Nike has permanently ended its sponsorship of Hockey Canada, finalizing an earlier pause of its marketing support and dealing a financial blow to the organization as it continues to experience the fallout from a sexual assault scandal last year.
The company had been a premier marketing partner of Hockey Canada – its top tier of sponsors that also includes Esso, Telus and Tim Hortons, all of whom have paused support of the organization since last summer. The shift marks the end of a more than two-decade sponsorship that began in 1999, according to Hockey Canada’s website.
Like many other sponsors, Nike paused its support of Hockey Canada last year amid a backlash over how the organization handled allegations of sexual assault. Nike was the last premier marketing partner to suspend its relationship in October, 2022. In a statement provided to The Globe and Mail, Nike confirmed that it is no longer a sponsor. Spokespeople for Nike and Hockey Canada both declined to answer questions about when the relationship ended, or the reason for the change.
“We will continue to provide on-ice product for Hockey Canada athletes as part of our partnership with the International Ice Hockey Federation, but our individual partnership with the federation has ended,” Nike’s statement said.
This month another company, Bauer Hockey, reinstated its partnership with Hockey Canada after the appointment of Katherine Henderson as its new president and chief executive officer.
“We believe now is the time for corporate partners, broadcast sponsors and community leaders to support Hockey Canada,” Bauer’s vice-president of global marketing, Mary-Kay Messier, wrote in a statement. Ms. Messier served on the CEO recruitment committee at Hockey Canada. “At the same time, we must all continue to hold the organization accountable for creating and executing a new vision that reflects our Canadian communities and provides equitable and enriching experiences for all to play the game.”
Last October, Hockey Canada’s previous CEO and board of directors resigned as the organization faced questions about funds it used to pay a settlement to a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by players from Canada’s world junior team in 2018, after a Hockey Canada-sponsored event in London, Ont. Police in London reopened an investigation into the incident last summer.
A Globe and Mail investigation last July revealed the existence of a fund that Hockey Canada created using player registration fees, which was used to settle the woman’s $3.55-million lawsuit for an undisclosed sum. Hockey Canada did not inform players or parents about how their money was being used. In October, The Globe revealed that the organization had built a second multimillion-dollar fund, also using registration fees, to protect its various branches from sexual-assault claims.
Amid those revelations, and after parliamentary hearings in which Hockey Canada leaders were asked to explain their decisions, a wave of sponsors that had earlier suspended their support confirmed that they were pulling their sponsorships for men’s events altogether for the 2022-23 season. Those sponsors included Bank of Nova Scotia, Nike, Tim Hortons, Telus, Esso and BFL Canada. Recipe Unlimited Corp. (which owns Swiss Chalet and The Keg) cancelled all sponsorship activities related to men’s hockey with Hockey Canada, but continued supporting women’s hockey for the remainder of the year.
Canadian Tire went a step further at the time, permanently ending its Hockey Canada sponsorship and saying the organization had continued “to resist meaningful change,” according to a statement in October from then-spokesperson Jane Shaw. Sobeys parent company Empire Co. Ltd. also confirmed at the time that it had chosen not to renew its Hockey Canada sponsorship when the deal expired in June, 2022. Hankook Tire Canada also permanently terminated its sponsorship just before the CEO and the board stepped down. Nike now joins the list of sponsors whose partnerships have permanently ended.
In December, The Globe reported that a man who was seen buying rounds of drinks for world junior hockey team members in 2018 prior to the alleged group sexual assault was a senior employee at Nike Canada. The presence of the man at the bar that night was revealed in a court application made by London police.
In a statement, spokesperson Esther Madziya wrote that Hockey Canada respects Nike’s decision, and that the organization is in discussion with other sponsors. “Hockey Canada is always open to exploring opportunities with new strategic partners who share a common vision that ensures our sport is safe, inclusive and provides opportunities for all who wish to play the game, and we continue to engage in encouraging discussions with current partners,” Ms. Madziya wrote.
Following the appointment of the new CEO and the news of Bauer’s decision, Keri Scobie, public and government affairs manager at Imperial Oil, said that Esso continues to support women’s and youth programs, as well as local and regional grassroots programs through its Hockey Canada partnership. Ms. Scobie did not respond to questions about whether the brand’s suspension of support for men’s programs is continuing.
“We would like to congratulate Katherine Henderson on her recent appointment as Hockey Canada president and CEO,” Ms. Scobie wrote. “We look forward to Hockey Canada continuing to make progress toward improving inclusivity and transparency within Canada’s game under Katherine’s leadership.”
Other sponsors who had paused support either declined to comment or did not respond to questions about plans for their sponsorships.