Image credit: Toronto Maple Leafs

Never say never.

Reports claim that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once proclaimed the league would never allow brands to have logo patches on team jerseys, but a pandemic can change many things. (For the record, I keep changing many pre-pandemic “nevers,” a dozen and counting as of this writing, so I empathize with the commish.)

Recently we have seen a flood of new deals as the league’s marketers shrewdly capitalize on the opportunity that the NBA started in 2017 and futbol began in 1817 (or so it seems). So the move by the NHL seemed to me like a natural, and probably more lucrative, by-product of their helmet logo test. 

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So today, we have a flurry of deals. Canada Life on the Jets jersey. Gila River Resorts on the Arizona Coyotes uni. Dairy Farmers of Ontario on the Maple Leafs jersey. Rapid7 on the Bruins jersey. RBC with the Habs. 

I have some questions for our community:

  1. Do you like the jersey patches?
  2. Do you think it was long overdue?
  3. Is the commercial value there?
  4. Which team and brand is the best fit?
  5. Which team and brand are the worst fit?
  6. How about some predictions on nicknames and memes that may result?
  7. How best should these new partners leverage this affiliation?
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I am old enough to remember when the rink boards and ice were clean and brandless, and thinking how odd it was when I saw European hockey, and they had ads on the boards and helmets on every player. Yep, that is a Black & White memory; due to its age, we didn’t have a colour TV at that point. But given the history of marketing soccer (sorry, Imran) teams in Europe with logos and third jersey concepts long before North America, it made sense that their hockey teams followed suit.

So first the NBA, now the NHL. Will MLB follow suit? The NFL? (I suspect not for the latter, given their TV contracts.) But the sports marketing world is shifting beneath our feet daily with NIL, Web3, crypto, NFTs, and sports betting. So is it no wonder those changes are now front and center for the fastest sport on earth?

The Era of Belonging

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

One fantastic trend emerging at the SMCC Sponsorship Marketing Awards last week is that a new era has come into our industry. 

No longer are we blindly chasing impressions, and money can’t buy experiences. Instead, the brands, agencies, and properties that comprise our unique industry focus on Impact, Innovation, and Inclusivity. 

Whether it be Molson providing hockey content in multiple languages, the best in show program from BMO supporting soccer families in need or my client OLG collecting for the community, many of the award winners had a powerful intersection between purpose, cause, and branding. 

The awards shared last week inspire my point today. I believe we are now in what I call the Era of Belonging. What is belonging? It is that fantastic sanctuary where someone feels connected by a common purpose, allowed to express their shared passion, be rewarded for their effort, and feel accepted for who they are. 

The feeling of Belonging is what every company’s DEI efforts should be pursuing. But it’s far more than a CSR play or a social media campaign. Belonging is good business. Your profits will soar when people feel comfortable thinking they own part of the team, the brand, and the revenue. Your employee engagement will reach new heights. Your brand will become a movement.

This November, we will dive deeply into Belonging at SponsorshipX Montreal. We will hear research on which sport your consumers and fans feel they most belong to. Up-and-coming changemakers will detail how their social justice activities utilize grassroots communities of a shared passion for creating an impact far beyond their size. There will be classrooms to study sponsorship impact, workshops on doing presentations that connect more powerfully with your internal stakeholders, and interactive chats with marketers in the business of Belonging. 

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

At its core, the sponsorship business is about brands creating opportunities for consumers to enjoy the things they love. Would the festival, the fundraiser, or the match occur without corporate partners or supporters, you could ask? But, of course, it is no longer enough to be about the simple act of underwriting. The sponsorship industry must do more in this era and all we are going through. It must help change the world. To create a place where no matter what you look like, who you love, or how you identify, you feel you Belong.


Three Years is a Long Time

Image credit: Matt Sylvestre

Sometime in May 2019, I walked off my SponsorshipX Toronto stage on top of the world.

