SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Marketing and Sponsorship

Companies draw on Canada's love of hockey

Jonathan ToewsCanadian Tire
Jonathan Toews is suiting up for Canadian Tire's Hockey School site, offering hockey tips for players, parents and coaches.
When Canadian Tire Corp., one of the largest retailers in Canada, set out to research how strong its customers’ ties were to the sport of hockey, it knew it would find a strong emotional connection.

“What we found was 87 percent of our high-value customers rated following the National Hockey League as an integral part of their life,” said John Jobin, vice president of merchandising at Canadian Tire, adding it more than justified their plan to incorporate the NHL and an NHL player into their marketing.

Next month Canadian Tire, which started as a tire store but now sells everything from tires to sports equipment to home improvement merchandise and home furnishings, will debut its first Canada-wide commercial featuring an athlete endorser, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews.

Jobin said Canadian Tire committed to five-year deals with Toews and the NHL to help the company emotionally connect its brand with its consumers.

The company selected Toews, who this year won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics and became the second-youngest team captain to win a Stanley Cup, after considering several NHL stars.

“He is from Canada,” Jobin said. “We wanted to get someone who was at the cusp of the growth of his career. What is very attractive for us is Jonathan is completely bilingual. He speaks both English and French, and it is not halting French.”

That’s important, Jobin said, because Canadian Tire has a large presence in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

Pat Brisson, co-head of the hockey division at CAA Sports and Toews’ agent, said, “When Canadian Tire gets behind an athlete it’s a huge statement in Canada.”

But Toews, who also will be featured in a national Canadian commercial for hockey equipment brand Bauer, is not the only one of Brisson’s clients getting endorsements. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby will be featured in four TV commercials running in Canada this coming season — for Reebok, Gatorade, sporting goods retailer FGL and restaurant chain Tim Hortons. Canadian Tire also considered Crosby as its new hockey spokesman, Jobin said.

Brisson said he could not recall a time when multiple young NHL stars would be featured in as many national commercials running in Canada.

Canada has featured NHL players in national television commercials before, “but because we are a border nation, we see a lot of U.S. creative that is brought over to Canada,” said Brad Pelletier, a Canadian native and former head of IMG Canada. “Individual athlete marketing has often been very difficult because we often associate with U.S. athletes as much as our own because of the television market.”

But in Canada, every sport is secondary to hockey. And the popularity of Crosby, 23, and Toews, 22, has seen a huge surge after Canada won Olympic gold. Toews was voted the No. 1 forward in the Games, and Crosby scored the gold-medal-winning goal in overtime.

Tim Hortons was one of the first major Canadian brands Crosby endorsed, and Jobin praised the brand for its use of the young star.

“We think they have been tremendously successful,” Jobin said. “Tim Hortons doesn’t sell anything related to hockey. They sell the image of parents taking their kids to the rink at 7 in the morning and getting a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons.”

Crosby is an authentic spokesman for the chain because he played in the company-sponsored Timbits Minor Hockey program as a child, said Rob Forbes, senior director of regional marketing and national promotions for Tim Hortons.

Crosby’s growing presence in ads for other companies is not a bad thing, Forbes said. “We don’t mind sharing him.”
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