The Highly Effective Habits of Tod Leiweke: American Sports Marketing Magician


 By Dave Doroghy

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Throughout my 25 years in sports marketing I have seen a lot of people come and go. Most career trajectories in this niche industry follow predictable rises up the corporate ladder, bouncing between different teams, events, sports marketing agencies, and leagues. The most prestigious jobs tend to be at the league level. But 20 years ago there was this one guy who came up from the USA and stood head and shoulders above all of us. He brought a big bag of American magic dust along with him that he sprinkled all over the Vancouver sports marketing community. His magic dust made big, ambitious, wonderful things happen, and when he left four years later, everything had changed. His leadership raised the bar in the sports business scene in Western Canada and inspires hundreds of us still in the industry today.

When I first met Tod Leiweke in the fall of 1994, I knew he was different. He was bold; he had big ideas; he gave new meaning to the words “enthusiastic” and “positive.” He was American and embodied all the good things about that culture—a culture where pro sports is almost a religion. He was funny as all get-out too and boy was he smart. By the time he arrived in Vancouver, the guy was already so successful at such a young age that it couldn’t help but make you just a bit jealous.

He was two years younger than me, and at 34 he had already been the president of an NBA team. It was like he had a rocket pack strapped onto his back that propelled him upward to more responsibility and bigger job titles with every move he made. Never one to stay in a city for more than a few years, Tod traversed North America, super-charging the revenue streams of different NBA, NHL, NFL, and professional soccer teams. But it was not where he came from that impressed me. It was where I knew he was going. There was just something about him that convinced me this guy was rising to the top.

That’s why I found it so prophetic and gratifying last month when I was leafing through the New York Times ( and learned that Tod Leiweke had been named the chief operating officer of the NFL. In an industry that is fueled by fierce competition both on and off the field, Tod beat out countless others salivating over the thought of having that title on their business cards. Putting down the newspaper I thought, “Here I am living on a beat up old leaky barge on the Fraser River and this guy is in a big Manhattan office running one of the world’s most popular sports leagues.” What happened? I guess I turned right when I should have turned left. All kidding aside, Tod has had a big positive influence on my mindset, skill set, and, above all, attitude.

He spent four years up here in Canada leading the charge on sales and marketing for a new arena being built in Vancouver called General Motors Place (now Rogers Arena), as well as the newly acquired NBA Vancouver Grizzlies and the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. In the mid ‘90s, the Northwest Arena Corporation, which belonged to Arthur Griffiths, owned those three assets. I call it a company, but when I joined Northwest Arena in the spring of 1994, it was actually more of a concept or a dream. The impossible dream was to build Canada’s first privately funded sports arena, fill it with about two million hockey, basketball, and concert fans a year, and not go bankrupt along the way. At the time there were plenty of landmines to sidestep, like NHL labour disputes, a sinking Canadian dollar, and a city that knew nothing about hoops. When it came to basketball rules, most Vancouver fans thought that “travelling” was what you did to get to and from the game. The smartest thing Arthur Griffiths did was to hire Tod and get him to travel up across the border and bring some of his good old-fashioned American “can-do” attitude with him.

Before Tod joined the Northwest Arena Corporation, we were a bunch of talented but disparate people bumping into each other without making much traction. We hadn’t yet sold nearly enough tickets to acquire the Grizzlies franchise, and the building in which we would be housing the team was nothing more than a giant hole in the ground between a viaduct and a bridge in the middle of downtown Vancouver. The NHL was about to go on strike, meaning that our only source of revenue would soon be drying up and we were taking on debt, debt, and more debt.

The NBA had dictated we needed to sell 12,500 season tickets before they would give the green light to the new franchise. There was a bell in the sales office that was rung every time a new Grizzlies ticket order came in. That summer it all but fell silent as we stalled at 5,000 tickets sold. Renewals on the Canucks season tickets for their last season at the old Pacific Coliseum had also slowed down. When it came to my area of sponsorship sales, we had landed one or two new companies that summer, but nowhere near enough to keep the consortium of banks that had lent us money off of our backs. And the constant July rain made the steel girders that reinforced the new arena’s structure perilously slippery, which delayed construction and pushed back the building’s completion. If the arena wasn’t finished on time, the new basketball team and the old the hockey team would have no place to play for the ‘95–‘96 season, and the players, fans, and staff would all be homeless—in more ways than one. Pro sports organizations are exciting places to work, but without a significant turnaround, our future was looking quite bleak.

When Tod took the helm as the executive vice-president in September of ‘94, he knew exactly what we had to do to keep those creditors at bay. He had the business acumen, skills, and experience to navigate graciously through our troubled business waters, and to quickly steer the ticket sales meter over to the right. The guy was unreal—Tod spells his name with one “G,” as in “God.” Come to think of it, I believe shortly after he joined us, it stopped raining.

Tod quickly assimilated into the Vancouver business community and in just a few months got to know every prominent person in the city, plus everyone else—he became best friends with top lawyers, real-estate developers, restaurateurs, politicians, car dealers, professors, doctors, and retailers. He got to know more people in three months than most of us will meet in a lifetime. A somewhat tall, regular-looking guy, nothing about his appearance particularly stood out, and maybe it was his not standing out that put people more at ease. He wasn’t brash or flashy. He was good at public speaking, but it’s not is if he was a particularly gifted orator. He worked hard, but no harder than most of us. If I had to choose one memorable attribute that he had, it would be that he made people feel good about themselves.

One of Tod’s mantras was “community.” He strove to develop ways that the teams could weave themselves into the fabric of British Columbians’ lives in worthwhile ways, and he believed that sports could drive positive change in young people’s lives. He sought out opportunities to give back; thus, under his leadership the Canucks and Grizzlies did more outreach programs and charity work than ever before. Developing fan support at the grassroots level was another one of his battle cries. It sounds corny, but he really did put the fans first.

His most famous mantra was “Bums in Seats,” as he so eloquently put it. Did I mention that time was tight? His message to everyone at the Northwest Arena Corporation was simple. The entire focus of the organization, no matter what department, switched to ticket sales. By November the ticket needle had moved up by 2,500 orders to reach 7,500 pre-sold season tickets. Bells rang out, but it was not enough. That’s when Tod literally turned the measurement needle upside down and instead of tracking what we had sold, we tracked what we had left to sell to meet NBA Commissioner David Stern’s 12,500 threshold by Christmas. Tod hatched the slogan: “The Drive for Five” and infused more resolve and passion into an already full-blown promotional campaign backed by a disciplined group of foot soldiers following his orders. Selling 5,000 more tickets became our reason for being alive—failure was not an option.

All 150 members of the office staff gallantly pitched in. The accountants rose at 5 a.m. to meet on the Burrard Street Bridge where they formed part of a Burma-Shave sign line, holding cardboard signs advertising the “Drive for Five.” After work, the engineers made group ticket presentations to their sons’ Boy Scout packs. Canucks souvenir shop salespeople met with all the service clubs in town to get them excited about the new NBA team. Twelve young people dying to get into the sports business made cold calls in an old-fashioned telephone boiler room 12 hours a day. Of the dozen enthusiastic greenhorns that sat there all day smiling and dialing, only the top two producers would go on to get full-time jobs with the new basketball team. See? I told you this was a competitive industry.

Despite the long hours and Glengarry Glen Ross-style nose-to-the-grindstone sales urgency, Tod somehow made it fun. Once during a lunch with Wayne Holmes, the owner of Milestones restaurant chain, Tod liked the waiter’s personality and great attitude so much that he hired Graham Wall on the spot and added him to the mix in the boiler room. He also pitched Holmes on buying 500 Grizzlies season tickets. Back in the office, just for the heck of it, he asked us for bets on whether he would close the deal. Up until that day, the largest ticket order for which the sales bell had ever rung was a couple dozen season tickets. A guy in the Canucks communications department named Steve Frost jokingly took him up on the bet and it was decided that whoever lost would have to do 25 pushups on the boardroom table during an upcoming Thursday morning management meeting. A week later, Steve was on the table—in front of all the executives and a dozen vice-presidents and company directors—bending and straightening his arms 25 times, keeping his back straight while supporting his body with his hands and toes.

The mid-’90s was a wonderful era when the leaders of the two teams and the arena were all larger than life. Pat Quinn, general manager and president of the Canucks, was an original player on the 1970 squad and a true legend in Vancouver hockey history. Stu Jackson had been handpicked by the NBA to head up the Grizzlies as president and had the gravitas, stature, and personality to pull it off. John McCaw from Seattle was our absentee part-owner. He sold his company, McCaw Cellular, to ATT for billions in 1995. In the seven years I worked for the teams and the arena, I only met McCaw twice. He struck me as a cross between Thurston Howell, III and Howard Hughes. His Hughes-esque habits made him a bit of a recluse and he rarely came to the arena. Instead, McCaw sent his super bright hi-tech sidekick, John Chapple, who was the former chairman of Nextel, to Vancouver to run his sports business affairs. Then there was Arthur Griffiths, a local Vancouverite whose family had owned the Canucks since their inception, and who had a great reputation in the city, respected by everyone. Last, throw in the smartest lawyer I have ever met, a guy named Mike Korenburg from Toronto, and add Leiweke to the mix and you end up with a pretty dynamic team of overachievers.

All of these men had large plush offices with thick expensive carpets on the 4th floor of the arena. The offices, which we dubbed “Carpet City,” overlooked the inner seating bowl and ice. It was a bit of an old school upstairs/downstairs management structure, and other than Leiweke who liked to wander around through the main and second floor offices where the rest of us worked, we rarely saw the elite upper echelon.

In late 1995, many of those offices changed inhabitants and everything got shifted around when Mr. Money Bags, John McCaw, gained majority control of the company and later went on to buy out Arthur Griffiths completely, after which the company’s name was changed to Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment.

