For those paying attention, the evidence has long been in plain sight. Bieber’s wife, the actress and influencer Hayley Baldwin Bieber, rocking a Leafs hat in New York. Bieber with Carlton, the Leafs mascot. Bieber beside himself over a playoff comeback last season. Then there was the time when, when he proclaimed 2021 the year the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup.
“Biebs is a very special person and an incredibly talented artist,” the defenseman Morgan Rielly said this week. “He’s eager to work with the team and spend time around the guys. I think that’s a pretty cool opportunity. We’re very fortunate to play for this organization, and I guess that’s just one of those things that kind of comes with it.”
In December 2019, Bieber invited Matthews, Marner and Tyson Barrie, now with Edmonton, to his hometown, Stratford, Ontario, to play pickup hockey with his childhood friends. Matthews wears clothes from Drew House, Bieber’s fashion line. Bieber and Matthews did an Instagram Live when hockey was shut down in the early days of the pandemic. Bieber has taught Marner the Yummy dance. Going back a decade, Bieber dropped in on a Leafs practice when in Toronto for a concert.
In late February Bieber got in touch with the team and asked them to make a video set to “Hold On.”
“It was Justin’s idea; he wrote a love song and the Maple Leafs are one of the great loves of his life,” said Shannon Hosford, chief marketing officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. “He reached out to see if we’d be interested in helping him release the song. From our perspective it was exciting to have a fan reach out to do something with us. He’s a hometown fan and his connection with us is authentic.”
And his influence is enormous, far more than the team and league combined. Bieber has 166.5 million Instagram followers, 114 million on Twitter, and another 61.5 million on YouTube. By comparison, the N.H.L. has 6.3 million followers on Twitter and 4.5 million on Instagram, and the Maple Leafs about a third of that.
“We saw it as an opportunity to reach a new fan base, and take hockey outside of North America,” Hosford said. “They wanted to represent the team as much as possible. It’s less about the game and more about the personalities of the players. His association makes this go beyond our die-hard fan base. You understand there’s a love for the sport but it doesn’t really go beyond North America.”
Hosford said the team saw an immediate bump across its social channels and platforms from the video, mostly younger people outside of the Toronto market.