The enterprise of Sarah Nurse: She’s one of many faces of hockey, however her sights are set on extra

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By Calvin S. Nelson

TORONTO — Sarah Nurse was driving house from a current PWHL Toronto follow when she obtained a little bit of sage recommendation.

It wasn’t from a podcast or a pal on the cellphone. The recommendation got here courtesy of a billboard on the aspect of the highway in Canada’s most populous metropolis, that includes her personal face with the Adidas slogan “You bought this.”

“I used to be like, yeah, I do,” Nurse stated with amusing.

The billboard she drove previous is considered one of many throughout the nation, together with a large commercial at Yonge-Dundas Sq. — Toronto’s closest approximation to Occasions Sq. in New York Metropolis — that pairs Nurse with Tremendous Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and World Cup champion Lionel Messi.

Nurse, 29, has had main partnerships previously. In 2020, Tim Hortons and Mattel collaborated to make a Barbie doll in her likeness. In 2022, she was featured on a Cheerios field. However within the two years since her breakout efficiency on the Beijing Olympics — through which she broke a report for factors in a single match (18) — Nurse has turn out to be one of many greatest faces in girls’s hockey.

She grew to become the primary lady to look on the quilt of an EA Sports activities hockey online game with NHL 23. She was a key determine within the launch of the Skilled Girls’s Hockey League as a member of the player-led bargaining committee that struck a first-of-its-kind CBA in girls’s skilled hockey. This month, she starred in a Canadian Tremendous Bowl industrial and was one of many busiest athletes throughout NHL All-Star Weekend, showing at a number of league and companion occasions.

“All over the place you flip, it’s like, there’s Sarah,” stated Canadian nationwide workforce defender Erin Ambrose.

Nurse’s eight main endorsement offers put her forward of just about each different skilled hockey participant, exterior of a handful of NHL stars. Amongst girls and gamers of coloration, she is in uncharted territory.

Her ascension has been years within the making — all a part of a rigorously crafted marketing strategy developed by Nurse and her workforce at Dulcedo Administration, a expertise company, to make Nurse not simply one of many faces of the sport, however somebody with the form of superstar that transcends her sport.

“You don’t must observe basketball to know who LeBron James is,” stated her agent, Thomas Houlton. “That’s what we need to do for Sarah.”

Sarah Nurse holds the Barbie dolls impressed by herself and Marie-Philip Poulin in 2020. (Courtesy of Tim Hortons)

When Nurse signed with Dulcedo in 2019, her repute as a participant was already sturdy.

At 24 years outdated, Nurse had already been a star on the College of Wisconsin, received an Olympic silver medal and been drafted with the No. 2 choose within the now-defunct Canadian Girls’s Hockey League. In these early days, Nurse was typically mentioned as one of many latest branches of a powerful athletic household tree.

Her father, Roger, was an elite lacrosse participant. Her aunt, Raquel, was a celebrated level guard at Syracuse College who married Philadelphia Eagles legend Donovan McNabb. Her cousins embrace Kia Nurse, a two-time Olympian and WNBA all-star, and Darnell Nurse, a defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers.

With Nurse’s multifaceted enchantment, a number of brokers got here calling.

However after the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Nurse, who graduated with a enterprise diploma, was seeking to discover her pursuits in trend and sweetness — fields which are sometimes exterior the areas of experience for conventional sports activities companies. Nurse, nonetheless, wasn’t taking part in in a typical sports activities panorama.

Within the CWHL, gamers have been paid solely small stipends — Nurse stated she made $2,000 as a rookie within the league — which meant taking part in girls’s skilled hockey was not a important supply of revenue.

Dulcedo, which launched as a modeling company however has since expanded into different industries, together with sports activities, might give Nurse extra alternatives to department out.

“She didn’t simply need to be often known as Sarah Nurse, the hockey participant,” defined Houlton. “And never simply as a chunk of the (household tree). … It’s been clear from the start that she actually wished to have her personal legacy.”

“After I first signed with them,” Nurse stated, “I did this glamor photoshoot, and I’d by no means executed something like that earlier than as a result of I’m a hockey participant — no person provides me faux eyelashes or places lipstick on me. I used to be like, this could possibly be the beginning of one thing nice, as a result of I felt like they obtained me.”

Houlton signed Nurse to blue-chip sports activities companions like CCM and Adidas but in addition labored on increase her social-media profile to place her in areas exterior of hockey. “No skincare model goes to need to work with you if we don’t see skincare wherever,” he defined.