Three Things

One of Tod’s quirkier management habits was that he almost always bunched his directives or comments into three separate thoughts, or “three things.” I’d bump into him in the hall on the main floor and he’d say, “Oh Dorg, glad I ran into you. Listen, three things: I just spoke to Victor and we can count the Coke deal into this year’s revenue, so make that adjustment to your budget; I want Ross to go to the NBA marketing meetings in Miami this year instead of you; oh, and I want you to meet someone tomorrow at ten that I am thinking of hiring for the new broadcast sales position.” Or he’d call me up to his office with me having no idea what he wanted, and he would sit me down and introduce his thoughts with “Dorg, three things . . .”  Sure enough, he would fire off three important matters he wanted looked after, or sometimes two matters, and then he’d offer a compliment or constructive criticism as the third thing. But he would never engage you for one or two things. It was always three.

Only once in four years did he stumble. One day when he got to the second item, he drew a blank on number three. Right there in his office in Carpet City. As I was sitting down, he said, “Dorg, I called you up here for three things.” What a surprise, I thought. Then he said something like, “First, I want you spending more time on cold calling some new accounts in Toronto; second, great job on the Kellogg’s cereal box endorsement with Big Country Reeves on the side panel; and third . . .” He stalled. I could hear the hum of the Zamboni-like machine grooming the ice below. Sitting there awkwardly in his big comfy chair with my feet firmly planted in the plush thick carpet, I finally broke the silence. “Tod, how come whenever you want to talk with me, you always have three things?” He laughed and admitted that often he only had two, but usually found that while he was talking a third thing would come to mind. In this particular instance it didn’t.

I am sure that this efficient way of dealing with subordinates must be explained and encouraged in some popular management book, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or Ziglar on Selling. After all, if a busy manager is going to take precious time to meet with an underling, why not maximize effectiveness by tripling the agenda? To this day, it’s a small technique I have used with people who work for me, and whenever I do, I think of Tod.

The other habit Tod had that I never adopted was when he wanted to drop a big idea on you—something audacious or outside of your comfort level—he’d get your attention by looking you in the eye, pausing, and then stating: “I have a stream of consciousness I want you to follow.” He’d pause dramatically again, and then explain how he was going to double your revenue projections for next year, or how he wanted to bring a PGA golf tour to Vancouver to raise money for charity, or how we were going to buy a roller hockey team to fill the arena in the summer. Whenever Tod mentioned “stream of consciousness,” you knew a ton of work was coming your way. But he made it fun, ensured you were invested, and somehow motivated you to succeed.

So, in the Leiweke manner, I have three points to explain that made Tod different and tipped me off to the fact that he wouldn’t be staying in Vancouver for long. Please follow my stream of consciousness . . .

  1. Hiring, Firing, and Expense Reports

The announcement that Leiweke was coming on board came out in the spring of ‘94, but he didn’t arrive until the fall, so all major decisions were put on hold during that gap. Stagnation creates tension. The entire staff knew that the “new guy” would assess our talent pool, cut and cull where necessary, and then add new talent where required.

Indeed he did. He fired a bunch of people, hired a bunch of other people, changed several policies, introduced new ideas, slashed some budgets, increased other budgets, and next thing we knew we were well on our way to the promised land. He orchestrated it all in a bold, yet not boastful fashion. He did it quickly and with surgical precision.

One of his first moves was to let go a very senior, long-term sales and marketing executive with the Canucks. These situations are never easy. You have to remember that the Canucks had been in operation for 20 years before Tod arrived and bonds ran deep in that organization. Somehow Tod stick-handled the dismissal with a minimum amount of disruption and dissention. I later went out for a drink with the guy he had fired, and he turned out to be one of Tod’s biggest fans and supporters. Go figure.

On the hiring side, Tod had a colleague that he brought along with him wherever he went. With every new team, when Tod was brought in to expedite significant change, he wanted someone he could trust by his side—John Rizzardini was his guy. John was another American who had worked alongside Tod at the NBA Golden State Warriors and other teams. He must have delivered, because Tod brought him to Vancouver to be the new vice-president of ticket sales. Later, after the two of them summited the ticket sales mountain up here in Canada and went back down to the USA, John rejoined Tod at the Seattle Seahawks where Tod would also become president. They worked together for 12 years, and I am sure when Tod wanted to speak to “Rizz,” as he was nicknamed, it wasn’t in increments of three, but was in increments of 30 things he needed, and quickly.

Ticket sales were the lifeblood of both teams, but my job as the director of sponsorship sales was important too. It entailed many trips to Toronto where most of the Canadian companies that sponsored the Canucks and Grizzlies had their head offices. Major marketing decisions were made in Toronto, such as what portion of a company’s advertising budget would be allocated for the Canucks and Grizzlies sponsorship programs. I would go every couple of months for presentations and reviews and always stayed at the same hotel—the Holiday Inn on King Street. Orca Bay’s business travel expense policy was pretty standard: we paid for meals, travel, and various sundry expenses when we were on the road and then got reimbursed. I was frugal by nature and after each trip carefully submitted receipts for all of my expenses in a timely manner. Little did I know this practice would single me out.

One day a few months after Tod’s arrival, I am sitting in my office when the phone rings. To appreciate this part of the story, you have to remember that Tod is my boss’s boss’s boss. If you had an organizational chart of the structure of Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment at the time, and if you were to write every employee’s name on a jumbo roll of toilet paper and drop the roll off the roof of General Motors Place, Tod’s name would be near the top of the luxurious 3-ply and my name would be towards the bottom, still rolling down Pacific Boulevard deep inside near the cardboard tube. From his office up in Carpet City, Tod says to me on the phone, “Hey Dorg, I am looking through different people’s expense reports and have the one that you submitted for your last trip to Toronto.” This really catches me off guard because a senior exec in the company such as Tod would never get marred in the minutia of my little expense form.

“Really Tod?” I reply. “You are reviewing my expenses from my last Toronto trip?” My heart sinks into my gut. As I wait for his response, I think, is he about to question the amount of money I spent on a hamburger, or the cab charge to the airport? And if it’s out of line, will he fire me on the spot.

Then he says, “Dorg, the company is under huge financial challenges, and I really like the way you go easy on costs when you are out of town. I see you stayed at the Holiday Inn. Good low-end choice. Your meal charges are all on the light side and you didn’t charge any alcohol. I just wanted to say keep up the good work.”

I wipe the sweat from my brow, thank him for the call, hang up the phone, and ponder the bizarreness of what has just happened.

Tod had bigger things to worry about than if I had a side of fries with my burger. But, I realized, he needed to set the tone and establish early on amongst the people at my level that he cared and was watching over all details of revenues and expenses. He knew that I was the biggest yacker in the department, and he knew that as soon as I got off the phone, I would march down the hall and tell all the others about his call. Furthermore, he knew it was far more effective to praise someone for their actions than to reprimand them. It was classic Leiweke. And he was right, I broadcast his message loud and clear. That one call to me helped him discreetly spread the word to dozens of my colleagues to be careful what they submitted as an expense, because the big guy upstairs was looking. The next morning two of the guys I worked with asked me for the phone number of the Holiday Inn on King. Tod’s two-minute call to me had far more effect than a carefully worded staff memo.

  1. Mr. Memory

A good memory is an important hallmark of most successful people. One of the best compliments you can give a new acquaintance is simply remembering his or her name. Regularly reinforcing that recollection or connection when greeting staff is a real self esteem booster, particularly if you happen to come from Carpet City and are dealing with the hourly wage earners. Tod sprinkled bits of his magic dust on everyone. There were about 150 of us that wore suits and ties and worked in the front office. But on game days, 600–700 part-time workers reported to General Motors Place as ushers, food servers, cleaners, ticket-takers, and general laborers. Add another 100 broadcasters and journalists to the mix on game day, and the task of knowing everyone’s name becomes pretty daunting. Leiweke had an uncanny capacity to store the names of countless people in his brain’s hard drive.

A few times I happened to walk with him through the busy arena concourse just before the doors opened for a game. It felt like we were walking through his house and he was greeting his family and friends. He knew everyone who worked there on a first name basis, from the janitors on up to the TV color commentator. And he treated them all the same. He’d greet them with a warm hello, followed by small talk and a personal anecdote to strengthen his connection. He might bring up three things he wanted to address with someone, or just casually smile and inquire how a member of their family was doing. To the untrained eye, it just looked like a guy in a suit walking around socializing. But it wasn’t; it was what I call “Management by Walking Around.” All the while, he was making small suggestions, motivating people, and making observations that he would bring up in future management meetings. And just like he descended from Carpet City during the day upon the ticket sales, accounting, and sponsorship staff, he did the same on game nights with everyone else. He didn’t need a survey from the human resources department to track staff moral—he conducted his own ongoing poll on a regular basis.

  1. Humor and a Quirky T  

In addition to a good memory, the best leaders I have known in the business world also have a tremendous sense of humor. Humor not only makes the workplace more fun, it is a great tool for  alleviating tension. And nowhere is tension more intense than before and during a huge sponsorship sales pitch when you really need the money. As a side note to set up this next narrative, the financing to build the arena was based on a consortium of banks loaning us the money. Revenue from long-term sponsorship deals was put up as a form of collateral. Not concluding enough of these deals could have put us in default, delaying the construction of the arena. So with this dynamic in place, the tension couldn’t have been more intense than when we went in to pitch Air Canada on a five-year sponsorship deal for the arena and both teams.

My boss, Leila Bell-Irving, reported to Tod and had for weeks carefully orchestrated the whole pitch. The important Air Canada Mucky-Mucks flew out from Montreal to sit in a big boardroom while Tod and Leila pitched them for millions and millions of dollars desperately needed by Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment. The pitch was rehearsed six ways to Sunday; it had to be nothing less than perfect. Beautiful artist renderings of the new building were set out, an expensive video had been prepared, and a famous player from the Canucks dropped by to greet the aviation executives. All of the senior executives were there and had assigned speaking roles from Leila.

During the pitch, a fancy, expensive lunch was brought in at noon. After the working session lunch, Tod looked down at the floor and saw that for comfort’s sake, Leila had secretly slipped off her shoes. Without skipping a beat, Tod slyly took a couple of pieces of leftover lettuce and slipped them into Leila’s high heels. When Leila put her shoes on to get up to speak, you can imagine her surprise. The consummate pro, she kept her cool. Some good old-fashioned laughs were had, tension was relieved, and a month later the deal was closed.