My baby, the sponsorship marketing conference I had launched in 2005, was heading to Montpellier the following week for our first European event. We had just concluded an incredible event in Toronto partnered with Sick Kids with the inspiring theme Every Brand Has a Heart and entertaining sessions such as an interview with Andy King of Fyre Festival fame. France wasn’t the only destination on our minds as we concluded our TO event by announcing our 2020 lineup of events, including Vegas at the NFL Draft, Montreal in partnership with Athletics Canada, and Tokyo alongside the COC for the 2020 Olympics.

Forgive me if you feel my top-of-the-world comment was over the top. That is where I thought we were. 

I was hoping you could pause for a moment and consider this question. What was the worst of all the professional or work things you missed or lost during the pandemic? What was the program, promotion, or passion point you didn’t get to fulfill? You need to think carefully about this question through your 2019 lens. To consider it in hindsight will cloud it with situations during the pandemic that became situational lessons.

There is no question that the past few years have made me realize how challenging life is. Issues around mental health, work-life balance, diversity, and belonging that I somehow ignored have become persistent and meaningful. But unfortunately, it took the trauma of the situation to bring them to life. 

I feel like 2019 was so long ago. I was shocked at how emotional I was at the close of SponsorshipX Whistler a week ago. Writing these words brings back those feelings. It has been three years since my favourite time of year. Three years since, I have been able to host, serve, and commiserate with my industry pals. 

Three years. 

The mountains of Whistler called me, and it was an inspiring few days for me to be back among my peers. Nothing can compare to being together to share and support one another. If you were one of the strong seventy in Whistler, I would thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

I am a preparation freak, but I don’t think I did an outstanding job preparing myself for the moment of truth. I rehearsed my opening keynote and studied my Q&A notes, and researched mine—interview subjects. Even took time to deliberate over the flow of the event. But in all that prep, I did not once consider the emotional impact of stepping back on stage. 

I can’t lie. I am not at the top of the world. I am incredibly grateful to all who came to Whistler; I am excited to host more events. But a part of me is angry, and a part of me is confused.

The anger comes from missing out on those three years. The confused part of me questions why I am being so petty.

The pragmatic part of me says to hell with the past three years and the following three. If the pandemic has taught me anything, I should no longer look years down the road for personal fulfillment. But, no, we have zero clue what is around the corner. 

Perhaps the next thirty minutes of my life are a more helpful timeline to consider. The next half-hour may not be more controllable than the next three years, but we must enjoy today as tomorrow has never been more uncertain.

As the years have gone by, I am still learning.

Emancipation Day 2022

Image credit: Yazmin Butcher

We live in a country where slavery was once legal; women could not vote, and our Japanese population endured internment camps and swaths of Indigenous children taken from their families.

I trust many of you know that yesterday, August 1st, was Emancipation Day in Canada. Oddly enough, I saw more mention of Juneteenth, even within my business ecosystem, than Emancipation Day. In a typically Canadian way, I guess we have allowed American history and politics to overshadow our own. I am not surprised when people are unaware that Canada once legalized slavery. Perhaps it was because we were still a colony and not a country. Or maybe it is because we often don’t look as harshly at ourselves as we should. 

We need to. 

Any reaction to my statement being sensational is factually correct. Emancipation brought Freedom to my people. Freedom is a special status for any Canadian from new Canadians, non-French speakers living in Quebec, or a family who has been here for generations. Freedom is not a group of protestors waving swastikas and confederate flags and impeding others from living and working in peace.

Our country needs to think long and hard about words such as Freedom.
I can’t but reflect on the Pope’s non-apology tour of Canada that if I were Indigenous and not Black, I might not be here to share these words with you. These are words that I have written and spoken before, but they are worth repeating. I grew up in Orillia, near a reserve, and I am sure I was not taught properly about Indigenous history. Let alone I was a young child running around the same streets that others may have been taken from and sent away. 
Why is Emancipation Day important to non-black folks? I think this question should elicit a powerful rejoinder for any person in our country. I think everyone needs to understand that.

