Athlete of the year: P.K. Subban’s winning plays

Sit tight, our Brands of the Year will soon be revealed! In the meantime, check out these other buzz-worthy contenders.
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Before we unveil the Brands of the Year from our October issue, we’re revealing the contenders who deserve a shout-out for getting consumers (and the industry) buzzing in 2014. Check back each day this week to read about some nod-worthy brands (or in some cases, a person), as we gear up for the online debut of our Brands of the Year next week.

P.K. Subban had a career year in a Montreal Canadiens jersey, helping lead the NHL franchise to within two wins of playing in the Stanley Cup finals.

Yes, there was plenty for hockey fans to cheer for on the ice, but it may have been possible to hear the cheering of a few brands, too, with each of his goals and assists.

Because this was also the year Subban skated into the spotlight as a brand unto himself: the charismatic 25-year-old was featured in Maclean’s Canada Day issue and has more than 450,000 Twitter followers. And brands like Degree and Boston Pizza are happy to have him on their team.

This spring, Unilever’s Degree put the defenceman on its roster as its spokesperson, featuring him in a TV and online series on Rogers Sportsnet, called The Next Level, presented by Degree. Subban hosted the show, which featured elite Canadian athletes, from Milos Raonic to Andrew Wiggins. In addition, he engaged with the brand’s Twitter and Facebook audiences and conducted local media interviews. While Unilever did not disclose results from the campaign, the CPG co says Subban’s involvement helped convey its message of inspiring people to push their limits, because the athlete reinforces “the importance of embarking on a continuous journey of improvement.”

Subban, along with his dad and two hockey-playing brothers, is also a key partner in the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program, which works with non-profit KidSport to provide grants for league registration and equipment to around 1,000 kids each year. Last season, the company ran “Hyundai’s P.K. Challenge” – companies that signed up to be “team players” pledged to provide a grant for a child to play each time Subban scored.

Subban was also featured in an OOH campaign for Boston Pizza. During the playoff series against the Boston Bruins, the company put giant billboards up in Montreal that declared his love for Boston – “P.K. (heart) Boston.” A few days later, the word “Pizza” was added after Boston. Subban’s representatives at Newport Sports Management Inc. sourced and negotiated the deals on his behalf.

After going to arbitration with the Canadiens this summer (a story that dominated sports reports), Subban signed an eight-year contract with the club, surely a happy outcome for his current and future brand partners north of the border.

This story appears in the October 2014 issue of strategy