“At some point you want to take it to the next level, and I think that time is now.”
Hayley Wickenheiser’s words in an ad Secret® Deodorant and the PWHPA launched this past July seem to foreshadow what was to come. On Thursday October 22, Secret® took things to the next level with a historic $1 million commitment to the PWHPA, the largest corporate commitment ever made towards professional women’s hockey in North America.
We spoke with Secret® Senior Brand Director Lisa Reid and PWHPA Operations Consultant Jayna Hefford the day following the announcement to discuss what this means for women’s hockey and the 2021 Dream Gap Tour.
Women’s Hockey Life (WHL): How did the partnership between Secret® and the PWHPA come about?
Lisa Reid: Secret® has, since 1956, really been supporting women and equality. When the [CWHL] folded almost two years ago now, it caught our attention.
Sport is so important in terms of the empowerment and the identity that it brings to [girls] … we need to really try to drive for equality in hockey for women, not just because it creates role models for future players, but it also reinforces that as Canadians, we appreciate the value of equality and inclusion.
So when we saw that the league had shut down, we stepped up to be the title sponsor of the Dream Gap Tour last year. I think that brought a lot of momentum and visibility to the goal of having a sustainable league for women so they can pursue their dreams to the utmost the same way that men can.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, women have been impacted more than men, and we knew we wanted to step up. It’s very easy during these tough times for areas like this to lose momentum, and so this was really our way to say no, we’ve got to step up now, and we’ve got to continue the fight towards a more equal future for women in hockey.
Jayna Hefford: What we as the PWHPA are doing, it’s a movement, it’s trying to change history and the landscape of what women’s sport is going to look like, so when we have an opportunity to partner with a brand like Secret®, who aligns so well and represents everything we stand for—equal sweat deserves equal opportunity—it’s just so nice to know that we have partners standing with us with whom we share the same values. So obviously we’re thrilled to have Secret® back and advocating with us for the creation of a new equitable professional women’s hockey league.
WHL: There’s been a lot of dialogue around how COVID-19 has threatened the livelihood and momentum of women’s hockey. How does this commitment from Secret® change that?
Hefford: There’s really three main areas. One is to help with our operational costs. We have ice times, we have to provide for our players in terms of coaching, and then there’s travel and meals when we get to a point where we are actually hosting the tour.
There’s cash prize pots that we’re going to present for our athletes to win throughout events. This, in my mind, is key to show that we are moving forward, we’re making progress. We’re building on what we had last year, we’re not just staying where we are and surviving.
The last one is the area of marketing and resources. Obviously a brand like Secret® has such an amazing reach that goes beyond what we have, and to be able to work together on that, it really is going to help push our movement forward, and I think additionally, hopefully, encourage other companies to step up.
Reid: We’re hoping to raise the visibility of women’s hockey in Canada. Obviously we have seen and we know the amazing talent. There’s Olympians, national team players, and I think the calibre and the excitement of the games is there. So we’re hoping, by making this commitment, to shine a light on this and hopefully raise the profile to a point where we would have equal airing of women’s and men’s hockey one day, to have a sustainable league where women grow up knowing that they can pursue their dreams to that ultimate professional level.
WHL: What has the response been like from PWHPA players and other members of the sports community?
Hefford: For the players, obviously they are so excited about this, and I was really excited to tell them about it, to give them this positive boost that there are people in their corner, people that are standing up even in some of the most challenging times. There’s been a lot of bad news for women’s hockey in the past few years, be it World Championships cancelled, the league shutting down, 4 Nations Cup cancelled, and I think this is one of the first really big positive announcements for women’s hockey in quite some time.
Reid: I think women across North America see this kind of announcement and commitment as really important and symbolic. Whether they are athletes in another sport, or they are hockey players who retired years ago, I think everybody feels like the time has come where we’ve got to make significant change.
WHL: What can fans look forward to about the second Dream Gap Tour?
Hefford: One part is the rosters we also released [on Thursday], 125 players that made regional rosters. [There are] over 38 Olympians, over 60 national team players, so hopefully people get excited with that. We have a lot more exciting announcements coming with various partners for this season.
We’ll release details of the tour as we go, but the idea that there’s championship prize pots, and we want to determine winners, that’s going to create hopefully more engagement with fans and players. We just see that the level of competition is going to be better than its ever been, and with partners like Secret®, hopefully the visibility piece and the exposure that our athletes are going to get is going to be bigger than ever. Hopefully our athletes start to become household names like they should. They are the best in the world at what they do, and I’m excited for what we’re going to be able to accomplish in 2021 with the Secret® Dream Gap Tour.