I have no time for the oppression Olympics many people play – “My parents came here with nothing,” “I grew up in a rough hood,” “Nobody gave me a chance.” But unfortunately, none of this equates to the legalized persecution Black, Asian, and Indigenous groups have faced in Canada. Emancipation Day should be more than a moment for Black people to celebrate. It should signal for you to educate yourself on what Freedom and fairness mean for the future of so many.

Those groups that have always, and will always, enjoy liberty and protection should work harder to understand those who have not and seek it.

C-tribe Live

It was a great honour to attend the C-Tribe Festival last week in Edmonton.

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Created and curated by my friend Sahr Saffa, C-Tribe brought together a compelling cohort of thinkers, innovators, and collaborators. I learned, I shared, and yes, I cried. 

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My favourite moment was hearing the magical words of Titilope Sonuga, poet laureate of Edmonton and a childhood friend of Sahr’s. Titi’s message of seizing power and having faith encouraged the voices of others who followed her on stage. 

Nikiesha Lawson, from the Black Talent Initiative, orchestrated a beautiful panel on Employee Resource Groups, featuring Emiliano Void, founder of nuwave Equity.

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I also enjoyed hearing from Dr. Robin Mazumder, a Vanier scholar, about how physical environments impact diversity, Jacqui Regenbogen from Sauce Labs on tackling DEI differently across global markets, and Deloitte’s Olaolu Adeleye teaching me what diaspora truly means. 

C-Tribe also attracted speakers and attendees from RBC, Innovate Calgary, and Mitacs, along with dozens of entrepreneurs and investors. While I only attended the Festivals’ conference portion, along with a superb fashion show, the event rolled into music, gaming, and more fashion for the weekend.

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C-Tribe is a hidden gem in an emerging gem of a city, that you should consider mining in the future. I share the C-Tribe Manifesto with you to get you pumped for the 2023 event.

C-Tribe Manifesto

We are the misfits, but not the misfortunate. 

The underestimated, but not the under-deserving. 

Rough around the edges, albeit the diamonds in the rough. 

We’re building a world that’s architected by more and owned by all.

A global village that leads with kindness and breaks down barriers.

A collision of like-minds where no two are alike. 

We are building different. Literally, physically and metaphysically.

A gathering IRL and in the metaverse. Built by the cultural and creative communities.

Celebrate culture. 

Celebrate diversity. 

Help innovative and creative people achieve their dreams.

To those still on the fence, tell them: LFG.

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Open & Shut

I share a curse with my friend Don Mayo.

I find it difficult to attend events without pausing to evaluate the activations, participant journey, signage, and layout. I suspect that we are not alone in this manner. It is probably a curse shared by many of us in this biz. No doubt we owe all of our friends and family we do this to as well!

Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend The Open at St. Andrew’s Links. The Old Course venue lived up to everything you may have seen on television or experienced yourself. Whether it be the milestone or the pandemic, the demand to attend this year was so strong the Royal & Ancient ad to resort to a ballot system for tickets.  I witnessed crowds of many happy attendees who were the lucky winners invited to join a record crowd of nearly 300,000 people. 

St. Andrews is a town of less than twenty-thousand, so the smooth hosting of one of the most prestigious events in the world is an incredible accomplishment. Calling the logistics smooth would be an understatement that does not give the experience due. The Open and the people involved deserve much more than that. From the ScotRail staff handing out free water to visitors to the countless volunteers marshalling the crowds across the fairways, they all deserve a standing ovation. 

This entry is an unofficial Scottish Tourism ad, and if the script for this blog is heading that way, it is deservedly so. It was my first time in Scotland, and somehow every single person we encountered was unbelievable. How can an entire country be s good-natured? Everyone we met from the Fountain Cafe on Grove St, where we had breakfast almost every day, to the young couple from Dundee celebrating their third wedding anniversary with a night out in Edinburgh, to the guest services team at the New Club in St. Andrews to the taxi driver in Eyemouth was the most pleasant, welcoming and gracious folks I have ever met. (PS  the “New Club’ in St. Andrews is a golf club founded in 1902. So relatively new by Scottish golf standards.)