Site gags, funny stories, and dumb jokes were all part of Tod’s management style. I sometimes referred to Orca Bay as Montego Bay, because it was such a fun place to be. He set the tone for us to work hard, play hard, and above all, not to take ourselves too seriously. But we could only joke around like that if we made progress on the sales targets. And finally, we were.

I don’t know much about Tod’s background, but what I do know is quirky and involves the letter “T.” Tod came from St. Louis and his dad was in the radio business. Tod has three brothers, two of whom are also in sports business. He and his brothers owned a professional soccer team when they were all quite young. They had a reputation as innovative promotional gurus flying by the seat of their pants and dreaming up many of today’s wild and crazy ticket sales gimmicks. Tim Leiweke is the president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, and the Air Canada Centre. Before joining the NFL, Tod was most recently a partial owner of the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning. What an interesting dynamic last year when Leafs and Lightening faced off as division rivals. His other brother Tracy has spent much of his career as a creative sports producer. All I know about his fourth brother is that his name is Terry. Do you spot the trend with all the T’s? But wait it get’s better. Tod has been married forever to a women named Tara. They have two kids named Tyler and Tori. It is not surprising then that after Tod left us here in Vancouver, he went to go work for the PGA’s First Tee.

In Closing

The wonderful ride came to an end in 1999. I don’t think our Seattle brain trust ever really appreciated Leiweke’s talents enough and after they overlooked Tod to appoint a new president to head up Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment, Tod left to become president of the First Tee, an organization that promotes life skills and leadership through the game of golf.

After I left the Grizzlies in 2001, I visited Tod twice back in his United States homeland. Both times I was struck by how transferable and effective his skill set is. The cities and sports were different, but his approach remained the same. I visited him first in Minnesota where he was charged with building another new arena and again launching a team. I remember walking into the new arena in Minneapolis-St. Paul and being struck by a display of 200 different framed high school hockey jerseys that wrapped around the entire main concourse, each jersey from a different high school in the state. That display had Tod written all over it. Years later, I attended a Seahawks game in Seattle and marveled over the success of the 12th MAN strategy.  At both the arena and stadium where I visited, I joined Tod in his ritual pre-game walk around the concourses where he met and greeted his hourly staff on a first name basis.

In an odd way, one of Tod’s legacies was the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Although he wasn’t even here for any of the years leading up to the event, many of the people he influenced along the way went on to take senior positions at the Olympic Games. I headed up sponsorship sales at VANOC and we implemented a plethora of the strategies I learned from Tod to hit our lofty revenue targets. I reported into Dave Cobb, deputy CEO at Vancouver 2010. Dave was originally an accountant with the Canucks when Tod arrived in ‘94, and Dave once told me, “Tod really encouraged me to move beyond accounting into the marketing side of the business.”

There were dozens of others that came to the Olympics from Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment, and all of us had some of Tod’s magic dust lingering on our shoulders as we carried out our day-to-day tasks to prepare for the 2010 Games.

One of our co-workers, Debbie Butt, said it best when she emailed me the following: I feel very fortunate to have worked with Tod. He was a leader and a motivator with boundless energy and a positive spirit. He went after the big things and got them done in a big way and shone the light on his team. I look forward to seeing what he does in the NFL.

There are undoubtedly huge challenges waiting for Tod at the NFL. The halcyon days he spent in Vancouver will feel like he was organizing a sports day at his kids’ elementary school compared to what he’s about to face. Issues surrounding the billion-dollar concussion lawsuit, deflate-gate, and the league’s expansion into Los Angeles are just a few of the agenda items that Tod will have to tackle in New York. No doubt Commissioner Roger Goodell will preside over many sessions where these and other items are debated. I just wonder when the tension in the room gets really thick, if Tod will bend down and slip a piece of lettuce in Mr. Goodell’s shoe.

Good luck, Tod.



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Official Wine of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games


By Dave Doroghy

The main challenge we faced in landing sponsors for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was cost: The Olympic rings came at a heavy price.

Prior to the lead-up to the 2010 Ggames, our investment levels for sponsors were unheard of in Canada. In every single industry category we were asking companies to invest up to 10 times more than they had ever put into any previous sponsorship program. Once it took on an Olympic sponsorship that decision would have huge implications for a company, not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of resources the company would have to apply to its Olympic sponsorship. This was a decision that had to be well thought out and carefully analyzed; a time-consuming exercise that could sometimes take years.

These time-and-money considerations were most evident on February 12, 2006 when I walked into Vincor, the largest winery in Canada

As fate would have it, precisely four years later we finally popped the cork on one of Vincor’s bottles of bubbly at the 2010 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony celebration.

In fact, a lot of corks were popped all across Canada in the months leading up and during to the games. Olympic Games are all about entertaining and celebrating with hundreds of thousands of people coming together in social settings to eat, drink and paint the town red. So we needed lots of wine and bubbly.

From my three years working for the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games acquiring sponsors in a wide variety of categories, I had some very relevant and useful experience in the wine category.. For those much smaller games we needed about $200,000 worth of wine and champagne both to offer to guests at events and to give away as gifts. Back then, I met with and was turned down by every major winery in Canada; : . even $200,000 was too steep a threshold for our Canadian wineries. At that time, the highest amount that wineries would put toward sponsoring events would be about $25,000 to $50,000. (In 2010, that investment level was still reflective of the industry norm.)

Back in 1992, I finally got my foot in the door with a regional winery by cold calling the president of Calona Wines, Ian Tostenson, with a hook he couldn’t resist. Over the phone I explained to him that Queen Elizabeth would be coming to Victoria for the Commonwealth Games and that we needed a good quality wine to serve her Highness. Ian bit my hook and invited me down to see him. After a few more meetings with him I explained that for that right to serve the Queen their tasty merlot, they would have to become an Official Sponsor of the Commonwealth Games and supply us with 24,999 additional bottles of wine, at no charge, and a certain amount of cash. Eventually, we closed the deal but in the process I learned a number of lessons on the fundamentals of what it took to do a wine deal.

An oenophile I am not. I don’t like wine snobs and I actually enjoy the cheap wine that comes out of a cardboard box. But through working on the sponsorship deal at the Commonwealth Games, I learned that I like the industry. It’s colorful, fun, and totally driven by the creation of an illusion of quality through advertising and branding. It’s an industry that is ideal for sponsorship.

The wine business is all about moving cases of product through in-store displays and restaurant and pub promotions. The brand of wine you choose is often an impulse purchase: if you see a giant display at a liquor store promoting the Commonwealth or Olympic Games it may well catch your eye and entice you to pick up and purchase a bottle. Lesson number one: in-store displays equal sales. The next lesson involved the other distribution channel for liquor: bars and restaurants. A winery’s sales representative could call on accounts where the company’s product is served and offer bar or pub or restaurant managers Commonwealth or Olympic Games’ promotional posters, table-top cards, coasters and other items. Promotional material can be a powerful tool to have in front of a consumer just as he or she is placing a drink order. Throw in a consumer contest to win tickets to the games and the promotion becomes just that much more powerful. Lesson number two: the ability to leverage a wine sponsorship into every bar, pub and restaurant across Canada equals increased sales. Finally, lesson number three: the designation of “Official Supplier” to a prestigious event, printed boldly on each bottle label (along with the Commonwealth Games logo or Olympic rings) is another huge benefit to a winery. In many consumers’ minds the buying decision boils down to, “If the Olympic or Commonwealth Games chose this wine as the official wine it must be good”. So with a parity product like wine, where many companies produce a very similar product, the distinction of being the “Official Wine” or “Official Supplier” can help to push the company’s sales needle even higher.

So while I knew that being a sponsor for the world’s biggest sporting event would pay off big-time for a winery, I also knew that the fun-loving industry would just laugh at the figures I’d be suggesting. I was tasked with getting a winery to give us a whopping $ 3 million worth of product and cash in exchange for the right to call itself the Official Winery of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. That’s a lot of grapes and green. But what a toast I would be giving to my team if we could close a deal of that magnitude! And what a hangover I would have if we came up empty handed.

First we had to figure out just how much wine we needed. In November of 2005, after seven months on the job, I sat down with the food and beverage people at VANOC and we crunched the numbers. We assessed just how many events we would be hosting leading up to and during the games where we would be providing our guests with a glass or three of wine. We looked at our gifting budget for athletes and VIPs and tried to determine if wine could be used as gifts, to reduce expenses. We also looked at the amount of wine that was going to be sold to spectators at Olympic sporting events at the hundreds of concession stands VANOC would run. By selling the wine that we got at no cost we could apply those profits toward our sponsorship revenue target.

We also examined the wine sponsorship deal at the 2006 Torino Olympic Games in Italy. They established a Tier III wine sponsor deal with a company named Fontanafredda. I e-mailed my contact, Primus Matteo who had worked for the Italian organizing committee, and discovered that Fontanafredda supplied 250,000 bottles of wine at no cost as part of their sponsorship deal. I had a suspicion that was far too much product for our needs. Canadians prefer beer over wine while Italians are known for really loving their wine and drinking lots and lots of it. After carefully analyzing all of the Italian numbers I went two steps further in my quest for empirical data: I researched the 2004 Athens and 2002 Salt Lake City Games to determine how they stocked their massive wine racks. In the end, to minimize our risk of having too much wine that we couldn’t use when the Ggames were over we determined that we would require about 150,000 bottles of wine to stage our Ggames. At a wholesale cost of $10 per bottle, however, the free wine contribution would only get us halfway to the $3 million threshold that we required as the entry level to become a Tier III sponsor. We would need a cash top-up and I knew from my past experience that this was starting to look like a pretty tall order.

I identified the five largest wineries in Canada and wrote them all letters outlining the Olympic sponsorship opportunity. One of the companies on my list was Vincor which, in 2000, had been a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC). This meant that in the past, one of their products had displayed the Olympic rings so I felt they would be predisposed to listening to my pitch. That deal, however, carried a price tag of only about $100,000 a year. I wondered how their marketing director would react when I showed up at his office with a proposal that was 30 times more than what he had paid in the past for the Olympic rings. I worried that if I wasn’t careful he would throw me out of his office so quickly my briefcase would ignite. I knew that the Olympic rings take on a whole new value when the Ggames are hosted in your home country. As well, this was a seven-year deal. Just the same I knew there would be some sticker shock that I would need to manage very carefully.

