OMHA wants an assist with registration

The organization's largest-ever push is centred around the social benefits young players have been missing this year.

The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) is trying to galvanize support for hockey registration by showing what players can gain from the game after more than a year away.

Launched on Monday and tagged with the phrase “absence makes the heart grow stronger,” the creative, by Ferment, features stark, vacant arenas with voiceovers and news headlines discussing the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year. But the scene brightens up when youngsters finally return to the ice.

The OMHA is the largest minor hockey association in the country, representing 225 local associations around Ontario.

The organization’s executive director Ian Taylor tells strategy that with the latest campaign, it wanted to show that young people have been forced to go on without school or interactions with sport to engage with peers – a very important outlet that has been frustrating for both players and their parents.

“It’s to convey the mindset of where we’re at [with the pandemic] and show a path forward,” Taylor says. “We finally see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”

The campaign is informed by insights from a survey of 3,000 OMHA players, which revealed that 80% believe hockey helps reduce feelings of isolation and stress, which have been high during a challenging pandemic environment. Another 80% say they plan on returning to the game in the fall.

Despite eagerness from existing players, driving new registrations is the main goal OMHA is looking to achieve, something that has been a recent challenge for the organization. Hockey registration numbers have been flat for the past five years, even before the pandemic, with the perceived costs remaining a key barrier.

The OMHA’s last effort to break this trend was focused on showing the off-ice benefits that came with minor hockey, from teaching players life skills like discipline to providing a community to their families. But a few weeks after that campaign launched, the pandemic began spreading in Canada, and most minor hockey programs have been largely halted since.

“It’s a call to action, that’s for sure,” Taylor says of the new campaign, which is part of an “unprecendented” push across the province for registrations. He explains that having kids registered to play hockey is not a given as it was in the past: what might have previously been considered a typical hockey family has so many sports options, and demographic changes in Canada many newcomers have grown up around things like soccer.

The OMHA will be pushing the message out mostly through social, and Taylor says the ad spend is “without question” larger than previous efforts. While its previous campaign primarily targeted families with kids under the age of 10, the new effort is broadening the scope to any family with kids of playing age, which can be as old as 18.

To spread the word even further, it’s also pulling in other minor hockey organizations across the Ontario Hockey Federation, which includes the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario, Greater Toronto Hockey League, Northern Ontario Hockey Association and OHL. It’s less of a brand play for the OMHA, Taylor maintains, but rather for hockey as a whole.

“The brand in this scenario is hockey,” he says.