goalie stick with one of its fins.

The chirping gets louder as the young superstar launches one errant shot after another.

“Nice shot, McDavid!” the penguin razzes. “Maybe you should pick one up and throw it at me instead.”

The bank initially considered using another Oilers player in the spots with McDavid, but, after a brainstorming session, it invited his brother Cameron, 22, instead.

The boys are close, despite being competitive when they were growing up. At least twice Cam sent his younger sibling to the emergency room for stitches during spirited games of roller hockey in the basement.

“When you look at them, the family dynamic is really remarkable,” Forbes says. “If we can find ways to help the family connect, that is a value add for us.”

A student finishing a finance degree at the University of Western Ontario, Cameron also opened a bank account in his youth. He got a paper route delivering the Newmarket Era Banner when his father refused to pay for a hockey stick costing $200 to $300.

“I think Cam and I are both savers,” Connor says. “It is the way we were brought up. My mom loves to shop, but my dad is very conservative. That ties back to the fact that he wouldn’t splurge on a hockey stick.”

Traffic crawls past multimillion-dollar homes as a 30-person film crew captures Connor and Cameron cavorting with Percy. A jogger wearing Spandex gawks as he pushes a stroller down the middle of the street. A cocker spaniel barks from the back seat of a Porsche after catching a glimpse of the penguin – an actor in a costume – puffing on a cigarette between takes with its beaked head removed.

“This will be the talk of the neighbourhood for a couple of days,” says Andrew Greenlaw, senior director of sponsorship, marketing and strategy for CIBC.

At one point, the McDavid boys take a selfie with Percy and send it to their mom.

“She is Percy’s biggest fan,” Connor says.

After nearly four hours, the first commercial is done. The crew then retreats to a 5,800-square-foot home nearby to shoot the next, a hockey video-game battle between the brothers and Percy. The penguin wins by cheating, at one point shoving and jostling Connor to distract him.

“Hey, watch the collarbone,” McDavid says, ad libbing about the injury that caused him to miss three months of his rookie season.

In between takes, the brothers rehearse lines at the dining table. Connor digs in to a slice of pumpkin bread that their host, Monica Patel, baked the night before.

The magnificent house she owns with her husband, Rakesh, was discovered months earlier by a location scout. The couple gladly turned it over to the film crew for the day.

“We are insane fans,” says Monica, wearing an Oilers T-shirt. “It’s almost to the point of being embarrassing.”

McDavid horses around the living room with the Patels’ sons, Jy, 8, and Kade, 5, both wearing No. 97 jerseys. He entertains Rakesh, a dentist, by telling him about teeth he has lost playing hockey.

“Every time I leave the dentist, my bite is different,” McDavid says.

Eight hours after the shooting begins, it is done. There is applause, and hugs are exchanged between the young star and crewmembers who fussed over him, dabbing sweat off his face and fixing his hair between takes.

“I’m sorry for ruining your Sunday,” McDavid says to his hosts. Before leaving, he autographs a stack of hockey sweaters and hands them out to everyone involved in the day’s project, Percy included.

A few minutes earlier, as McDavid transferred funds on his cellphone on camera, the penguin peered over his shoulder.

“Wow, you make a lot of money,” Percy teased.

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