My first meeting with Vincor, in February of 2006, was with a young guy named Dan Rabinovitch who was the marketing director for some of Vincor’s brands. I sensed that he probably didn’t have enough influence in the company to push the deal forward, but I knew I had to start somewhere. The meeting with him went well and I was given the green light to come back and meet with someone a bit further up the ladder: His boss, the vice-president of marketing.

Three weeks later I sat down with Vincor’s Vice-President of Marketing Steve Boliger

We hit it off right away. He was my age and had been in the wine business for a long time. We even knew some of the same people in the industry. In sales it is important to immediately establish a rapport with people and it helps if you can find some common ground. We met in Vincor’s Mississauga boardroom that doubled as a high-end wine cellar. Hundreds of bottles of their finest vintages adorned the custom-made, dark, antique, oak shelves. The room had an old-word charm and a musty wine odour that made me imagine it could be the storage den of a Spanish castle. As it turned out I met with Steve and other Vincor executives in that same room five or six more times negotiating the terms of the deal but strangely I was never offered a glass of wine until we finally signed the deal.

During that all-important first meeting with Steve, I needed to give him enough information about the upcoming Olympic Games and the power of the Olympic brand to intrigue and excite him and, most importantly, have him invite me back for another meeting. For this initial meeting, I felt that it would be best not to talk about the quantity of wine or the money we required. At the time, in the early days of 2006, we were still finalizing the entry levels for sponsors and hadn’t totally finalized our minimum sponsorship investment levels for official suppliers. I also wanted to get to know him and give him a chance to warm up to the proposition of being a sponsor, before unveiling the gigantic rights fee that we were after. Three weeks after our first meeting I met Steve for lunch. I needed time to create a compelling proposition for him so I still didn’t reveal the intimidating multi-million-dollar number that we would be charging sponsors . First, I had to build industry support for this sponsorship initiative that would translate into vastly increased wine sales for Vincor and help Steve justify the investment to his bosses.

After our lunch, we agreed we’d meet again a few weeks later. That gave me time to meet with representatives of the Canadian retail liquor industry and the British Columbia hospitality industry, to ask them for their commitment to back the Olympic Games. Each Canadian province has its own independent liquor distribution branch. I met with the head of the BC branch, Jay Chambers, who was a big supporter of ours. He told me that we could count on BC liquor stores to allow large promotional 2010 Olympic Games displays in their hundreds of outlets throughout the province. Jay then introduced me to the head of the Association of Provincial Liquor Jurisdictions, a group comprised of representatives from each province’s controlling liquor board. The association also agreed to get behind the 2010 Games, which meant that any Olympic Games promotional displays that would be built at their locations would use our sponsor’s products. The company that ended up becoming our wine sponsor would still need to apply for display space and comply with a myriad of rules and regulations in each jurisdiction, but essentially the green lights I had received would help pave the way with Vincor. With these two endorsements in place, I went for the hat trick.

A big part of your success in the sponsorship business –or any business– is based on your contacts, how you have treated people in previous deals and, most importantly, whether or not you delivered on promises that you made for those deals. The Commonwealth Games wine deal that I did 15 years prior with Calona Wines turned out to be a big success. Calona Wines saw a marked increase in sales for the period leading up and during the Games, which took place in the summer of 1994. As promised, when Queen Elizabeth came to town with the rest of the Royal Family to open the Commonwealth Games she could be seen sipping Calona Wines’ finest from her royal chalice. Following the Ggames, Calona Wines’ President Ian Tostenson went on to become the head of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association. When I asked him for a letter of support committing that his members, restaurants and pubs throughout BC, to back the 2010 Games and our sponsors through promotions, he completely understood what I needed.

With the support of these three organizations in place it was time to revisit Steve. On that same trip out to Ontario, I decided to meet with a couple of other wineries to test their appetites to become a sponsor. I knew that the wine industry was pretty tight-knit and word would get out that we were pursuing all of our options. It’s always good to work on parallel paths and approach as many potential companies as possible. Competition, or the perception of competition, is healthy for the seller (me) when you are trying to close an exclusive sponsorship deal. There would only be one official wine for the Ggames.

In May of 2006 I was back in the Vincor Wine Cellar boardroom meeting Steve Bolliger and Dan Rabinovitch; this time they had pulled a few bottles of special wine off the oak shelves to show me. These bottles sported the Canadian Olympic Committee motif with the Olympic Rings with labels that were themed for the 2004 Games in Athens. The promotions were very successful, Steve said, and then went on to explain how, since we had last met, he had built consensus on this initiative with the rest of his company; now, everyone from the president on down had bought into the idea of Vincor becoming a sponsor. “Everybody likes the idea of sponsoring the Ggames,” he said. “We all believe in the values of the Olympics and all of the great things that they will do for Canada”. When I outlined the industry support that we had garnered and that would go along with the sponsorship it only increased his interest. So, now the only thing left to discuss was the price. Gulp.

I still remember looking him in the eye and telling him our fee to become a sponsor. His reaction was critical. I knew that this agreement would probably eat up his entire sponsorship budget for the next 20 years. The Olympics probably wouldn’t be coming back to Canada for another 20 years so this was a rare opportunity. But I knew it was a huge stretch for Vincor, no matter what the potential benefits.

I told Steve: “Although we can be creative in how we get to the $3 million, we need to hit that number. Every deal we do has to be approved by our Finance Committee and the $3 million dollar threshold is non-negotiable. It would be unfair to other sponsors who are paying that much to get into the tent, to cut a deal with you for a lower number.” Then I went on to explain that, compared with past Olympic Games, our sponsorship program was going to have a relatively small group of companies participating. We intentionally raised the admission bar a bit higher but would have only 30 or so official suppliers, compared with other Olympics. We always compared our games to the ones in Atlanta where they had hundreds of sponsors. We would tell potential sponsors that with fewer companies participating in our program, their Olympic messages would cut through the clutter.

After I uttered the two words “three” and “million” together for the first time I carefully watched Steve’s face for a reaction. He paused for a few seconds and looked at me with a poker face that revealed absolutely no hint of what he was feeling. Then he told me, “That number is more than what I expected and it will be a real stretch for us to get there, but I really want to do this.”

I love playing chess and draw a lot of analogies between creating complex sponsorship deals and playing chess. As the meeting was winding down I reviewed in my head where the pieces in this game were sitting. Each meeting that I’d had with Vincor was one more move on the board. With Dan Rabinovitch I had made my first move. Now I was in a position where this VPvp of marketing, a pretty senior guy in the company, had advanced the initiative up his line of command and had gotten buy-in. I could tell from cues that he dropped during the meeting that he knew I had been out in the market talking to other wineries and he didn’t want to loose this deal to one of them. He also knew that the industry support we had received would help him to recoup a significant part of the sponsorship investment through wine sales. The game had advanced significantly since my first meeting four months prior. But as with any game of chess you wait for the right time to bring in your most powerful piece. Our President John Furlong was incredibly compelling, convincing and good in sponsorship sales meetings. But he had to be brought in at the right time. As we wrapped up I casually asked Steve if it might be a good time for John to meet with their President Jay Wright. Steve’s reaction was positive and he agreed to set up the meeting on his end.

President’s calendars are busy and I have learned that any time you expect to bring two titans of industry together you should expect at least a month or two lag time before their schedules allow for a get-together. I had great cooperation from John’s office on all of our sponsorship sales efforts and he told me countless times “I’ll do whatever it takes to help, just let me know what you need me to do”. Usually John’s office would notify me a month in advance of when he would be in Toronto and available for appointments. I would then review the active accounts our department was working on and determine if it would be appropriate for him to meet with their company presidents. We scheduled a meeting between the heads of VANOC and Vincor for a month and a half down the road. Steve wouldn’t have agreed to the meeting if there wasn’t a good chance of doing a deal; whenever I invited John to attend a meeting I made sure that the deals we were working on were sufficiently advanced so that I wouldn’t be wasting his time.

One day, I unexpectedly received a voice message from Steve Bolliger that he urgently needed to discuss some important news with me. When I called him back he told me that Vincor had just been sold to a company called Constellation Brands and the merger could affect the status of our possible deal.

I’ve compared doing sponsorship deals to playing chess. But while working at VANOC I also got to play a version of another board game too: Snakes and Ladders. I would advance a deal up to the top end of the ladder and then hit a snake, taking me back to the start of the process. Companies got sold or merged or my contact got transferred, quit or left the company right in the middle of our negotiations, throwing us back to square one. . Since the average time it took to close an Olympic sponsorship deal was between one and two years I experienced the snake scenario frequently.

Constellation Brands’ acquisition of Vincor postponed our next moves; the meeting between John and the President of Vincor was delayed. In fact, reading between the lines of Steve’s call I could tell the change cast doubt onto bringing the sponsorship agreement to fruition at all. On the positive side, Constellation Brands was the world’s biggest winery and would surely have the financial ability to help back a deal of this magnitude. On the negative side, decisions of this nature would now most likely have to be approved by a management team in New York or some other large, American city where the leadership likely would not be as emotionally invested in the notion of supporting the Olympic Games in Canada. Either way, the chess board that Steve and I had been playing on had just had most of the pieces jumbled up onto different squares.

After a few more false starts we were able to orchestrate a meeting in Mississauga with John Furlong, Dave Cobb and myself representing VANOC and Jay Wright and Steve Bolliger representing Vincor and its new parent company Constellation Brands. I knew that Steve wouldn’t have allowed this meeting to take place if he hadn’t gotten a degree of buy-in from the new senior management of Constellation Brands so I was cautiously optimistic. John was brilliant in sharing his vision of the Olympic Games and what we were setting out to accomplish. Steve responded by saying that, “part of the Olympics is all about Canadians celebrating the achievements of our athletes. And people celebrate with wine. We absolutely need to be the wine that Canadians from coast to coast celebrate with.”

