Scotiabank’s decision to suspend its sponsorship of Hockey Canada until the organization takes steps to “improve the culture” within the sport is the latest example of the growing trend by big business to use their weight to advance social change.
Scotiabank’s decision, announced in an open letter released Monday by the bank’s president and chief executive, Brian Porter, comes after the federal government froze public funding for Hockey Canada last week in response to its management of an alleged sexual assault and an amicable settlement.
Retail giant Canadian Tire and telecommunications company Telus have followed suit, with both withdrawing their support for the upcoming world junior hockey championship.
Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit last month after a woman claimed she was assaulted by members of the 2018 gold medal-winning world junior hockey team at a gala and golf night there. four years ago in London, Ontario.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Writing that he was “appalled” by reports of the alleged assault, Porter said Scotiabank would rescind sponsorship dollars it had planned to spend at the pandemic-delayed 2022 world juniors in August, redirecting the money to other programs, including one that aims to help break down financial barriers for young people in the game and the women’s world championship.
The high-profile departure of one of the organization’s biggest sponsors will have an immediate “shock effect” within Hockey Canada, said Joanne McNeish, associate professor of marketing at the University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. metropolitan Toronto.
She pointed to the significant impact the loss of corporate sponsorships has had on recent decisions by some North American professional sports teams to change the racist names of their teams.
“It’s pretty powerful. It’s millions of dollars,” McNeish said. “Losing that kind of money, even in the short term, is not healthy for the organization.”
Cheri Bradish, director of the Future of Sport Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University, said companies choose to sponsor sports organizations because of the many publicity benefits that come with their association.
But she said sponsoring individual athletes, teams or federations can also come with public relations risks, especially in a world where social issues are increasingly important to customers and shareholders.
Last year, for example, several major brands pulled their sponsorship of the Tokyo Olympics in response to backlash from a Japanese public angry that the Games were being held during a COVID-19 public health emergency.
“As sports sponsors become a big expense, these sponsors no doubt want to ensure that the property they work with is ‘clean’ property with a positive social impact,” Bradish said.
“There are many instances where we have seen a sponsor make a decision based on the Corporate Social Responsibility Index attached to their partnership.”
David Soberman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, added that the advent of social media means consumers are much more aware of the political positions and choices made by their favorite brands.
They can also quickly boycott companies or launch online campaigns against companies that do not represent their values.
“Scotiabank obviously wants to be seen as a progressive organization that is very concerned about allegations of sexual misconduct, whether in the workplace, at sporting events or elsewhere,” Soberman said.
“They want people to understand that they’re on the side of wanting this to stop.”
The Canadian Press has reached out to some of Hockey Canada’s other major corporate partners, including Esso, Nike and Tim Hortons, for comment on Scotiabank’s decision to temporarily withdraw funding.
Esso was the only company to respond, saying in a statement it was “concerned about the recent allegations”.
But Soberman said Scotiabank’s decision could have ripple effects.
“I don’t think BMO, TD or RBC will be lining up to sign up as (Hockey Canada) sponsors just because Scotiabank pulled out. Finding a replacement for Scotiabank will not be easy,” he said.