Sherwood's Return to Prominence through Culture Driven, Athlete Marketing

From Bauer to Easton to CCM, today’s up and coming hockey stars are in no shortage of selection when it comes to hockey equipment options. Staying true to the underdog mentality, one that doesn’t wane especially for the next generation of elite hockey athletes is the return to prominence with Sherwood. When we take a glance across the pond for the bright cornerstones of franchises in North America, the Sherwood team looks no further than prospect Quinton Byfield of the Los Angeles Kings, young alternate Captains Matthew Tkachuk for the Calgary Flames, Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks and Saroya Tinker from the Toronto Six, among others.

Byfield (above) recorded his first NHL goal on January 27th against the New York Islanders.

While the product of Newmarket, Ontario native represented Canada in the previous IIHF World Junior Championships tasting gold in 2020, Byfield now looks to help reclaim glory for a team eager to get back into the Stanley Cup conversations. The same can be said about Tkachuk and DeBrincat, who were both taken in the 2016 NHL Draft with the latter recently named to this year’s All Star Game for the first time in his career. With Saroya Tinker, while her on-ice presence on the blue-line provides a steady hand for the Six, it’s also her personality, off-ice beliefs and natural gravity towards Sherwood are some of the reasons why the brand’s ambassadors represent the next generation of athletes that will be part of not only hockey’s evolution but also Sherwood’s as well.

Yes the aforementioned athletes fits the return and bounce back aspirations of the Sherwood brand, but that’s not even including the OVO (October’s Very Own) icing that arguably broke the hockey space of the internet. We had a chance to connect with Brendon Arnold, Associate Vice President of Brand at Sherwood Hockey (now under the Canadian Tire umbrella) to help give us the low-down on the creation of the partnerships and the brand retransformation.

How Partnerships Started

In 2018, Canadian retail giant, Canadian Tire acquired Sherwood Athletics Group Inc’s global hockey trademarks. Sherwood was seen as a staple hockey name with a ton of tradition and history, but was overlooked ahead of other brands in the space – also due to its out from professional hockey for several years. Brendon Arnold was tasked with overseeing a complete overhaul and revival of the brand to bring it back to relevance. As he put it, the brand was commonly associated with the parents rather than the new generation consumer. But to accomplish that uphill climb back to prominence, he had to build out the brand architecture of what he wanted Sherwood to be in addition to the players that could potentially fit the mould.

Tkachuk (above) with the October's Very Own x Sherwood Collection.

In his words:

"We approached the rebrand with a scalpel. The people associated to our brand have to embody the same characteristics and attributes that Sherwood does." - Brendon Arnold, Associate Vice President of Brand at Sherwood Hockey

And what characteristics and attributes we asked?

1. Creativity

2. Self-Expression

3. Individuality

4. Challenger Mindset

Arnold describes that while he had a board of athletes that were available to them, him and the team cared about getting a small but yet solid roster of individuals to be ambassadors who truly embodied what the brand stood for - it simply had to be a perfect match for the brand.

DeBrincat (above) earned his first All Star nod for the 2022 NHL All Star game while also taking part in the NHL Breakaway Challenge.

As marketers in the space, it’s important to see where the evolution of athlete marketing is headed. Players are coming into their own and understanding who they are as a brand in addition to seeing the value of developing their own brand. Arnold stressed the importance of sitting down with athletes to understand them and having them in turn ask questions about the brand – almost like an interrogation period. In essence, this is what a true partnership is - a genuine discussion and a participative long relationship with the brand, involvement with the product, development of the design and customizable to the needs of the individual. As Arnold puts it, “you want to rely on the athlete” and there’s a need for “personalities to shine” by pairing the “vision with their personalities”.

What we’re describing here is also the personification and humanizing what a brand is and how an integration should be/ how an athlete is aligned.

Arnold recounts his discussion with Byfield how he describes the intent of the partnership - wanting him to be the athlete that Sherwood grows with. He also knew that if the intent was not genuine and authentic, the young guns will know. This is proven to be quintessential in all marketing partnerships and even a tool to act as a reminder for any new marketer. The new generation of consumers and end users are so savvy of how products and brands are being positioned to them. If they’re only there for the sake of being there, the audience will know right away.

The OVO Factor

In mid-December before we hit the Out of Office notifications on our emails, Sherwood made a collaborative splash with cultural icon, OVO. In Arnold’s words, the launch was considered to be the “most disruptive hockey collaboration ever to be seen in sport.” In fact, he wanted it to be a “moonshot”. And a moonshot it was!

In his piece describing OVO and the Sherwood collaboration, out of all the brands that the youth resonated with, he felt that OVO was at the top. While Drake can be seen sitting courtside for Toronto Raptors games, Drizzy had also played hockey in Ontario growing up and still remains involved in the game only adds a bit more spice to the dynamic between the two brands.

So when we asked Arnold about how he felt about partnerships in general especially when it comes to hockey where we enter a new era of defining a partner, we also landed on the topic of tradition. He knew that OVO would be great for hockey because of the cultural and youth resonating element - that “energy and life” - but he also recognized a need to evolve. In his brief about Jeff Staple in the Staple x Sherwood collection, more energy needs to be put into these collaborations with culture being the emphasis. But if there was a mic drop that needed to be made, it was this specific one liner:

"Tradition will always be respected but not without challenge."

Enter Saroya Tinker

On top of the collaborations with budding superstars, Saroya Tinker of the Toronto Six was always on Arnold’s radar. In his eyes, Arnold felt that for new athletes, it was okay to be self-expressive with creative flair. In terms of the direction where hockey was going in addition to the rebrand of Sherwood, Tinker felt like this new movement in hockey was ultimately the next step. It was about “having this conversation” because it “needs to evolve”.

Tinker (above) with the October's Very Own x Sherwood Collection.

A quick Google Search on Saroya Tinker can lead you to a myriad of reasons why a Tinker-Sherwood relationship works. A scan of Tinker’s Instagram feed breathes the self-expressive and creative flair that Arnold describes what the brand should be about. Her mentions of mentorship, projection of confidence and the “unapologetically true to myself” mantra speaks to her brand and the alignment of what Sherwood aims to be.

Reading Tinker’s interview with The Kit further puts you in awe with how accurate Arnold looks back at his learnings and how he has put it into action during his time with overseeing the rebrand. He frequently spoke about the humanizing importance and aspect of sponsorship with the need to understand the player a little more. Ultimately, they’re normal people with normal “stuff” that happens to them in addition to their passions outside of life. Yes, they have a very exceptional skillset and discipline to their craft but they’re not the robots that people typically view them as in the public eye.

In the interview with The Kit by Laura deCarufel, Tinker projects confidence but doesn’t always feel that way. To Arnold’s point, hockey’s been missing aspects of storytelling as it relates to the athlete themselves because the content is always viewed from a pure hockey standpoint. With the next level of sponsorship, he hopes that the next generation of marketers will help lift that curtain so people can get to know the Tinkers, Byfields and Tkachuks of the world for instance.

We’re certainly ready for the next wave of athletes to open up more and we have talented marketers to help tell that story. But, we also have some awesome human beings on the ice that are more than ready to showcase what they have away from the cameras as well.


Ken Abescoro is a Contributor for The Sponsorship Space. He has previously covered topics in esport/gaming, XM, DE&I, pop culture and brand marketing as it relates to sponsorship and positioning through long form articles or our newsletter lead offs. Ken is a graduate of the Sport & Event Marketing program at George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. Thanks also to Derek Gomes for setting the foundation for this piece.