Maybe it was the sun; we had a flawless week of weather; the end of BJ’s reign as British Prime Minister, which only came up every five minutes; or the aversion of a Tran strike; the people were happy happy happy. 

So, Mark, is that the secret to a great event? Have happy people involved? Maybe I say. The British Open was a smooth operation far beyond the logistics. The merchandise shop was a mall-sized footprint that felt like an Apple store for souvenirs. The Loch Lomond Whiskey bar execution was so flawless that you never stood in line for a cocktail. Lack of lineups also characterized the restrooms, the free onsite phone charging, and even the shuttle bus. 

There I go again about the logistics, but details done right with a smile are worth mentioning. Again and again. 

The Mountain Is Calling

What mountainous challenge are you facing today? Is inflation, talent shortages, or your mental health blowing directly in your face? Perhaps the mountain you’re facing is the one you have yet to recognize fully. 

2022 is your year to climb the mountain, but you can’t do it alone. I believe wholeheartedly that a lonely journey is a trip that will lead to nowhere. All of us need guides, mentors, coaches, and sponsors. 

I have assembled a cast of advocates for you to meet at SponsorshipX Whistler. I am thrilled to be back in real life with the conference magic we have created since 2005. So join us in the mountains as we connect, collaborate, and celebrate one another. I can promise you inspiration, development, and belonging. I can promise you that in spades. 

First off, our setting is magical. It’s Whistler during Crankworx, the world’s largest mountain biking festival featuring the Red Bull Joyride. It’s a magical setting with a bonkers event on top and a fantastic vibe for an exclusive event where you can build unbelievable lifelong relationships. Relationships that will propel your career, your brand, your company and your trajectory. We don’t do networking events. Instead, we do Yoga, Biking, Hiking, and patio takeovers. 

Our conference sessions are in gondolas high above the firm terrain, and our workshops are in the retail environment throughout the village. Oh, we have a conference center, but it’s in a grove next to a lake and accessible by bike from the town. Even better, we will supply the cycle for you. 

The venues are as unique as our speakers. We are going to hear about the future of Electrification from GM, understand how ARC’TERYX does product innovation, brainstorm how to use partnerships to create more opportunities for women in sport, and hear why RE/MAX chose the NBA. 

Want more? How about new activation ideas for Golf Canada, social Justice initiatives from Blacks in Sports Business, Black Beyond Sport, and Indspire. We are going to tackle everything from how to organize your sponsorship assets to tackling mental health challenges. 

I am so inspired to write these words to you. I believe in the power of connection and relationships, and real-life engagement. I think the relationships we build make us all stronger. 

So take the time for yourself to tackle this mountain; we will meet you at the bottom and help you get to the top.

What Can You Learn in Fifteen Seconds?

The Fifteen Seconds Festival in Graz takes its name from the importance of the first fifteen seconds in any encounter – a meeting, a date, a presentation. So within the first Fifteen Seconds of this blog, I am going to tell you I was fortunate enough to attend this fantastic event again last week and therefore am inspired to share a series of fifteen-second learnings shared by people I met and sessions I heard. 
So pick one from the stack below and enjoy a very expedited masterclass. 

@Nina Meuller – the importance of making Failure Your Friend. Start by doing a premortem before starting any transformation, campaign or project. 

@George Nimeh – we should do more presentations about the good that came out of the pandemic and not just the bad. 
@Aurel Hosenenn – the power of being of understanding yourself through meditation, solo retreats, and self-care. 
@Emilie Colker – design is crucial to reframing and solving problems 
@Sandy Heydt – people over profits, people over profits, people over profits. 

@Allan Dransfield – not to be afraid of random strangers 
@Eena Kim – you need to ensure your branding does not lose its soul
@Tamas Trunk – to have faith in Gen Z to save our world

@Stoyan Yankov – productivity is not about efficiency; it is a state of mind. 

