SBD/March 10, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Air Canada Threatens To Withdraw From NHL If League Does Not Address Headshots

Letter followed hit on Canadiens player Pacioretty Tuesday night
Air Canada, one of the NHL's "largest financial corporate backers, is threatening to withdraw its sponsorship if the league doesn't take 'immediate' and 'serious' action on headshots," according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN. Air Canada Dir of Marketing & Communications Denis Vandal in a letter addressed to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday "expressed concern over recent incidents of headshots and concussions." The letter "came in the wake of Tuesday night's controversial hit" by Bruins D Zdeno Chara on Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty. Vandal wrote, "From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality. Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey." Garrioch notes "not only does Air Canada own the naming rights to Toronto's Air Canada Centre, it's believed they're a major corporate sponsor behind all six Canadian teams." Vandal "copied all six Canadian NHL governors with his letter." The NHL's GMs will meet next week in South Florida "to discuss headshots," and they are "trying to find a solution to cut down on the number of concussions and bring more respect to the game" (OTTAWA SUN, 3/10).

OVERSTEPPING ITS BOUNDS? YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote the "notion of a sponsor attempting to influence the on-ice product, as altruistic as its aim may be, can't be something fans see as a positive development." Instead, the "real issue" is "whether other sponsors find it 'becoming increasingly difficult to associate (their) brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents'" (, 3/9).
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