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As the 2010 Winter Olympics draw near, corporate Calgary gets ready to cash in by sponsoring Olympic hopefuls

They won bronze.  Now, they are going for gold.  They are the staff at McLean & Partners Wealth Management Ltd., who received bronze medals in 2006 at a company dinner atop Whistler Mountain for reaching $1 billion in assets under management.

 

And, if the Calgary-based investment management firm hits the $2-billion mark by March 31, 2010, employees will be presented with gold medals at the same spot, but this time where dozens of Olympians proudly stood on the podium just one month earlier for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  And, if all goes well, joining the McLean & Partners’ celebration will be two Canadian Olympic athletes the company has been sponsoring for the past two years.

Sponsoring two Calgary athletes – hockey player Carla MacLeod and skeleton racer Jon Montgomery – is a no-brainer for company president and CEO Brent McLean. He sees the sponsorships as a win-win for both McLean & Partners and the Olympic athletes.

“When you build a company, you build a team,” McLean says.  “The team sometimes needs a rallying point to continue to be inspired, to be motivated, to generate bigger and bigger successes.”  And what better motivators to rally a company team, to encourage higher goals, than Olympic athletes?

Colin Young, a partner at Agenda Sport Marketing Inc., says more Calgary companies are supporting Olympic athletes with sponsorships of $2,500 to $25,000 per year.  Yet, he quickly adds that only about 10 per cent of the 350 athletes training in the Calgary and Canmore areas have personal sponsorships.

“Most companies do it for internal corporate reasons, where they use it to impact their corporate culture and have their company follow an athlete through the ups and downs until the Olympic Games,” Young says.  “It’s an incredible, all-inclusive experience, knowing that your company is supporting an Olympic athlete.  You feel like you’re part of the Games; you’re tied to the TV.”

In 2003, ARC Energy Trust developed a program to sponsor athletes through the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary.  That initiative has since been expanded to directly support athletes by hiring them as employees.  “We recognized there was a powerful aura around the athletes,” says John Dielwart, president and CEO of ARC Energy Resources Ltd.  They are tremendous people because they’ve got drive, commitment, desire and an incredible work ethic, or they wouldn’t be at the top of their sport in Canada, he adds.

Currently on ARC Energy’s payroll are skeleton world champion Lindsay Alcock and diver Erik Petursson.  Petursson retired prior to the Beijing Olympics, but is now a full-fledged ARC employee, due in large part to his MBA from the University of Western Ontario.

For ARC Energy and McLean & Partners, helping to bankroll athletes isn’t about garnering media attention; it’s simply so that the athletes can focus on their sport and to build company culture and moral.

In signing sponsorship contracts with companies, athletes agree to meeting and speaking with the staff.  In Alcock’s case, while competing on the world circuit, she regularly blogs so employees can read about her ups and downs.  Along with doing some promotional speaking and appearances, Alcock also visits ARC’s office when not competing or training.

In early November, Montgomery brought McLean & Partners’ staff and family members to Canada Olympic Park for rides down the skeleton and luge tracks.  And it’s expected that MacLeod will speak to the firm’s clients to tell her story.  “It’s a touch point,” says McLean. “There will be some clients in the audience who go, ‘Good on my guys, I’m proud of being part of that firm.’?”

Both Dielwart and McLean are disappointed that the federal government gives athletes only $10,800 and $18,000 (depending on their carding, which is a means of determining athletes’ level of competition) to live on, forcing many athletes to take on part-time jobs.  And they are equally displeased that more companies aren’t stepping up to the plate and funding athletes.

“I tried convincing other business owners,” says Dielwart.  “Too many people bottom-line it – they want to know: What’s the benefit that I’m going to get out of it? But it’s an intangible benefit, more of a cultural benefit.”

Source:  Calgary Inc. Magazine (December 2008)

Note: Emphasis added.