On the ice, Nurse was in one other Olympic cycle with Group Canada main as much as the 2022 Video games in Beijing and in the course of a interval of upheaval in girls’s skilled hockey. The CWHL folded in March 2019, and many of the gamers banded collectively to sit down out {of professional} hockey till a greater league was shaped. Then the 2020 girls’s world championships have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stakes have been excessive within the yr main as much as the Olympics. For athletes with out big-ticket skilled contracts, the once-every-four-year window the Video games present is a crucial second to earn a living — and a reputation for themselves. A knee harm throughout tryouts put into query whether or not Nurse can be wholesome sufficient to play.

“I got here out of the world championships in Calgary and I used to be on the fourth line — that’s not a protected place to be. Then I blew up my knee,” Nurse stated. “So I’m going into Olympic tryouts and I’m like, I don’t know if I could make this workforce.”

To the teaching workers, regardless of the actual fact she couldn’t skate within the months main as much as the match, Nurse had greater than confirmed her price to the Canadian nationwide workforce.

“We knew that she was going to be an enormous a part of our program if she was wholesome sufficient to go,” stated Canada’s head coach, Troy Ryan. “The mixture of her work ethic and the medical workers did a terrific job getting her again.”

“What I really like about Sarah, as a teammate and as a hockey participant, is that she does the little issues proper. She’s versatile within the sense that she will play middle and play wing. She will win attracts, she’s laborious to play towards, you’ll be able to belief her in robust matchups,” stated Ambrose. “For therefore lengthy with the nationwide workforce, that was her m.o. No matter you wanted, she was there.”

Nurse made the workforce and was wholesome in time for the beginning of the match. She additionally secured Olympic campaigns with Normal Mills, Sportchek, RBC and extra.

Group Canada rewrote the report books in Beijing, going undefeated within the match to win a gold medal. Nurse, who began the match on the fourth line, labored her method as much as the highest line with Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner, and broke Hayley Wickenheiser’s Olympic scoring report with 18 factors in six video games. She set a report for assists in a single match (13) and have become the primary Black lady to win an Olympic gold medal in hockey.

“That was actually the catalyst for her to take that subsequent step,” stated Houlton. “And actually propelled us into what was the subsequent part of her life.”

Sarah Nurse attends a postgame convention after the PWHL three-on-three showcase at Scotiabank Enviornment throughout NHL All-Star Weekend. (Kevin Sousa / NHLI by way of Getty Photos)

Ninety minutes earlier than the NHL All-Star red-carpet occasion, Nurse was in a lodge room in downtown Toronto doing her hair, getting her make-up executed and capturing content material for her social media channels — nothing she wasn’t used to.

Her All-Star weekend tasks had began days earlier than, with media and promotional appearances. Earlier that morning, she was on the ice for an out of doors follow with the PWHL gamers chosen to signify the brand-new league on the NHL’s tentpole occasion. She then made a shock go to to a ladies hockey workforce with teammates Renata Quick, Natalie Spooner and Adidas.

After leaving the lodge, she’d stroll the pink carpet, shock one other ladies hockey workforce — this time with Canadian Tire and Poulin — and, 12 hours after her day began, play within the PWHL three-on-three showcase at Scotiabank Enviornment. That a part of her schedule doesn’t embrace the NHL expertise competitors, which Nurse was on the ice for on Friday evening, or the regular-season PWHL sport she performed on Saturday.

“That entire week was a blur,” Nurse stated.

“I don’t even know if we have been anticipating what occurred there by way of, like, you’ll be able to’t even stroll a few steps with out somebody stopping and saying, ‘That’s Sarah Nurse, can I get an image?’” Houlton stated. “It was wonderful to see how far she’s come.”

All the pieces about Nurse’s NHL All-Star weekend suggests the plan has labored. Within the final yr, Nurse has gotten so busy that Dulcedo added Phoebe Balshin to the workforce as a senior athlete supervisor in January 2023. Her job was to create a extra strategic plan for Nurse’s model and assist her take the subsequent step.

“After I first got here on, an enormous dialog was: Sarah works with so many manufacturers, however what’s her model? Who’s she? What’s her mission and imaginative and prescient?” Balshin stated. “So we principally constructed out a five-year plan along with her to take us by way of Milan (the 2026 Olympics.)”

To refine the method, Nurse recognized 4 particular intersections of her personal pursuits and progress alternatives: hockey, trend and sweetness, entrepreneurship and neighborhood. A possible partnership should transfer the needle in not less than a kind of classes.

“If one thing doesn’t align with me, we’re not going to do it,” Nurse stated.

Nurse now has eight main sponsors: Adidas, CCM, RBC, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, EA Sports activities, Chevrolet and, most just lately, Dyson. She’s additionally signed different paid partnerships with magnificence manufacturers equivalent to Dove, L’Oréal and Revlon.