@Samantha Yarwood – losing everything during the pandemic was a blessing. 
@Alex Brueckmann – JOMO (joy of missing out) over FOMO
@Laurent Petit – you can do good for yourself and the planet simultaneously. 

See you in Fifteen Seconds!


With Sponsorship X returning to Whistler this August I thought it was fitting to repost some of our great times captured in my 2018 blog post:

Dear Whistler;

Thank you for being such an enchanting hostess for sponsorshipX.

“This was the 3rd sponsorshipX conference I attended and the best one yet. The workshops were insightful and the networking opportunities were second to none. In addition to establishing some great business contacts, I came home with a few new friends”

Your twin mountains embraced my sponsorshipX friends with passion.
Your rugged beauty and massive peaks challenged our souls.
Your endless skies, filled with sun and smoke, inspired us.

“It was an outstanding conference hosted in an amazing part of our country. I thought the topics were incredibly relevant, presented by engaging individuals.  I learned a lot and made many great connections.”

You were the perfect hostess.

Perfect because your mountains provided an apt metaphor for our conference theme. Perfect because your mountains provided an arena for our delegates to become bikers, hikers, and zip liners. Perfect because you challenged every person at sponsorshipX to challenge themselves in new ways they never thought possible.

“…this was the most impactful conference that we’ve been to. Everybody was excited to be there, open to chat and learn, and generally easy to engage with.” 

When I decided two years ago that you would be the first ever hostess of sponsorshipX, my only hope was that you would speak to everyone, the way you did to me. I was wrong about that. You sang to them. You sang to them in a way that the lyrics they heard were different for each of them, yet the tune was familiar. You made it personal. You made it powerful. You made it real.

Dear Whistler. I know my thanks are something that would be shared by all of our sponsorshipX guests. You can see the gratitude in these pictures I have shared. You can sense your impact in the words that I have shared. You can feel the gratitude in this message I have shared.

“Many thanks to all of you, and the entire T1 team for pulling off such an incredible and engaging conference… was off the charts and think you nailed not only the spectacular venue, but the approach to snack sized content was ideal.”

All I have to left to say is that I can’t wait to come back to you.


Head Coach, sponsorshipX

Sunrise, Sunrise

Sunrise, sunrise

Looks like mornin’ in your eyes.

Thanks to Ally Love, the words of Norah Jones sang through my pods this morning as my feet feverishly worked my Peloton. Jones’ ballad opened my eyes and finally unlocked much of what I felt these past few weeks. 

Like so many, I have been searching for the words to express my personal take on the anguish happening worldwide. But my hands were blocked by the self-doubt of who am I to try to find words to help others get through another day. (Credit to Ms. Jones for my poaching more of her lyrics.)

It is with sadness for me to think of the many people that will never see a sunrise again or get to share it with a lost loved one. 

Mornings are so inspiring. This past weekend on my first visiting New Brunswick, a group of us was up at 5:30 AM in St. Martins to see the sun emerge and the tide retreat across Quaco Bay. It did not disappoint. 

I love the sun because I love mornings. I am inspired by the mystery that every day brings and the opportunities to rewrite my personal script. To achieve more. Course correct. To regain a lost friend or meet a new collaborator. 

This week many of my friends and colleagues at CAMH, Sun Life, and the Mh3 Collective are rising with the sun to raise money for mental health research. Every day we lose people to suicide in this country. Every day families are devastated by the loss of a loved one. Every day millions of people face depression and a variety of disorders that impact their mental, physical, and emotional health.

I knew this week I was planning to financially and emotionally support my teammates in the Sunrise Challenge virtual fundraiser. But it was not until I heard Jones’ lyrics that these words came to me. I encourage you to listen to her, yourself, and a loved one. I encourage you to participate or support someone participating in the Sunrise Challenge. 

But most of all, I encourage you to speak up if the events in the world are causing you anxiety because they are indeed doing the same to someone who would like to hear from you. 

We can help one another rise.

To donate please check out this website: Sunrise Challenge – Donate | Support CAMH – Sunrise Challenge