As part of our semi-annual Lumency team off-site this past week, we had the pleasure of hosting an engaging panel discussion featuring four sponsorship industry experts, representing some of Canada’s most iconic properties: Dana Gladstone, Vice President, Partnership Strategy & Licensing at Hockey Canada; Mark Ditmars, Vice President, Corporate Partnerships at Toronto Blue Jays; Patrick O’Brien, Manager, Sponsorship & Strategic Partnerships at Calgary Stampede; Tim Ritcey, Director, Business Development & Commercial Affairs at Canadian Olympic Committee.
The first half of the panel discussion focused on the adaptation strategies that these properties employed during the pandemic. The latter half of the discussion focused on the key lessons properties and sponsors should consider as the world moves past the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dana, Mark, Patrick and Tim began by sharing the unique challenges their organizations faced throughout the pandemic. Each of the panelists discussed the obstacles they faced when trying to deliver against their objectives while so many aspects of their businesses had changed.
The discussion also focused on the future of fan/attendee engagement. During the pandemic, many properties were left without a live physical touchpoint to interact with fans, which prompted increased necessity for digital engagement. Dana, Mark, Patrick and Tim shared how various deliverables, like athlete-generated content, allowed properties to connect with fans virtually, keeping them engaged.
Serving communities has always been a top priority for each of these organizations. The four panelists outlined how they used the pandemic as an opportunity to support the communities that they serve through various initiatives. As articulated by each panelist in their own way, the struggles Canadians endured over the last 20 months reaffirmed the important role that sport, entertainment and community play in maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing of Canadians.
In the final segment, the panelists discussed some key takeaways of which brands should be cognizant going into 2022 and beyond. Each of the panelists urged brands to be methodical about their sponsorship strategies. Brands have a unique opportunity to connect with consumers through their sponsorship initiatives yet many fail to leverage them adequately. Globally, Canada trails many country markets in the ratio of total sponsorship investments that go to activation versus rights fees. In Canada 64 cents is spent on activation, on average, for every dollar spent on rights fees (according to the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study). In the US, that ratio is closer to an average of $1.30 spent by sponsors on activation for every dollar spent on rights fees. All of the panelists advised brands to be more intentional around activation, to really sweat their sponsorship assets.
KEY HIGHLIGHTS & TAKEAWAYS FROM THE DISCUSSION…
What has your organization learned during the pandemic?
- Pat O’Brien (Calgary Stampede), said that his organization has a renewed commitment to being flexible and ready to innovate and pursue new opportunities and ways of operating when they arise. “We’re more focused than ever on not remaining static,” he said.
- For Mark Ditmars and the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, a key takeaway from the pandemic was to lean into their organization’s strengths, to work at leveraging trusted working relationships across their organization. Mark said that through better cross-functional collaboration throughout the pandemic, they realized that they could achieve a great deal more.
- Tim Ritcey, from the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), said the organization has recognized that it needs continue to be a global leader within the Olympic movement and is committed to pushing the boundaries on the global stage in order to best service its Team Canada athletes and partner sports.
- Dana Gladstone (Hockey Canada), said her organization has a stronger sense of the value of open communication and collaboration with all stakeholders, particularly in engaging more intentionally with the communities that Hockey Canada serves.
Based on these learnings, how will you engage your attendees/fans moving forward?
- According to Mark (Toronto Blue Jays), connecting with fans virtually through social and digital mediums will continue to be a stronger focus of the engagement strategy for the organization.
- Tim (COC), said that amplifying the voices of Canadian Olympic athletes led to higher fan engagement during the pandemic. He said that athlete-generated content played an important role in connecting with fans on a deeper level.
Has the mission of your organization sharpened due to COVID? Do you look at serving your communities differently?
- Patrick (Calgary Stampede), saw community support increase through the pandemic, which demonstrated just how important the history and the future of the Stampede is to Calgary, to Alberta and to Canada.” We’re more committed to the future of the Stampede, and to our community, than ever.”