Leaving Vincor after the meeting with Furlong and Cobb, I was pretty confident that we would be doing a deal. But nothing is simple and the process for large complex agreements of this nature is long and slow. At this point we were nine months into the process. I called Steve and he told me, “The meeting with John went great and Jay really liked him. I think we’re getting closer, but I need more time to work on the financial side.” After a couple more meetings in Mississauga and several more phone conversations with Steve we were getting closer. We agreed to the valuation for the wine that we would receive, established innovative payment terms,   worked out a formula for sharing profits if sales of the official wine hit certain thresholds and agreed to a myriad of other details that would go on to form the backbone of our agreement.

Finally, when we thought that we were pretty close to signing an agreement, we organized an all-day, show-and-tell session at VANOC for   seven of Vincor’s sales and marketing people.   I invited VANOC Vice-President of Food and Beverage Nejat Sarp to an hour-long session during the day to share his vision of our upscale approach to hosting the athletes and officials. Najat came from the hotel industry and his goal was to provide nothing short of a four-to-five-star-like setting for all of our guests. The athletes would be housed in million-dollar waterfront condos, sleeping on the finest beds. The quality of the food and wine they consumed was an important part of his master plan. At the meeting in Vancouver Najat also talked about the variety and quality of food services that we also wanted our spectators to experience at each venue. Vincor’s team left impressed and with even more of an appetite to become an Olympic sponsor and showcase their portfolio of wines to the world.

The snakes and ladders game continued for many more months, until the end of 2007. Meanwhile, Dan Rabinovitch left the company to go live on a kibbutz in Israel, Steve was transferred to Southern California (and was taken off of the Olympic file), and Vincor President Jay Wright was transferred to New York. By the time the Games opened none of the original people I had met with to construct the deal were around anymore. It was typical for some of the deals I worked on. My tenure at VANOC was five years and that meant that I would “outlive” many of my original contacts. I also encountered several companies like Vincor that were in transition; either being sold, or being merged with another company. The movement of company executives through a revolving door, and the restructuring of companies always slowed the process of concluding deals. But it’s a systemic challenge that everyone in sales faces; and the longer the sales cycle, the more vulnerable you are to such changes.

The wine deal finally did get done. The Vincor team flew back to Mississauga and within a month or two we received their letter of intent to proceed with drafting a term sheet. A mere 12 months later, after back-and-forth from their lawyers and our lawyers and numerous executives, the deal was done. On the day we were to sign the Definitive Agreement, Vincor came out to Vancouver for a little signing ceremony.   And what did they bring with them? A case of their finest wine and a dozen expensive, crystal glasses for us to hoist.

As we toasted the partnership I thought to myself how, like a fine wine, this deal needed years to mature.






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An Olympic Sized Sneeze!


While Canadians follow all Olympic winter sports with great interest, when there’s a broadcast of a hockey game involving Canada traffic halts and bars fill to bursting. I knew, however, that the iconic call, “He shoots! He scores!” would sound a lot better to the gathered masses than, “He sneezes! He shoots! He misses!”

So, as a proud Canadian, I was particularly pleased with our sponsorship deal with a small Canadian company called Cold FX that makes a ginseng-based cold remedy. Historically, they have promoted the product through NHL sponsorships and by using Canadian hockey icon, Don Cherry as a spokesperson. Coincidentally, we concluded our deal with them by signing the definitive agreement contract in late 2008 during the height of cold and flu –and deep into hockey– season.

Cold FX originally contacted us early in 2006, inquiring about a possible Olympic sponsorship. At the time, Johnson and Johnson still had the worldwide Olympic rights, sold to them by the IOC for a number of categories, including the cold and flu remedy category whereby they promoted their successful Tylenol Brand. It was so hard for us to have to say no to companies that contacted us and legitimately wanted to become sponsors of Vancouver 2010 in a category where we couldn’t grant rights. It happened frequently and the IOC always trumped us with their global deals. In fact, the broad coverage of the Johnson and Johnson deal killed a lot of categories for us. As the IOC had granted them worldwide rights in every country, including Canada, up until the end of 2008 it meant that we could not even enter into discussions with any companies that wanted to promote an Olympic association in the following popular sponsorship categories: cold and flu, oral health, wound care (bandaids), skin and hair care, women’s health, nutritional supplements, over-the-counter ,medicines and a whole lot more

So when Cold FX called us in 2006 we politely thanked them and explained that we couldn’t do business with them because we were bound by agreements that the IOC had entered into with their competitor. At the time the IOC was confident that Johnson and Johnson would renew its multi-Olympic Games deal beyond 2008 and into 2010 and 2012. Thank goodness Rick Ramsbottom, one of my sales managers, had a steel-trap memory and great business acumen and thought to jot down and file the Cold FX person’s name and phone number.

After the Beijing Games ended in 2008, the IOC entered into a flurry of meetings with Johnson and Johnson, in an attempt to finalize a four-year renewal. At first we were optimistic that Johnson and Johnson would come back, but with every weekly update from the IOC that optimism faded. Then, when the big financial meltdown occurred in the fall of 2008, we learned that Johnson and Johnson were not coming back as worldwide sponsors. The loss of another top-tier sponsor would go on to create a Tylenol-sized headache for the marketing people at the IOC as they needed to fill that spot, in the middle of a worldwide recession, with another major partner before our games. VANOC was also counting on a percentage of revenue from that deal so it was bad news for both of us.

At VANOC we immediately called Johnson and Johnson Canada, a subsidiary of the global parent company, to see if a domestic deal for the Olympic rights for Vancouver 2010 could be established. Initially, they seemed interested in a “Canada only” deal but, after a lot of back-and-forth, we were unable to come to terms. Johnson and Johnson wanted the rights to too many categories in Canada and we couldn’t justify such a broad category range for a Tier III, $3 million deal. They wouldn’t move up to a Tier II level, whereby we could possibly have been able to justify the broad range, so our talks stalled.

While we were in discussions with Johnson and Johnson Canada, we felt it was in our best interest to have a back-up plan so Rick dug through his files and called his contact at Cold FX to set up an appointment. In October of 2008, I flew to Toronto to meet with the small company, knowing that our $3 million entry fee would be a stretch for them.

I remember the sales call well. Because the meeting was confirmed at the last minute so I altered a Cuban cycling holiday I had arranged and flew to Toronto on my way to Havana. I remember leaving my cycling helmet in the car with Abdul as I went in to meet with Cold FX in the Toronto office. I went into this one alone and gave them my best “Official Supplier Rights and Benefits” pitch. The meeting was with Cold FX’s VP of Marketing Steve Wallace, a packaged goods veteran, and VP of Sales Fred Pitman. They were quick studies and understood the benefits of an association with the Olympics, what they stood to gain as sponsors, and the amazing opportunity that had just opened up with Johnson and Johnson forgoing the worldwide rights.

I remember how Fred, the grey-haired, inveterate sales guy who obviously knew what moved product, picked up a bottle of their product right after I concluded my pitch and, pointing to the bottle cap, saying to his colleague Steve, “Right here, this is where we put the Olympic rings, on the top of the bottle”. There is an old expression in the car-sales business that once you having them talking about the color of the car, the sale is practically made. In a sponsorship negotiation, once the client is talking about logo placement you’re also well on your way. They seemed pumped but I knew that they had bosses and shareholders who also needed to be sold on the Olympic sponsorship concept.

As I left their office they gave me a huge bag of Cold FX bottles to take back with me. At the Toronto airport, in the Air Canada lounge, I ran into an old friend of mine Chris Hebb who used to live in Vancouver and had moved to Ontario. He happened to have a terrible head cold: his nose was clogged, he was sneezing and wheezing and his eyes were red and watery. After shaking hands and before we’d even caught up on our lives I immediately reached into my bag and pulled out a large bottle of Cold FX, figuring he could use it more than me right then. As we laughed at the coincidence I described my recent meeting with the company and then, still laughing, we caught up on the years since we’d seen one another.

After my holiday, I was surprised and happy to hear a voice message from Steve Wallace saying that Cold FX wanted to become an official supplier. I hadn’t expected a positive response so quickly and while I wanted to call him back with immediate congratulations, I knew I needed to stick-handle the deal through VANOC.

The issue was that a Vancouver 2010 official supplier mark, complete with the Olympic rings, on bottles of Cold FX would serve as a huge endorsement of the product in consumers’ minds. That’s one of the main reasons why companies want to step up as sponsors, because of the implied endorsement and the myriad benefits of the close connection with a respected international sporting event. Research has shown that link does provide lucrative benefits to sponsors. But it’s not possible for just any company to pay the sponsorship fee and then put the rings on their product. Each product and company must go through a rigorous examination to ensure that the product or service is legitimate and safe. Cold FX was about to enter this process and I couldn’t confirm our agreement with them until the product had gone through the process. After a few days, I called Steve at Cold FX back, congratulating him on the company’s decision and explaining that the deal would enter the finalization stage after some examination of the product had been carried out.

As a small company, I knew that this would be a break-through marketing deal that would give Cold FX the legitimacy that its product needed to take it to the next big step in its evolution. On store shelves from coast to coast, bottles of its product could now break through the clutter courtesy of the five Olympic rings it would proudly display. It would be the biggest investment by far that Cold FX had ever put into a sponsorship and it would put them on equal footing with the massive Johnson and Johnson.

As I researched this agreement, I learned that the cold and flu market in Canada is very lucrative. Cold FX had about a 50% market share in Canada;Johnson and Johnson, with its line-up of Tylenol products, was its major competitor. Johnson and Johnson is a global company while Cold FX only markets its product in Canada. The rings on the product would allow Cold FX to steal market share away from Johnson and Johnson.

After hearing that Cold FX wanted in we knew we would have to notify Johnson and Johnson that we would be winding down our discussions with the company. They were still interested in being a sponsor, but only on their terms. Meanwhile, I only had Cold FX’s intentions by phone. We didn’t want to abandon Johnson and Johnson –and a potential deal with it– until we were certain that the Cold FX deal would close with a signed and legally binding contract. Andrea Shaw, VANOC VP of Marketing was the lead in the Johnson and Johnson negotiations so she made them aware that we had another offer for one of its categories.

