Hockey is a pillar of Canadian identity, but it still needs a push.
That's why on Friday, Hockey Canada is launching an advertising campaign called "Pass It Forward" to encourage families to sign up their children for the sport – with stars including Michael J. Fox and Boston Bruin Patrice Bergeron talking about what the game has taught them in their lives.
In the past five years, registration in the sport has been roughly flat – with nearly 637,000 players registered in the 2015-16 season.
"We hope our numbers increase," said Tom Renney, chief executive officer of Hockey Canada. "I'm concerned about our citizenship, about the digital age, and becoming more sedentary and not being active. I think it's incumbent on Hockey Canada and minor hockey associations to put a program together to incentivize people to participate."
The campaign is launching with a video in which people talk about hockey's value in their lives. Among those are some prominent lovers of the sport, including 2014 Olympic gold medalist Mélodie Daoust, Hockey Night in Canada's Punjabi-language host Harnarayan Singh and Greg Westlake, captain of Canada's national Sledge team and a Paralympic gold medalist. But the organization is also hoping that people will participate, encouraging them to talk about why they love the sport on social media using #PassItForward.
Mr. Renney said that while enrolment is still strong, there is a drop-off in participation between ages 10 to 12, when a decision is often made whether to continue playing. Factors that cause families to pull away include safety concerns, particularly with the increased awareness around concussions, onerous time and travel commitments, and cost. While Hockey Canada has programs with sponsors such as Bauer, Canadian Tire and McDonald's to help families manage the cost of participation, it can still be a factor for many.
The campaign is a clear indication that the sport needs a PR push, but Mr. Renney says it is more broadly about promoting sports participation in general.
"This is not a desperation move. This is very much our mandate, making sure our population stays active," he said.