NHL Alumni Association suing PointsBet Canada for breach of contract

NHLAA files $1.1 million lawsuit against gaming company

The NHL Alumni Association (NHLAA) is reportedly suing PointsBet Canada for $1.1 million, alleging that the gaming provider cut short a multi-year sponsorship agreement after the Ontario government changed its sports betting advertising rules last year.

Rick Westhead for TSN reports that the NHLAA filed a lawsuit on Jan. 18 in the Ontario Superior Court. The suit asserts that PointsBet is obligated to continue paying the fees detailed in its sponsorship agreement until Jan. 1, 2026, regardless of the changes in Ontario’s marketing restrictions.

The operator and the NHLAA signed a four-year deal in January 2022 that gave PointsBet exclusive North American marketing rights to retired NHL players to use the former athletes in their advertising and promotions.

However, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced in November 2023 that gambling companies could no longer use active or retired athletes to advertise their platforms and offerings except when such advertising focused on the promotion of responsible gambling. That change came into effect on Feb. 28 this year.

The lawsuit reportedly claims that when that change was announced, PointsBet wrote to NHLAA President Glenn Healy on Nov. 10, 2023, to inform him that the company would terminate the agreement.

Allegedly, PointsBet argued that the government’s rule change constituted “a force majeure event.” The operator wrote in a statement of defence filed on March 22, 2024, that the agreement hinged on PointsBet paying for retired players to drive its gaming business “by actively participating in the advertising and marketing of PointsBet’s brands.” The statement argues that the new government rules mean the current marketing opportunities to use retired NHL players are “radically different from what was bargained for by the parties.”

In response, the alumni association alleges that its contract with PointsBet is explicitly binding for as long as PointsBet has a licence to operate in Canada or the U.S. Per Westhead, PointsBet is scheduled to pay an annual license fee of $160,000 that would increase to $170,000 and also allegedly agreed to contribute towards remunerating players for their participation in marketing. The lawsuit states that payment was $275,000 in the first year and $150,000 in subsequent years.

Canadian Gaming Business reached out to PointsBet, who declined to comment on the report or the allegations.

NHLAA one of several PointsBet partners in Ontario

At the time that PointsBet signed the NHLAA deal, then-Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky, who is departing the company to join the new Curling Group, wrote that the partnership would allow the brand to deliver “the authentically Canadian gaming experience that we want to bring sports fans.”

The deal with the NHLAA was one of a number of partnerships that PointsBet Canada struck in the lead-up to and the wake of its launch in the Ontario regulated market which hit two years old earlier this month.

PointsBet is an official sports betting partner of Major League Sports & Entertainment‘s teams, which include the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL team as well as former NBA champions the Toronto Raptors. It also has agreements with the likes of the Ottawa Redblacks Canadian Football League franchise and Dailyfaceoff.com & The Nation Network.

The company has fallen afoul of AGCO regulations on more than one occasion since launching in the Ontario market, being hit with fines in May 2022 for breaching advertising standards and in November 2023 for responsible gambling violations.

Other companies pivot advertising

While the NHLAA’s lawsuit alleges that PointsBet sought to exit their marketing agreement after the AGCO changed its rules around using athletes in advertising, other sportsbooks have gone in other directions.

A notable example is BetMGM, who pivoted their advertising to ensure they could continue using Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid in their marketing. McDavid appears in adverts for the sportsbook advocating for responsible gaming rather than promoting the company’s product and offerings directly.

Matt Prevost, BetMGM’s chief revenue officer, said earlier this year that McDavid was “part of our efforts to promote responsible gambling” since the start of his relationship with BetMGM as it was “something he expressed as a personal priority.” The AGCO told CBC News in an email last month that it sees athletes as having a useful role in spreading the message of responsible gambling and stated that it is “pleased” to see gambling companies “making the necessary adjustments to align their advertising practices with the updated standards.”

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