In sponsorship sales you often have to sell both internally and externally. With a willing company poised to step up, I had to ensure no-one at VANOC or the IOC would object to the rings going onto Cold FX bottles. The efficacy of the product would naturally come into question. When I handed that big bottle of Cold FX to my buddy at the Toronto airport he told me that his wife “swore by it”, but I figured I would need a bit more than that anecdotal endorsement to move this deal forward.

Jack Taunton was the knowledgeable and affable doctor who worked for our organizing committee. I found him easygoing and appreciated that he always looked for win-win situations in all the deals we established. He had dozens of doctors who ultimately reported to him in what was one of the more unique and interesting departments of VANOC. I especially liked Jack because, like me, he was a runner and had completed more than 60 marathons. Skinny as a rake, full of positive energy and always in a good mood, as VANOC’s Chief Medical Officer his purview included everything medical-related that had to do with our 6,000 athletes, including anti-doping, emergency services, health and dental clinics and a dozen other healthcare-related areas. That put runny noses and sore throats right up his alley.

After I briefed Jack on the potential deal and the importance of the revenue to VANOC, it was a relief to discover that he believed in the product. Cold FX had given me reams of clinical trial information and results from tests that they had conducted over the years. Jack carefully read all of the studies, carried out a literature review and made some calls to some of his colleagues who specialized in the field, including the doctors with the Edmonton Oilers, who use the product for the team. A few days later he told me it had his stamp of approval. Next, we had to work on getting the IOC to sign off on Cold FX. Getting permission to place the Olympic rings on a product is no easy feat, particularly in a controversial category like cold remedies. So this process took a few weeks, with the IOC’s head doctor in Switzerland doing his due diligence before finally giving us the green light.

With ours and the IOC’s head doctors’ medical approval, and a credit check we had done on Cold FX showing positive financial results, I was confident that we were close to completing the deal. That’s when I received a call from Jeremy Luke our Manager of the VANOC anti-doping department. I was pleased to report to him that Cold FX had passed the litmus tests of not one but two watchdog doctors, that it contained no banned substances, and that it had Health Canada’s approval. I smugly thought that my ducks were in a row. But picking up on the tone of his voice, I realized there was a lame duck in the line-up.

Jeremy patiently explained that, as an organizing committee, we recommended against athletes taking absolutely any supplements before competing. Cold FX was neither a prescribed drug nor an over-the-counter drug, products that have rigorous testing standards. Like vitamin C pills, it was considered a supplement. As Jeremy continued to explain, supplements are controlled and regulated under a different standard. The checks, balances and inspections that supplement manufactures go through are not as stringent as for other drugs and as a result, through the manufacturing process trace elements of banned substances sometimes find their way into a supplement. That’s why athletes are advised to stay away from supplements completely. This is a completely understandable and reasonable response considering how athletes train for decades for their one moment of glory; to have that moment robbed by something as stupid as a trace element errantly appearing in a supplement would be unacceptable. So when Jerermy asked me “How could we endorse a product while at the same time be telling athletes not to take it?” A logical, well-articulated concern and my thoughtful response to him was “Um, well, um er, ah …”

Where did we go wrong? Dr. Jack Taunton had reviewed the manufacturing process and was satisfied with its quality controls. He’d said that Cold FX set the gold standard for checks and balances, batch testing and quality controls to ensure the product’s integrity. Heath Canada had approved the product. The IOC, that is so precise, exceptionally picky and extremely meticulous in everything it did had given us the go-ahead. I felt that we had done our due diligence. Show me the money!

I arranged a longer meeting with Jeremy where he calmly and logically explained his position. I realized this wasn’t a matter that the two of could resolve on our own. We had conflicting objectives: I didn’t want to lose the deal and the important revenue it represented to our organizing committee while Jeremy didn’t want to compromise his anti-doping program. The athletes didn’t want to be weakened by colds when they were here and I felt we had a legitimate product to offer to them with studies showing the effectiveness of it. Jeremy was sympathetic to the athletes’ health needs but could not endanger their chances to earn and keep a medal. The more we argued our points the clearer it became that we were getting nowhere. I finally told Jeremy that somebody else was going to have to make this decision because it involved a significant amount of money, a controversial issue at the core of our mandate, and would ultimately affect the athletes. I felt we needed a final decision from VANOC President John Furlong.

Sometimes our organizing committee was able to make decisions quickly. After I shared our dilemma with Dave Cobb, he agreed that John would have to weigh in. We immediately convened a meeting with Chief Medical Officer Jack Taunton and his medical staff, xx

Jeremy Luke and his anti-doping staff, a few lawyers and some communications people. We spent half an hour looking at the issues from all sides. I presented the history of the deal and how we got to where we were, Jeremy and Jack weighed in with their areas of expertise and then we all looked to John to decide what to do. He looked Jack in the eye and asked him if the product was beyond reproach and if we were prepared to back it. Jack said yes. He explained that Cold FX’s manufacturing processes are the best in the industry, with no chance of contamination. John made the decision: “Well, if it’s good enough for Health Canada and Jack, if you believe in the product and are satisfied in its efficacy and the standards under which is manufactured, then we should stand behind it as an organization and do the deal.”

Finally, to ensure that we and the athletes were protected, we had an internationally recognized independent lab examine the Cold FX manufacturing process. The lab conducted visits to the Cold FX manufacturing facilities and ran a series of tests to verify the integrity of the plants, its procedures and the final product. The preliminary results were good and months after we signed the deal, I was relieved to see that the final results were also positive.

At the beginning of December, we convened a final meeting with Cold FX to discuss how we would deal with the supplement/athlete issue and to finalize the terms of the agreement. Cold FX brought its founder and most senior executive, Dr Jackie Shan because Dave Cobb, who was VANOC’s signatory for our deals, wanted to meet her. As we had resolved all of our outstanding issues earlier in the day, we thought we would use the opportunity of Dr. Shan being in our offices to sign the term sheet and finalize the agreement.

Dr. Shan is an amazing woman. Hers is a real Canadian success story of coming to Canada as an immigrant from China and building a company from scratch. Shan started university at the age of 15 and then went on to obtain not one but two doctorates, the first in pharmacology at Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China. Shan’s research interests then took her to the University of Alberta where she eventually completed her second doctorate, this time in physiology. The formula for Cold FX emerged from one of her post-doctoral research projects. Impeccably dressed and looking impossibly young for her age, Dr. Shan was also well-spoken, humble and interesting. With our concerns allayed by all of our research, discussions and various tests, the meeting was relaxed and cordial with a friendly paper-signing at the end.

All of our sponsorship agreements called for a significant payment to be made upon signing. In this case, that payment was for half a million dollars. Companies would usually wire us the money within a few days of singing. Of course, we wouldn’t announce a new sponsorship until we had received the signature payment but this part of the process was never a problem. After the term sheet was signed Dr. Shan left quickly for the airport to catch a flight. A few moments after she had left our boardroom, amid the friendly banter and relaxed chat, one of her colleagues remarked, “Oh Jackie forgot to give you the signature payment cheque; quick, run after her and you can probably get it”.

Now there was no way I was going to charge after the company’s founder, begging for our cheque. I said it would be fine if they mailed it to us. But he insisted I get it because, apparently, Cold FX wanted to make a good impression on us by providing the funds immediately. I, however, would feel like an idiot running after the distinguished company founder, trying to breathlessly grab her before she left the building without “paying up”. That would have been crass and certainly wasn’t our style. I told him that he would have to accompany me and ask for it. We caught her just before she got into the cab and she graciously handed me a cheque for $500,000. I put the cheque on Dave Cobb’s chair, as a reminder that he had gotten another honest day’s work out of me.

A few months later in February of 2009 when the games were one year away, Cold FX generously provided us with 1,200 sample packs of their product to share with staff. With the games just around the corner our staff couldn’t afford any sick days.

Of the 50 sponsorship deals we did at VANOC, the turnaround time on Cold FX was the quickest. Most of our deals took at least a year to complete; some, because of their complexity, took up to two years. We met Cold FX for the first time in October, hammered out the details in November and signed the term sheet in December. Taking less than three months to start and finish a deal? We shot! We scored! And in record time.












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The Olympic Licences Plates



By Dave Doroghy

This story hinges on the idea that a piece of metal with the right design and surrounded by some clever marketing will shake about $100 per person out of a lot of consumers’ pockets. This particular piece of metal is more useful than a pet rock but the marketing idea was what people were really buying.

In the fall of 2005 we approached ICBC, the government authority that insures all cars registered in the province and issues their license plates. Fortunately we were able to start right at the top: through an introduction from a VANOC board member a meeting with the president of ICBC had been arranged. On a cold blustery October day Dave Cobb, Andrea Shaw and I took the SeaBus from our old offices on Pender Street to the giant automobile insurance company’s headquarters on North Vancouver’s shore. As we sat on the SeaBus bench, strategizing while we crossed the choppy waters of Burrard Inlet, we were completely ignorant of the fact that our sale with ICBC was actually pretty much a done deal.

First, ICBC President Paul Taylor was a huge Olympics fan. He had lived in Calgary during the 1988 Games and had witnessed firsthand the transformative nature of the event. He took the entire 18 days of the Calgary Games off work to serve as an Olympic volunteer. It was always a good sign when I walked into the office of the president of a large company and he had Olympic memorabilia from the Calgary 88 Games hanging on his walls. During our meeting Taylor admitted that he was a bit of an Olympic junkie and how strongly he believed in what we were doing for British Columbia and the rest of Canada. He said we could count on ICBC’s support.

Second, there was political will from the very top to do the deal – the premier’s office wanted it. Issuing a license plate to support the games was not a new idea but doing it early and doing it well was. What followed that meeting was two years of trying to navigate the terms of a politically sensitive sponsorship agreement through a never-ending, long, slow-moving labyrinth of bureaucrats, legislators, provincial finance committees, sub-committees, ICBC managers, politicians and, finally, the premier. Everybody got his or her fingerprints on this one. For a long time it moved at a snail’s pace. But thank goodness we started working on it five years out so that we had sufficient lead-time to ink the deal and establish the program. In the end it took over two years to close the deal: the first plate hit the streets of BC on April 6th, in 2007.

