Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, it’s almost impossible to not be noticing the uproar surrounding the latest NHL “head shot” injury, and violence in hockey in general. What I find most fascinating about the current situation is that sponsors are taking a stand and flexing their muscle, in the spirit of corporate social responsibility. Now that’s a new, and welcome, twist on corporate social responsibility! While it’s a shame that it has come to this, kudos to Air Canada and other sponsors such as Tim Hortons Inc. and BCE Inc. for lobbying the NHL, and in the case of Air Canada, threatening to withdraw its sponsorship dollars.
While the arrogant and dismissive response by Gary Bettman indicates he doesn’t believe that this loss of sponsor dollars would harm the NHL, it’s also a signal that he sees the sponsorship as a one-sided affair – with only the NHL calling the shots. Does he not realize that the sponsorship arrangement any company enters into is a two-way street, which means that sponsors do matter – that they do in fact have a say, a “vote”. As someone who’s negotiated her share of sponsorships/advertising deals, the “fit” has to be there for it to work. The sponsorship has to align with a company’s core values and what it stands for, whether it’s positioned as corporate social responsibility or not. Right now, clearly NHL hockey – and specifically how the game is played (because it has gotten so dangerous with head shot injuries, whether intentional or not) – isn’t seen as the right fit for some companies. I don’t blame them not wanting to have their brands associated with this kind of “violence” or image.
In the bigger picture, someone has to take a stand. Players? Owners? Sponsors? Advertisers? Ticket holders? TV Viewers? Fans in general? Arguably corporate social responsibility doesn’t only apply to sponsors…it should also apply to the players and their union, the owners (and GMs), the fans, and the league itself. Air Canada took the first step, but so far it doesn’t seem like it was enough. Will they ultimately pull the plug? I guess time will tell. What I do know is that right now I think of Air Canada in a much more positive light – good for them for taking a stand, whether it works in the end or not.
What do you think about NHL sponsors taking a stand against violence in hockey under the guise of corporate social responsibility? If anything, you have to admit it’s a pretty clever angle to play to get heard and have a positive impact amidst all the noise!