RAGHAD A.K./THE VARSITY

The sixth annual Sports Industry Conference hosted by the University of Toronto Sports and Business Association (UTSB) and Rotman Sports Business Association was held from February 10–11. With the theme ‘Positioning in Sports’, the conference provided students and young professionals with an opportunity to interact with and hear from different professionals within the sports industry.

DAY 1: Playing Your Position

The first panel provided insight from the brand perspective of the industry. Jacqueline Ryan, Vice President Sponsorship and Partnership Programs at Scotiabank, explained the importance of hockey to the bank’s sponsorship and strategies.

Nigel Scott, VP Sponsorship and Experiences for Rogers Communications remarked on the strength of the Raptors’ ‘We The North’ campaign, highlighting how the marketing strategy doesn’t rely on performance to engage audiences outside Toronto.

“Agency Panel” hosted an exciting debate about the future of live sports and consumer trends. Trojan One founder and chair of the Canadian Sponsorship Forum Mark Harrison said the future of sport is bleak.

Matthew Logue, COO of S&E Sponsorship Group recognized that “the Olympic model is broken.” Logue maintains that the ability of live sports to capture people’s attention is unrivaled.

The speakers at “the Property Panel” were from different sectors of the sports industry. Brenda Andress serves as the commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She’s worked there for eight years and expresses how the goal for women’s hockey in Canada is to continue growing the sport for women.

Andress understands the importance of fans to sport: “At the end of the day, it’s all about entertainment. None of this exist without the fans in any sport.” She elaborated, saying that keeping fans entertained is important to success.

Mark Ditmars, Vice President, Corporate Partnerships and Luxury Suites for the Toronto Blue Jays, discussed how important Jays fans are to Canada because they are the only Canadian Major League Baseball team. His advice for the fans attending the conference was to never lose their passion for sport.

Dan Mackenzie, Vice President & Managing Director of NBA Canada, has spent 17 years with the NBA. He explained that the NBA is on it way to launching a new eSports league, which will make the league more accessible. He also spoke briefly about the Raptors players and how they are role models in the community.

Kyle McMann is a Group Vice President with the NHL; he has been working within the NHL for 11 years. He talked about the success of the World Cup of Hockey, held in Toronto this past September. McMann noted that holding the Cup in Toronto helped to unlock international hockey fandom in European countries.

He also spoke about technology in the NHL and how now livestream through Twitter is resulting in new ways to create value and engage with fans. McMann’s advice for young professionals and students interested in working in the sports industry is to be excited and passionate about the industry and to think of new ways to make it better.

Michael Rossi, President of Adidas Group Canada, was the keynote speaker of “Putting it All Together.” He touched upon the key features of the different brands within Adidas and their contributions to the different sports leagues.

Rossi said “Sports have the power to change lives.” He added that the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto was the first time Adidas promoted on ice, and it was successful. He hopes that in a few years, Adidas will be a brand for the NHL.

DAY 2: Changing Your Position

A panel featuring former athletes included Steven Caldwell and Rex Kalamian.

Caldwell is a retired Scottish international soccer player and former captain of the Toronto FC. When asked if he would’ve continued his career if he hadn’t suffered a severe injury, Caldwell said he probably would have continued to play for one or two more seasons; he chose to retire because he did not want to miss any more games due to injury.

Since his retirement, he has taken on the role of Director of Corporate Development for Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.

Caldwell is looking forward to Toronto FC’s upcoming season, especially after the success the team has achieved over the past two seasons.

Rex Kalamian, the Assistant Coach for the Toronto Raptors, used to play basketball in college but his career was also cut prematurely due to an injury. Kalamian got into coaching because he loved to teach the sport to other players.

When referring to his role as an assistant with the Raptors, Kalamian describes himself as a counsellor, a coach, and a teacher. 

The final speaker of the two-day conference was Toronto Maple Leafs President & Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan has made his mark on the Leafs by shaking up the team’s culture through drastic changes to the team, including hiring a new coach and a new general manager, trading two goalies, and drafting last year’s franchise star Auston Matthews.

“[They were] all good moves with big risks,” Shanahan said regarding the changes he made since he took over.

Shanahan’s believes that “competitors respect competitors.” He believes that the logo is the face of brand, not particular players. Shanahan explained that he saw the NHL as a family when he was a player, which led to him working in the NHL after he retired.

Overall, the conference provided attendees the rare opportunity to hear from leading professionals in the sports industry.

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