Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday April 20, 2023
Slap Shot or Slap in the Face?
The recent decision by the Trudeau government to release Hockey Canada from the penalty box and restore its funding after it was frozen in June 2022 by Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge has raised eyebrows and doubts about its wisdom. While Hockey Canada did enough to provisionally regain its funding, the challenges it now faces in rebuilding trust with major sponsors may be insurmountable, according to marketing expert Dr. Joanne McNeish from Toronto Metropolitan University.
The loss of sponsorship dollars, which was reported to be $23.5 million last year, and the loss of funding was a direct result of the revelation that a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of the 2018 world junior team, following a foundation gala in London, Ont. in June 2018. Hockey Canada and the woman quietly settled a $3.55 million lawsuit out of court. Subsequently, members of the 2003 men’s world junior roster were also being investigated for a group sexual assault.
Despite bringing in new leadership and meeting the conditions to have its funding restored, Hockey Canada’s reputation has been severely tarnished. The decision to restore funding has been met with disagreement by some members of Parliament, and it has raised questions about the organization’s leverage in negotiations with potential or past sponsors.
Dr. McNeish argues that rebuilding trust, once broken, is a monumental challenge. Sponsors will be cautious and may impose additional legal and contractual obligations, which could be costly for a non-profit organization like Hockey Canada. This means that the organization will have less freedom in how it uses the funding provided and may have to accept less favorable terms from sponsors, leaving them in a position of almost begging for sponsorship.
Furthermore, the public perception of Hockey Canada may be negatively impacted, with sponsors opting for more targeted and specific funding at the grassroots level, rather than a visible public link with the organization. Companies like Tim Hortons have already pulled out of men’s hockey programming for the 2022-2023 season, including the men’s world junior championships, while continuing to fund women’s and para hockey teams, as well as youth hockey.
Dr. McNeish argues that while some sponsors may return, others may not find it worth the risk to associate themselves with an organization that has faced serious allegations of sexual assault and has had its funding frozen. The damage to Hockey Canada’s reputation may result in a weaker negotiating position and less favorable sponsorship terms, which could have long-term repercussions for the organization’s financial stability and ability to support grassroots hockey.
In conclusion, the Trudeau government’s decision to restore funding to Hockey Canada may not have been a wise one. While the organization has met the conditions to regain its funding, the challenges of rebuilding trust with major sponsors and the potential loss of leverage in negotiations may have long-term negative consequences. The damage to Hockey Canada’s reputation may result in less favorable sponsorship terms and a weakened financial position, which could impact its ability to support grassroots hockey in Canada. It remains to be seen how sponsors will respond, but the decision to restore funding may have been made too hastily, without fully considering the potential consequences for the organization’s future. (AI)