In partnering with ICBC, VANOC needed $15 million in true value to do the deal. Even though ICBC was a crown corporation, it would be unfair to the rest of the Tier II sponsors to do a deal for anything less. The $15 million could be in cash or a value-in-kind that alleviated a budgeted expense. In this category we happened to have a large expense line item related to ICBC’s business; namely, underwriting the insurance policies for the 5,000 automobiles General Motors was lending to us. The costs that we would incur if we had to go out and insure those vehicles before, during and shortly after the Olympics, was $6.2 million. Of course we wanted ICBC to cover the insurance coverage costs as part of this sponsorship agreement. I met with the head ICBC actuary a few times as he tried to assess how many claims they could expect from us over the next few years from accidents in our massive fleet, and at what cost to them.

To attain the remaining $8.8 million for a $15 million Tier II sponsorship, ICBC committed to producing a special Olympic-branded license plate and making it available to the public for an additional fee over and above what they would have to pay for their regular plates. The program was on an opt-in basis and totally up to the motoring public to decide if they wanted to buy the plates or not. Each year, ICBC issues just over two million car insurance policies, each one with a front and back license plate, and all of our projected calculations were based on this universe of potential participants. We figured if we hit the ball out of the park we might achieve a 5-percent sales rate and sell 100,000 of our special Olympic license plates.

The auto-insurance company really did its homework on how to structure the pricing for the public plate offering. First of all it looked at every single Olympic Games over the past 50 years and researched what Olympic automobile license plates had been offered to motorists. Here is some trivia: the first known Olympic license plate was issued in Melbourne for the 1956 Summer Games: 200 to 300 plates were produced. Many subsequent Olympic Games applied the Olympic logo to the general issue of plates but it was not until the games in Los Angeles in 1984 that the program was implemented as a fundraiser. In Los Angeles 25,583 special Olympic plates were sold for $100 each, raising over $2.5 million for those games. ICBC unearthed countless other facts and figures on other games and commemorative plate programs that helped us mold our offer.

When it came to raising money off of license plates, there were two revenue variables that ICBC and VANOC had control over and had to agree on. The one-time, up-front incremental special Olympic plate price and the annual renewal fee for the right to continue using it. This is the way the existing personalized plate program in BC worked. In reviewing our options we recognized that a large, up-front fee to enrol in the program would result in fewer people taking part, but that a fee that was too low would leave money on the table. We knew, however that the real money was in the renewals. If we could get enough motorists to buy the plate as soon as it was issued then we could collect renewals every year, for three or four years. “Ca-ching, Ca-ching,” we heard, the sound of a cash register ringing up sales.

ICBC conducted a quantitative research study with 1,000 motorists to ascertain how to maximize our revenues by correctly choosing those two magic numbers. Motorists were shown a mock-up of an Olympic license plate and asked if they would sign up for the program for a $10, $20, $25, $30 or $40  enrolment fee. Then they were asked what annual fee were they would likely pay to leave the plates on their cars. ICBC then went to market with more research and focus group studies to confirm their initial findings. The entire three-month study was presented to me in a one-hour Power Point presentation with the final slide revealing the two magic numbers that they were recommending.

After a lot of number crunching it was decided that the initial up-front fee to purchase the plate would be $35. Then, every year when the motorist who purchased the plate went to renew his or her insurance policy, he or she would be charged an additional $25 to continue displaying the plate for another year. Get those plates out there and collect the renewal money! Simple. The formula to maximize our revenue was pretty clear to anyone who took the time to go through the extensive research. What wasn’t as clear was what design should go onto the plate itself, to make it appealing enough to the motoring public to purchase.

The design element is the fun part of a deal. Both VANOC and ICBC started working on plate design concepts shortly after our discussions began. VANOC had a crackerjack creative department full of about 20, cutting-edge designers, who were mainly in their mid-twenties, had trendy hair cuts, cool tattoos and many pierced body parts, wore mainly black clothing and sat in front of huge Mac monitors all day. The department, called Brand and Creative Services, was on the second floor of our office building and I used to love to go down there just to soak up the great energy. The staff designed everything from our logos to our mascots, our posters and background signage used at the sport venues. They also produced all of our publications and all of the newspaper and TV ads that we ran. The entire branding of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was developed in-house by this group of talented, young and very hip contemporary artists. We had a very short period of time to develop a look and feel for the games and everything that we produced had to be consistent with our brand positioning.

The group of designers that we used on the ICBC project viewed the 12-inch-by-six-inch metal plate as a canvas that would display something inspiring that communicated our celebration of the games and the uniqueness of British Columbia. We put them to work on dreaming up a concept and gave them only one restriction: the numbers on the plate had to remain highly visible. That was non-negotiable, and came down from the police who had to read them. Our original concept depicted a spectacular snow-capped mountain range in the background with a silhouette of Vancouver’s downtown skyline in the foreground.

In fact, whatever artwork we put onto those plates they would have sold. Dale Bumstead, the ICBC executive who was assigned this special plate program, was a lifer with the corporation and really sank his heart into the assignment. “We have had the most boring and dull, standard blue–and-white plates for decades,” he told me. “There is a real pent-up demand for a colorful and new plate. These things are going to sell like crazy.” He knew his stuff because later on they went on to do just that.

Since the program had such a high profile, the provincial government wanted in on the design too. We got word from the premier’s office that they didn’t like our initial mock-ups of the plate and that they wanted to add the not-very-modest new slogan that they had dreamed up: “British Columbia – The Greatest Place on Earth”. Some of the senior executives at VANOC felt that the line was too boastful and not really our style at Vancouver 2010. Reaching consensus on artwork, or slogans, is always difficult because everyone has his or her own opinion. It became an internal debate at our office, whether we should go along with the slogan or not. We heard that the premier really wanted it on the plates and that it could be a deal breaker to remove it. In the end we settled for a stunning photo of snow capped Mount Garibaldi with our 2010 logo on the middle of the plate and their slogan on the bottom.

So we had a design: problem solved? Not quite. In introducing a new license plate you can’t just come out with a plate for cars. The plate also has to be available for trucks, motorcycles, trailers and any registered vehicle. Every BC insurance agent selling plates at the more than 1,000 locations in BC has to stock all of the different variations. Finally, an optional plate had never been made available in BC, so systems had to be put in place to administrate the program, track revenues and manage restocking.

Within a couple of months of launching the plate program we had sold 50,000 of them. Over subsequent months the numbers just continued to climb way beyond our expectations. Around the three-year countdown to the games Opening Ceremonies ICBC was selling up to 500 plates a day. I specifically remember that date because our three-year countdown was mired in controversy with violent protests breaking out at a ceremony that we staged in downtown Vancouver. The aggressive disruption of our event was heavily covered in the media and quite a downer for us at VANOC. But the day after the ruckus occurred, John Furlong received an e-mail from ICBC President Paul Taylor and it was quite a morale booster at a time when we needed it. It read: “John, sorry to hear about the protests that happened yesterday. I just thought that I would drop you a line to let you know how the average British Columbian feels about the games. As of today we have sold 53,875 plates.” Paul’s point was that the plate program could be used as a barometer to measure the public’s support for the games against the violence perpetrated by comparatively few protestors. In the end we sold 187,000 plates and raised over $10 million making it the most successful plate program in the history of the Olympic Games.

John Furlong once took me aside and told me he could not believe the phenomenal success of the ICBC license plate campaign. “The way I look at it is that after you pay the up-front fee of $35 and renew the plate for two and a half or three years, it will cost you about $100,” He paused, smiled and then said, “It just goes to show the power of the Olympic brand and the support that we have out there, that would make someone pay $100 for a small piece of metal”.

From a personal point of view, one of the things I liked the most about the program was its highly visible nature. I was proud to have worked on it. To me it was like an encouraging wink or pat on the back every time I saw a car with a 2010 plate on it drive by. I started counting them on my way in to work every morning. On one particular commute, when I was driving in to the office and ruminating on a litany of no’s that I had just received from companies that I was courting, I counted 23 Olympic plates. That visual symbol of public support motivated me to get back onto the phone and make some more cold calls

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Whisper the Cow


Dave went on the road for four months with the Olympic Torch Relay.  You can imagine his dismay when he ran into this flagrant brand violation in New Brunswick.

This is the Story: Whisper the Cow


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Olympic Mag and Bag

Establishing an Olympic Security System was in the Bag (and MUnknownag)

By Dave Doroghy

While it may sound more like the name of a comedy duo for a ‘70s sitcom, Mag and Bag is actually a term that refers to something a little more security driven than an actor’s career. Mag and Bag refers to the procedure people go through at airports or other secure locations. First, they’re screened for metal objects by a handheld or walk-through MAGnet and then they have their BAGs checked for weapons, bombs and other bad things that don’t belong at an Olympic Games (or anywhere outside of a war zone). For most people living in the 21st Century, the experience of going through the Mag and Bag procedure is pretty familiar. But once I started working for VANOC and considering our needs and potential Olympic suppliers, the Mag and Bag procedure took on a whole new importance in my life. One thing was clear: to safely stage the 2010 Olympic Winter Games we needed a lot of those black magnet wands and walk-though, arch-shaped screening stands and we didn’t want to have to buy them.

In the spring of 2005, when I reviewed our initial security requirements and tried to get a very rough handle on the number of magnetic detection devices we would need, the final number was staggering. I figured we would have so many magnets in one place at the same time that we would throw off the directional compass readings of countless lost Boy Scouts who came to the 2010 Olympics and had to find Magnetic North to get their bearings.

Altogether we needed more than 1,000 metal detection products. It was a sad reflection on the state of our world that in order to safely stage an event that is meant to represent peace, goodwill and the time-honoured values of sportsmanship and fair play, we had to devote an overwhelming amount of resources in equipment and effort to warding off violent attacks.

It’s strange how you don’t pay attention to so many little things in life until you have a reason to notice them. For instance, pretty well every airport that I have ever visited uses a particular brand of hand-held screening wand: a Garrett Metal Detector. Garrett is the brand name and manufacturer of the wands and walk-through detectors. When most security workers are methodically waving that familiar two-foot black wand all over travellers’ bodies, people who are paying attention will notice the huge yellow letters on the wand, boldly shouting out the company’s name: GARRETT. They happen to be the number-one manufacturer of security and hobby metal detectors in the world. In our crazy, post 9/11 world, business must be good.

