Hockey Canada’s official equipment provider, Bauer Hockey, is pulling financial support for the men’s teams – including providing free equipment such as helmets and gloves – and has been speaking with potential new candidates about running to replace current members of the organization’s board.
Bauer, which had already paused its sponsorship in the summer over Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations, said it was taking additional steps because of recent developments, including a meeting it held with top people at the organization.
Bauer executives met with Hockey Canada chief executive Scott Smith and then-interim board chair Andrea Skinner on Aug. 31, and came away frustrated that the leaders failed to commit to changes to address hockey culture in Canada.
“They came across as trying to convince us that there were going to be blue skies ahead, but they didn’t have anything concrete to demonstrate their willingness, let alone a strategy, that would change the current dynamic,” Bauer CEO Ed Kinnaly said.
“It felt a lot more like a PR plan than an action plan,” vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier said. “It seemed more like self-preservation versus serving the Canadian people. ... For us it was a complete disconnect in any openness to thinking about radical change.”
After the developments last week, where Hockey Canada was accused of not fully answering questions at parliamentary hearings, Bauer is now acting further.
In addition to pulling out as equipment supplier for the men’s teams, Bauer is calling for the replacement of Hockey Canada’s entire board of directors and executive team, saying the current leadership has become a “distraction.” Ms. Skinner resigned from Hockey Canada on Saturday. Mr. Kinnaly said Bauer has been speaking with prospective new candidates to take over positions on the board at an election in mid-December.
Bauer is four years into an eight-year, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal, which includes a guarantee that Team Canada players – including at high-profile events such as the IIHF world junior championship – wear Bauer-branded helmets, visors and gloves. Players also have the option of using Bauer skates and sticks for free. Bauer will continue to provide equipment to women’s and para-hockey teams, but Hockey Canada will now have to purchase any gear it wishes to provide to the men’s teams. Profits from those sales will be redirected to hockey programs for underrepresented groups, the company said.
“Too often when organizations face tightening budgets – as Hockey Canada is experiencing right now as partners and provincial branches re-evaluate their funding commitments – girls, women and underrepresented communities take the brunt of it,” Bauer wrote in a letter to Hockey Canada over the weekend, explaining its decision. “We don’t want Hockey Canada’s failures to disproportionately impact groups within hockey that already face inequities.”
Hockey Canada did not respond to a request for comment on Bauer’s decision.
As it did with the last world junior tournament in August, Bauer will not be displaying its brand on any rink-side boards during the event in December, and will not buy any advertising or do any other marketing around the tournament.
Many other major sponsors made similar decisions, including Tim Hortons, Bank of Nova Scotia and Nike, which all pulled sponsorship for men’s programs for the 2022-23 season. Canadian Tire and Sobeys both said they had permanently ended their sponsorships.
A list of the Hockey Canada sponsors pulling their support
For Bauer, which has been involved with Hockey Canada for decades and whose products are part of the game, the connection with the organization runs deeper than it does for other marketing partners, Ms. Messier said.
The sponsors’ announcements occurred after federal hearings in Ottawa last week, where MPs criticized Hockey Canada for failing to properly investigate allegations made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 national junior team after a Hockey Canada fundraiser. Ms. Skinner defended the organization and claimed it was being unfairly treated as a “scapegoat” for a societal problem.
“I think she spoke for the entire board; that says a mouthful on where they are,” Mr. Kinnaly said.
When Bauer’s current sponsorship contract comes up for renewal, the company will not sign a new agreement without significant changes at Hockey Canada, Mr. Kinnaly said. “We’re demanding change now.”
But Bauer executives said they are not asking for leadership change alone, arguing that structural change is necessary to increase diversity among players, make the game more accessible, and reverse falling participation and registration numbers in Canada. Bauer’s hockey business relies on the sport’s continuing relevance with young players.
“The structure, the interaction between the provincial and national body, how we think about inviting more people into the game – all of that needs to be re-examined, and in a lot of cases perhaps blown up,” Mr. Kinnaly said.
“It had come to a point where I think people were feeling so unheard that they were coming to Bauer,” Ms. Messier said, adding that it is “absurd” that Hockey Canada penalizes players for participating in grassroots hockey programs that in some cases are designed with diverse communities in mind. (Kids who play with programs not sanctioned by the national governing body immediately lose Hockey Canada membership privileges.)
In its letter to the organization, Bauer wrote that Hockey Canada has become “singularly focused on competitive hockey” for too long, and should focus more on the grassroots level.
More diverse leadership is also needed, not just at Hockey Canada but at provincial organizations, Ms. Messier added.
“Hockey Canada does not have the control to enforce policies down through the branches. And that’s what leaves us so vulnerable for an inequitable hockey experience for so many,“ she said. “... It’s difficult to understand how we’ll attract more girls, more BIPOC families, with almost zero in that leadership.”
“Probably there’s a large portion of the Canadian population that is kind of sick of hearing what’s wrong,” Mr. Kinnaly said. “We’re committed to trying to figure out what to do going forward.”