Sarah Nurse’s new blue hockey jersey was paid for by a company. She wants to know when she can wear it in a game.
Amid a spate of recent sponsorship announcements by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association comes the corporate branding of a team.
PWHPA players based in Toronto are now Team Sonnet.
The digital home and auto insurance company has made “a significant six-figure commitment” to the PWHPA, according to Sonnet marketing vice-president Brian Long.
“They don’t own them, but they will be branded as Team Sonnet,” PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford told The Canadian Press.
“Every team this season will be branded.”
PWHPA players are centralized in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis and Hudson, N.H., training hubs with 25 players per roster.
Among them are Canadian Olympians Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner and Nurse, as well as American counterparts Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight.
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Roughly 180 players, including Canadian and American national-team players, formed the PWHPA in the wake of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folding in 2019.
Their goal is a league that pays them enough to be full-time professional players with the same competitive, medical and insurance supports the male pros get.
The players refuse to join the U.S.-based NWHL, which has expanded into Canada this season with the Toronto Six. The NWHL announced Wednesday its sixth season will run in a bubble with no fans in Lake Placid, N.Y., Jan. 23 to Feb. 5.
The PWHPA ran a series of showcase tournaments and exhibition games in 2019-20 under the banner of the “Dream Gap Tour.”
Working with NHL partners
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed a second tour. Hefford says up to seven tournaments are in the works for February and March.
“We’re trying to work with NHL partners in each market so those conversations are happening,” Hefford said.
“One thing we’re running into is waiting on the NHL schedule. It’s hard for a club to commit to anything, it’s hard for us to secure the ice time and venues we want to be in.”
Hefford has stated the best way for a women’s pro hockey league to succeed is to align with the NHL in some way.
Sonnet’s announcement Wednesday follows a $1-million Secret deodorant sponsorship unveiled last month. The PWHPA declared it the most lucrative deal in women’s pro hockey history.
Canadian Tire came on board last week with discounts and supplies to defray player and league costs.
In a span of two days earlier this month, Tim Hortons launched the sale of Poulin and Nurse Barbie dolls to raise money for female hockey and the vintner Noble Estates said it would provide championship bubbly to the PWHPA.
Corporate investment when current COVID-19 restrictions across Canada barely allow the PWHPA players to practise is for Nurse both a validation of her hockey dreams and a signal to the NHL that a WNHL would have corporate legs to stand on.
“We haven’t had big announcements like this in our sport ever,” said the 25-year-old forward from Hamilton.
“I think the NHL, which is ultimately a business, sees things like that and they see us going out and getting our own sponsorships and creating these partnerships by ourselves. It’s that confidence that this can stand on two legs. It may just need a little bit of a push.”
‘We would like to see this grow’
Sonnet is a corporate partner of the NHL Players’ Association, which is a PWHPA supporter.
“We believe that it’s all about the players right? The players are the ones that make this all happen,” Long said.
“As we got to the evolution of that campaign and to getting to the next round, it was sort of saying, ‘well, we’re not including the whole community here.”‘
Hefford was incorporated in Sonnet commercials this year alongside NHL alumni Doug Gilmour and Mario Tremblay and current NHLers Morgan Rielly, Zach Hyman and Frederik Gauthier.
“Seeing Jayna in those initial spots was the start of what the bigger conversations were going to be,” Long said.
“That’s what sort of led us to now, obviously working with them in this series and sponsoring a team.”
Sonnet’s commitment is for a 2021 Dream Gap Tour with the potential to continue the relationship, Long said.
“Our plans are not to just do this as a one off and go somewhere else,” he said. “Ultimately, we would like to see this grow.”