Canadian Tire opens doors for youth hockey

What the retailer learned from its Olympic success and how it applied it to the World Juniors.

Canadian Tire Corporation has partnered with Hockey Canada to help break down the barriers for kids that want to play the country’s favourite game while continuing its Olympic strategy of communicating the values most important to both the company and Canadians.

The Big Play is a new hockey-focused offshoot of the Canadian Tire Corporation’s Jumpstart program, which helps kids from low-income families cover the costs of playing youth sports. The program is being promoted in a spot featuring Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, returning following Canadian Tire’s popular “We All Play For Canada” campaign from last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics. The spot launched with the IIHF Men’s World Junior Hockey Championships on Dec. 26 and aired on TSN until yesterday’s tournament finale. It will now run nationally across all networks until the end of January.

“The goal here is different than what we’ve done [with Jumpstart] in the past because we’re not asking for donations,” says Susan O’Brien, VP marketing for Canadian Tire. “Instead of a call for money, we had a phone number at the end, because what we really want is to get those kids that want to play to call us so we can help them.”

Cleansheet developed the spot with Canadian Tire and Hockey Canada, with Touche! handling the media buy.

The launch campaign for the Big Play does involve some fundraising elements. During the World Juniors, TSN has been tweeting out major moments of each game with the #BigPlay hashtag, with Canadian Tire donating 25 cents to the Big Play for each retweet. In addition, the company is also donating to the local Jumpstart chapter of every member on Canada’s team, enough to get five kids in each town playing hockey.

O’Brien says the goal is to bring 30,000 kids between the ages of four and 18 into minor hockey programs over the next three years. She adds the company expects to bring its one millionth young person into youth sports since Jumpstart began in 2003. Although numbers for last year have not yet been verified, in 2013, $14 million from all Canadian Tire Corporation brands – which also includes Sport Chek and Mark’s – was distributed to Canadian families.

O’Brien says while Jumpstart has focused on all youth sports, the hockey-specific Big Play program was developed as way to enforce Canadian Tire’s brand values during the World Juniors. The company kept coming back to youth hockey, which, despite being Canada’s national pastime, has a higher financial barrier for entry.

It’s been almost a year since Canadian Tire embarked on the “We All Play For Canada” campaign as part of its first outing as a sponsor of the Winter Olympics. O’Brien says the company learned a lot about how to position the brand during national events from the experience, and took a page out of the “We All Play For Canada” book for the World Juniors.

“The World Juniors felt like a mini-Olympics, because the marketing team had to do almost all of the same things,” she says. “When there is an event the nation is watching, it’s an opportunity to not talk about what we would otherwise, like our product offering. Instead, we focus on the things that are closer to people’s hearts and, generally speaking, things that are related to our values as our brand. Those are the moments as a country when we feel most united. Those moments for us are the richest because they present the values that are closest to us as a company.”