Manufacturers focused Nurse after her Olympic efficiency, however that’s only one a part of the full bundle. She’s outgoing with an affable attraction, an infectious snigger and an ease on digicam.

“It comes right down to character, and Sarah could be very a lot one-of-one,” Houlton stated. “Sarah can present up on set straight off the bed and look wonderful, sound wonderful, and provides the model the most effective efficiency they’ve ever seen.”

Nurse is a biracial Black lady and is vocal in her help of elevated illustration in a predominantly White sport. Her workforce is cautious in regards to the intentions of potential sponsors. “I must ask all the proper inquiries to ensure that this model isn’t just utilizing her so that they examine their variety field,” Houlton defined.

They’ve additionally labored with companions that Nurse already had in her portfolio to make sure that her objectives are being met — not simply the model’s personal aims.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Nurse did a shoot with RBC that included Poulin and Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, which oriented  Nurse as knowledgeable athlete — not simply as a girls’s hockey participant. Her Adidas marketing campaign has her aligned with massive names exterior of the game, equivalent to Mahomes and Messi. “Our purpose is to get her neck and neck with the most effective,” Balshin defined.

Final week, Nurse launched “Nursey Night time,” through which she’s going to host younger Black ladies at PWHL Toronto video games, meet with them postgame and mentor them all year long. The concept began as a method for Nurse to provide away her brother’s season tickets each every now and then but it surely ended up with a $50,000 donation from Rogers and a partnership with Black Lady Hockey Membership, a non-profit group targeted on making hockey extra inclusive.

“Folks need to be concerned in something she does,” Balshin stated. “That’s form of how we snowball issues over right here.”

On prime of promotional appearances and occasions, Nurse posts paid promotions on social media and has gotten extra lively on TikTok, posting movies whereas doing her make-up or skincare, or offering motivation to younger women and girls who go to her channels. All the pieces will get put right into a content material calendar that Balshin manages, and each morning she sends Nurse a textual content outlining “every little thing we now have to fret about in the present day.”

“She has made our lives lots happier,” Nurse stated. “We obtained to a degree the place there was simply an excessive amount of taking place and we couldn’t facilitate every little thing.”

With every little thing happening off the ice, it’s straightforward to overlook that Nurse is considered one of Canada’s greatest hockey gamers and a face of the PWHL in Toronto. She’s additionally the vice chairman of the PWHL Gamers Affiliation and is on the Hockey Canada participant committee.

Sarah Nurse skates towards PWHL Montreal’s Mariah Keopple at Scotiabank Enviornment. (Mark Blinch / Getty Photos)

“I might love to sit down down and see her calendar,” Ambrose stated. “I’m in awe of what she does away from the rink. I’m in awe of what she does on the rink. I in truth don’t know the way she does it however I really like her for it.”

Nurse is aware of it appears like there’s lots on her plate however insists she’s excellent at compartmentalizing. Ryan, additionally her coach with PWHL Toronto, says Nurse’s different tasks have “by no means negatively impacted who she is as a participant.”

“I feel she’s discovered methods to really use it to ensure she nonetheless has an influence within the sport,” he stated. “She’s below a highlight and below a microscope a lot. I feel that sense of pleasure she in all probability will get with that has in all probability pressured her to do the additional work.”

“I’m very acutely aware of the truth that for me to do all of this different stuff, I must carry out my greatest on the ice,” added Nurse, who scored two objectives on Tuesday evening, together with the sport winner towards Minnesota.

Gone are the times of gamers equivalent to Nurse making solely $2,000 a season to play hockey. Within the PWHL, the minimal wage $35,000, with some prime gamers making as a lot as $100,000. Nonetheless, even the league’s greatest gamers aren’t getting wealthy taking part in girls’s skilled hockey.

“The advertising and marketing does imply lots to them and is a important supply of revenue,” Balshin stated.

The work that Nurse is placing in can be laying the monitor for all times after hockey, every time that comes. It might take one thing unexpected for Nurse to not be on the 2026 Olympics.

Nurse has thought of pursuing a number of paths, from actual property funding to launching a clothes line or a manufacturing firm. “I undoubtedly have aspirations to broaden and develop into totally different sectors,” she stated.

“We would like her to be a face of hockey, interval, not simply girls’s hockey. And of inclusion in sport,” Balshin stated. “She needs to indicate younger ladies that they are often so many issues.”

(Illustration: Daniel Goldfarb / The Athletic. Photographs: Mark Blinch / Getty Photos, Nicole Osborne / NHLI by way of Getty Photos)

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