- Dana and her team at Hockey Canada have a stronger sense of the role that sport plays in maintaining the physical and mental health of Canadians, she said. This reaffirmed the commitment that Hockey Canada has toward increased accessibility and the removal of barriers to participation in hockey across the country.
What do you think sponsors need to be thinking about going into 2022 and beyond?
- Mark (Toronto Blue Jays) stressed that brands must think of sponsorship as more than an allocation of marketing dollars. He explained that there is a strategic component involved wherein brands must consider how the investment will further their objectives in ways that other forms of marketing spend can’t do.
- Tim (COC) highlighted that brands must focus on the purpose of their organization and look to align with properties that share those values. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and macro-objectives can be leveraged through sponsorship, so more of an emphasis should be placed on purpose-driven focus.
- Patrick (Calgary Stampede) said that sponsorship presents a unique opportunity for brands to foster strong connections with consumers. He recommends brands leverage this by co-creating something unique with their property partners to really stand out and be highly relevant to the property’s fans.
- Dana (Hockey Canada) also talked about the importance of purpose, and encouraged brands to do good through their sponsorships, connecting them back to CSR initiatives. She highlighted that consumers have been through a lot in the last 19 months. Properties, and their sponsors, have an opportunity to help Canadians heal and come back together around shared experiences and shared values.
A big thank you to Dana, Mark, Patrick, and Tim for taking the time to participate in an engaging conversation.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS…
Dana Gladstone is the Vice President, Partnership Strategy and Licensing at Hockey Canada. Dana has been a leader in the Canadian sponsorship marketing business for over 30 years. At Hockey Canada, Dana is responsible for client service and property value creation. Her previous experience prepared her well for this position as she has worked for the Canadian Football League and Molson Sports and Entertainment (the Molson Indy) on the property side, Momentum, Lang and Associates and IMG on the agency side and Canadian Tire on the client side of the sponsorship business. She has led the development of award-winning sponsorship programs including the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Helmet Program and Purolator Tackle Hunger, and through her career has worked with many of Canada’s most active sponsorship marketers including General Motors, Molson, TELUS, Nike, Esso & Tim Hortons among others.
Mark Ditmars is Vice President, Corporate Partnerships at the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club. Mark joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization in July of 2011. Before joining the Toronto Blue Jays, he spent 20 years with Labatt Breweries of Canada in various sales and marketing roles, including Director of Marketing and Brand Management for Bud Light and Budweiser, where he developed marketing strategies for sports properties, including the NFL, Super Bowl, Formula 1, and NASCAR. Mark was formerly Vice President, Sales for EMI Music Canada where he was responsible for sales revenue of many artists, including Katy Perry, Coldplay, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd through retail channels such as Walmart and iTunes.
Patrick O’Brien is Head of Sponsorship, Calgary Stampede. Pat leads a very diverse and passionate group of over 250 sponsors and community builders while leading a team of high performing staff who manage the relationships with some of Canada’s largest and most active brands, including, Labatt Breweries, BMO Bank of Montreal, Coca-Cola, GMC and McDonald’s. Prior to joining the Stampede, Pat worked for six years at Alpine Canada and the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. During this time, he managed the F.I.S. Race Events across the country with a talented group of staff and volunteers to fulfil sponsorship agreements and TV Broadcast rights.
Tim Ritcey is the Director, Business Development & Commercial Affairs, Canadian Olympic Committee. At the Canadian Olympic Committee, Tim’s dual focus is to forge unique, meaningful and sustainable partnerships which drive significant value for stakeholders, whilst protecting and maximizing their return on investment. Over the past few years in this role, he has helped bring on several new partners to the COC partner family, such as, Sobeys, Kraft Heinz Canada, SkipTheDishes and most recently lululemon. With almost 15 years of experience as a sports marketing professional, Tim has been fortunate to work with best-in-class sport properties, such as Major League Soccer in New York City, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.