Tim Hortons celebrates those making hockey more inclusive in Canada

Who: Tim Hortons, with Gut for creative, The French Shop for French-language adaptation, Media.Monks for digital, and Horizon for media.

What: “Let’s Up Our Game,” a new campaign that calls for hockey to become more inclusive and welcoming in Canada. It comes several months after Tim Hortons pulled its sponsorship of Hockey Canada’s mens’ programs over its handling of multiple sexual assault allegations against some of its players.

When & Where: The campaign launched today (Nov. 14) with TV, online video, and social content, as well as a “Lets Up Our Game” section of the Tim Hortons website. The campaign will run into 2023.

Why: Since May, Hockey Canada has been under a dark cloud for its handling of sexual assault allegations against two of its men’s World Junior teams. A number of its core sponsors, including Tim Hortons, pulled their funding.

But before that, there has also been increased talk in recent years about how the game has resisted change in Canada—it is still overwhelmingly white, with too much time, attention and money going to the men’s game.

Rather than directly address recent concerns that the leaders of the game in Canada have resisted calls to get serious about sexual violence, the Tim Hortons campaign takes a more positive approach—celebrating those who are changing the game for the better.

“Given the conversations that Canadians have been having in recent months about the future of hockey and how to improve the game’s culture, we believe there’s no time like the present to help promote a positive change in the game across Canada that is reflective of the diversity that belongs in hockey,” said Hope Bagozzi, chief marketing officer at Tim Hortons, in a release introducing the new campaign. Tim Hortons declined to make Bagozzi available for an interview, but a spokesperson confirmed that the quote refers to “developments regarding Hockey Canada over the last several months.”

And in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Bagozzi said that Tim Hortons did discuss pulling all support for hockey. “That was a conversation we had,” she said.

How: Instead, Tim Hortons is going ahead with this campaign to amplify the stories of Canadians who have “broken barriers, blazed new paths and overcome prejudice,” to play the game. Bagozzi also told the Globe that the campaign has been in development for more than a year. Scotiabank has been espousing a similar message since last year, with its “Hockey For All” platform.

The 60-second launch spot for TV shares the story of James Dunn, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2012, but became the youngest Hockey Canada player ever to represent Canada at the Paralympic Games.

Other Canadian hockey players being celebrated in the campaign include:

  • Sarah Nurse, who fights against racism and sexism in hockey;
  • Bridgette Lacquette, the first Indigenous woman to play for the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team;
  • Tyler McGregor, a cancer survivor and Canadian Para Ice Hockey team captain;
  • Marie-Philip Poulin, captain of the Women’s National Hockey team, world and Olympic gold medalist;
  • Georges Laraque, a 13-year NHL veteran now working with new generation of youth from diverse backgrounds; and
  • Mark DeMontis, who lost his central sight at 17, and has worked since then to build a more inclusive future for blind and partially sighted hockey players.

And we quote: “I believe that anyone with the same passion that I have for the game, should have access to equal opportunities in the sport… That’s why I’m so excited to partner with Tim Hortons, a brand synonymous with hockey, to continue growing and evolving the sport to make it a more inclusive space that brings people together—no matter their gender or race.” —Sarah Nurse

David Brown