The good game

In 2013, SHL team Brynäs realized it needed a new sponsorship strategy. The focus of their strategy was based on ads on the jerseys for SHL but as was and is the case with many European clubs, they had come to the point of diminishing returns. There was not enough space on the jerseys, and each new logo added on them diminished the value of the existing ones.

In short, existing partners didn’t want to pay as much as before and it was harder to find new ones.

After studying global megatrends to see where the world was headed, the organization chose to focus on sustainability, an area they knew was important for their partners in the region. Specifically, they chose to focus on social sustainability.

“What we did was create a new core business. This is not a project, this is our core business area,” says Brynäs IF Deputy CEO Johan Cahling.

The new business area – the others are youth and elite hockey and talent development – is called “A Good Start” and its purpose is to help kids and young people to a good start in life, focusing on life away from the rink. Last year, it connected with more than 16,000 kids.

The employees within “A Good Start” work daily with five different areas. They work to decrease youth unemployment in Brynäs’s base, the Gavle region, they encourage more children to be physically active, help them feel safe, assist children in school, and educate volunteer leaders.

“I believe our new ways of activating our partners and establishing a partnership between society and the working environment show how a sports club can be a strong force in society. Our ambition is to inspire other strong sports organizations and businesses to increase their social responsibility,” says Cahling.

Besides a number of official corporate partners, another partner is Unicef. Brynäs sends the UN children’s organization five million Swedish kronor over five years, and today, the only patches on the SHL team’s jersey are Unicef’s and the logo of “A Good Start”.

It turns out that Brynäs interpreted the global trends accurately. Working with kids and youth, working with sustainability and working to make the world a better place is exactly what many corporate partners were and are looking for.

Mill Director Magnus Kangas of BillerudKorsnäs, a leading provider of renewable packaging material and one of Brynas’s main partners says he went into the latest sponsorship negotiations determined to cut the company’s commitment to the club.

“About 100 percent of our support went to professional sports clubs, which wasn’t in line with our focus on sustainability,” he says.

“Our intention was to dramatically reduce our support to Brynäs and we were surprised to hear that they had come up with ‘A Good Start’. It was exactly what we had been looking for: to work with social sustainability and help the young in society. By the end of the meeting we had tripled our support,” Kangas adds.

They’re not alone. The new strategy has not only helped kids and youth, it has made Brynäs’s revenues go up.

“These days, to be relevant, all companies have to think of their social responsibility,” says Cahling.

And, stresses Cahling, “A Good Start” is a true partnership between the different stakeholders. The main partners are a part of the steering group for “A Good Start”, getting a say on strategical decisions. Brynäs just happens to be in the middle of it all.

“That’s where we make strategic decisions, discuss new ways of working, even new partners. The reason we have defined our region to be 150 kilometers in diameter around Gavle is because that’s in line with that of our insurance partner,” Cahling says.

One of the main events of the year was the UN’s International Children’s Day, which Brynäs and the partners arranged at Gavlerinken, the club’s arena. (The club sold the arena’s naming rights in 2006 but when the Gavle municipality came in as main partner of “A Good Start”, the arena was renamed back to simply “Gavle rink”).

This year, more than 2000 kids arrived to the rink to learn and to have fun. There was a stage show with Swedish pop stars, Unicef was there, the kids learned to do CPR, and they shared their take on what a good friend is like. Their answers – “considerate”, “honest” – can be seen on the boards in Brynäs’s home games this season.

After three years, “A Good Start” has gone from one employee to five, Brynäs’s revenues have increased, and main sponsors have already re-upped their commitment.

“It takes a few years for everyone to learn the new concept and for the companies to learn how to communicate their commitment to “A Good Start” but now we have a good structure and a solid operation here,” Cahling says.

Now he wants to take it to the next level. If Brynäs can help kids in their region, what would happen if all fourteen SHL teams joined forces?

We’ll find out soon. Early next year, the SHL will work with The Swedish Public Employment Service in a pilot project, using the Brynäs model in which young people are offered, for example, internships and training.

“All in all, we have 15,000 corporate partners in Sweden so we should be able to move a lot of young people. The focus is on the ones who have had the hardest time to find work,” Cahling says.

And then?

“Hockey could be the biggest social force in Europe. Why not do this on a European level? If we just make up our minds, we can do it. Together,” he says.

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