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Mary Beth Kyer is CEO of Sponsor Circle, which links events and sports teams with sponsor partners.

Sometimes, a window of opportunity opens up unexpectedly. This has just happened for women’s hockey in Canada.

The sport’s illustrious history dates back to the 1880s, when Governor General Frederick Arthur Stanley (he of the famous Cup) ordered the lawn of Government House watered during the winter so he and his family could play the game (including his daughter Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, who adopted the sport as a personal cause and promoted it for the rest of her life). The popularity of women’s hockey surged during the First World War, when so many Canadian men went off to war and left ice time for women to play.

Yet despite decades of stellar performances and Olympic gold medals, and the presence of a record six women in senior management of NHL teams, women’s hockey has never enjoyed the sponsorships allocated to men’s and boys’ hockey, both professional and amateur. Now, as scandals and ineptitude in Hockey Canada’s management have driven away its top sponsors from men’s hockey and resulted in the resignation of the CEO and board, it’s time to spotlight this undervalued opportunity.

The repudiation of Hockey Canada is just the latest example of how sponsors can force change to an old sports organization. The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos changed their name only after Maple Leaf Foods, Jiffy Lube, Cineplex, Tim Hortons and Coca-Cola threatened to pull their sponsorships. The NFL’s Washington Redskins name change was forced on them by Bank of America, Nike, Pepsi and FedEx. We are seeing this now in hockey. Sponsors make deals with sports teams to help them connect with an audience. These powerful relationships represent US$63-billion (about $86-billion) of activity worldwide. In the case of hockey, which has long been viewed as “Canada’s game,” the passion for the sport is both deep and wide. It’s unlikely the Prime Minister would have commented publicly about a similar crisis in any other sport in this country.

When the sponsors who are bailing on Hockey Canada first came aboard, they committed to the long-term and have become closely identified with the values that they associate with the passion for the game: competitiveness, fun, excitement and dedication to family. Think Walter Gretzky devotedly running the hose on the backyard rink year after year to nurture his son’s exceptional talent. Think of all the hockey parents who get up at ungodly hours, gripping their double-doubles in frozen hands and spending significant money to equip their little ones to play.

Sponsors who have devoted major dollars to the game over a long time quite rightly expect a certain level of professionalism and that the sponsored organization will not act in a way that sullies their good name. They are now enforcing the good citizenship and morals clauses in their agreements to ensure that this happens. The “boys will be boys” attitude toward sexual assault has never been acceptable, but social awareness has brought it to the boiling point. Women’s sports, traditionally the poor cousins to men’s sports, have never been in a better position to provide an outlet for sponsors to declare their position. It has been a vicious circle: because they are woefully underfunded, they are undervalued as a platform to connect sponsors with audiences. The newly renamed Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) has risen from the ashes as a North American league after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded. The world’s very best women’s hockey players had been reduced to playing for just a few thousand dollars a season.

The women’s game represents the best of hockey: speed, finesse, talent, competence and camaraderie. The great Hayley Wickenheiser, now a medical doctor working as assistant general manager in charge of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has attracted the highest regard from players such as Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly.

The recent U.S. lawsuit that resulted in a US$24-million ($33-million) settlement and a pledge from the soccer federation to equalize pay for the men’s and women’s national teams sent a powerful signal: the time has come to recognize the high potential of women’s sports.

Hockey Canada, or some successor organization, could still redeem itself and lure back sponsors. But there is a better platform here for sponsors to cut a new path: give the women’s PHF teams here in Canada the sponsors and resources they need to become a fabulous connector among Canadians, and to restore the game to its rightful place, aligned with excellence and the values most Canadians hold dear.