The company’s story starts, however, in a quieter, more secure time in 1963. Company founder Charles Garrett, who was a metal-detecting enthusiast, built a hand-held metal-detecting device as a hobby project to help him find rings, coins and other metal objects hidden on or under the ground. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of spending time combing through vast areas of sand on beaches, fields, or playgrounds hoping to unearth something of value. To me, it just looks like work, like vacuuming, perhaps. But to Charles Garrett it was a passion and he just kept on perfecting and improving his hand-held metal-detecting gadgets to the point where he became a leader in the field (no pun intended). He actually invented a whole new way of detecting metal which, through the use of independently-operated search-coils, greatly improved treasure hunting efficiency.

In the mid 1960’s word got out to scavengers and treasure hunters around the world that Garrett’s devices were more effective and sensitive than other similar products. People started snapping them up. Such were the humble beginnings of Garrett Metal Detectors Ltd. which originated in the garage behind Garrett’s house in Garland, Texas. Charles Garrett’s new metal detectors eliminated oscillator drift and were so revolutionary at the time that he immediately knocked a bunch of his competitors out of business. Garrett’s tinkering, leading to a vastly improved metal detector and the redevelopment of the metal-detection industry, is one of the great American success stories. Garrett went on to write books on treasure hunting and to form the International Treasure Hunting Society. In 1978, when the price of gold soared, the hobby of looking for wedding rings and gold watches lost in sand really took off. So did sales of Garrett’s metal detectors. By the mid-1980s, with more than 1,800 distributors worldwide, Garrett Metal Detectors became one of the largest metal detector manufacturers in the world. And to think that it all started in this guy’s garage.

So where do the Olympics come in? At around the same time that Charles was hanging out in his garage and tinkering with coils and magnets, a savage attack on some innocent young Olympians attending the Summer Olympics took place. The horrible tragedy of the 1972 Munich Games created an intense movement for increased security at the Olympics. In 1983 Garrett, who was by now the leading authority in the industry, was invited to develop a walk-through metal detector for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Pretty well every past Olympic Games since then has used Garrett Metal detectors to ensure the safety of athletes and guests. In 2004, the folks at Garrett even went so far as to write VANOC a letter expressing their interest in supporting us. Their letter arrived shortly after we won the right to stage the games and we weren’t yet in a position to respond properly to their offer. After I started working for VANOC and was given a copy of the letter, I considered it to be a “hot lead” and I was anxious to get to work on closing the deal.

In the summer of 2005, when I placed a phone call to Garrett’s headquarters in Texas and spoke to the company’s Vice-President of Sales Jim Dobrie, I knew that he wasn’t sitting in some little garage in Garland anymore. Garrett had grown to become a big company with 700 employees. After we discussed how we might possibly structure a deal for the supply of his product for the 2010 Winter Games, he drawled in his southern accent, “Y’all know we don’t do any advertising or marketing per se, other than our Olympic sponsorships, and we also supply the Whitehouse too, but that isn’t a sponsorship deal. So between sponsoring the Olympic Games and supplying the White House we’ve got a pretty good credibility rating within the industry”.

After I hung up the phone I paused and thought about the power behind the Olympic rings. The industry credibility Garrett gained through supplying its products to the games had more impact than a company simply running ads in trade publications praising their own products. An endorsement from the highly respected Olympic movement has incredible value. It is hard to put a price on it. But at VANOC we did, and if Garrett Metal Detectors would give us its metal detectors at no charge, we figured we would be saving our organizing committee millions of dollars in expenses. In exchange, we would grant them the right to call themselves an Official Supplier of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. This would mark the 11th time Garrett had supplied its products to an Olympic Games: A pretty good track record for some guy who started out waving a wand in the sand while searching for spare change.

My job as the Director of Sponsorship sales was a bit of a treasure hunt in itself. The hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship revenue that we needed to raise to stage the games was out there somewhere, we just needed to find it. As far as establishing agreements that brought that money in goes, this was one of the easier deals to get signed. Garrett wanted to supply us with a product that we clearly needed, in return for getting “bragging rights” to publicize their involvement. Through a sponsorship deal we were creating a real win-win situation, the kind of scenario we tried to establish with all of our agreements. The problem, as with so many of our deals, was in determining exact quantities: How many wands and walk-through units did we really need? My initial estimates were too rough and had little credence. My department was anxious to close the deal but first we had to do some more work on the operational logistics side of the security plan.

Funnily enough, Mag and Bag became a contentious issue in our early days of mapping out our plans. After my initial conversations with Garrett, as I researched our needs in this category some people said we didn’t need the thousand-plus units that we ended up acquiring. During a debrief session in Vancouver in June, 2005 one of the high-ranking officials from the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin even stated publicly that the Mag and Bag in Italy was a waste of time. He recommended that Vancouver eliminate or significantly reduce the time-consuming and expensive screening procedure. The RCMP, a group called VISU (Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit) and our internal VANOC security department were all part of the overall planning for the games security and each organization brought its own expertise and advice to the table. Hundreds of people were involved in the security planning. But with so many people with differing opinions involved in the discussions, it became clear that we were nowhere near knowing our final metal detector requirements for the Games. And the numbers and requirements seemed to change on a regular basis.

Meanwhile I kept in touch with the folks in Garland, Texas phoning them every few months and sending them material updating them on our games. In sales we have an expression for what I was doing to keep this lead alive: We call it, “putting a warm blanket over them”. It took a year and a half for us to get to the point where it was worthwhile for me to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the executives from Garrett Metal Detectors. After all, if we couldn’t identify how many of their metal detecting units we needed, the discussions with them wouldn’t get very far. During that waiting period, every time I went to board a plane –and I flew frequently– when the security guard flashed a Garrett wand in front of my face I was reminded of the fact that we hadn’t yet closed the deal with a company that was essentially ready to step up to the table with a good offer. I didn’t want to lose this one.

Finally in January of 2007 we had our security ducks in a row and the VANOC and related agency staff in all of our various security divisions were able to provide a first draft of our plans to my department. It would change several more times before we signed our final deal with Garrett, but at least we had a starting point.

I invited two of Garrett’s sales and marketing executives I had met by phone up to Vancouver: Jim Dobrie, their Vice-President of Sales, who I had first spoken with a year and a half earlier, and Henry Terrez. Both were long-time Garrett employees who were experienced in dealing with local Olympic organizing committees. During an all-day session in our VANOC offices, we walked them through the Tier III Official Sponsor rights-and-benefits presentation, arranged for them to meet with our security people and shared our specific Mag and Bag plans with them. This was one of those meetings where the client understood the scope of what had to be done better than we did. Not only did we want to use their machines, but we wanted their input on our plans. The experience they had gained from providing the Mag-and-Bag services to 10 previous Olympic Games was hugely valuable to us. So we all did lots of listening as they spoke. They told us that Winter Games present special challenges as some of their sensitive units need to be flown to mountain tops and must be specially calibrated to work in severe conditions. They had some new technology that they were excited about using and assured us the equipment that they would be supplying us with in Vancouver would be the latest state-of-the-art gear.

As part of our agenda that day I thought it would be a good idea to take them out for lunch. Henry and Jim had traveled all the way up from Texas to be with us and since so many deals are based on relationships, I wanted to get to know them a bit better. As part of the small talk over lunch I naturally asked them, “How’s business?” Addressing Jim I said, “I imagine that after 9/11 you have seen a big increase in sales of equipment to airports around the world.” He said that business had never been better but noted that the airport business has not been their biggest area of growth. “A relatively new market for us is schools,” he said. “And most recently we’re seeing new business with elementary and middle schools that require our metal detectors.” I thought that was a sad comment on where the world is headed. Imagine kids being screened by someone with a metal detector before being allowed entry into their schools.

We concluded our deal with Garrett in February of 2008. Because it had sponsored so many Olympic Games in the past they understood how organizing committees work, where they could add value to the equation and where they could draw value for themselves. They even offered a turn-key solution to a complex challenge we faced. Because they supplied all of our metal detectors and the technicians to ensure they ran properly, and were responsible for the set-up and take-down of all of them, we didn’t have to worry about the equipment and could focus on recruiting and training the thousands of people we needed to hold the wands and stand next to the arches.

Just before the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver kicked off, I got to meet the company’s matriarch, Eleanor Garrett, Charles’ wife. She was the sweetest little old lady you could imagine. A grey-haired, tiny southern belle in her 80’s with a thick Texas accent, she was thrilled to be involved in the company’s 11th set of games. When I told her that I had met Jim Dobrie and put the deal together with him she said, “Oh yes of course, Jim, he’s a real darling, I sign his pay cheque every two weeks.” After my encounter with her I could picture her as a young lady in the early 1960’s preparing dinner for her husband as he toiled away on his inventions in their garage. What an interesting ride she has had.

In the end, we structured this deal so that VANOC didn’t keep the metal detectors after the games; Garrett took them all back and redeployed them to prisons, airports and yes, schools around the world. But long after I heard it, the comment Jim made about schools being a big part of their current sales really stuck with me. One day as I stood waiting to pass through one of Garrett’s metal detectors to get into an Olympic hockey game, I thought about the power of the Olympics and the way they just might help to hurt Garrett’s bottom line. I thought that maybe some misguided, juvenile delinquent out there was considering wielding a knife to school. Maybe, after watching the stories about some of the amazing athletes who made it to the Olympics, he would find a role model or something positive in a Vancouver 2010 Olympian and then decide to take a different path in life. The Olympic Games have the power to inspire and change people’s lives. And if they reached out to inspire enough kids, maybe the need for school-based security systems would decline. That thought was interrupted by an annoying beeping sound: I had forgotten to take my keys out of my pocket.

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Whisper the Cow

whisperphotoAs the Director of Sponsorship Sales for VANOC you can imagine Dave’s horror when the Olympic Torch Relay visited Brunswick, Nova Scotia and he came across this blatant Brand Violation. Click here to read a copy of the email that he sent back to the office to alert them:

Whisper the Cow (PDF)

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The Master of the Household Receives a Command


This story is about how Dave’s year in London working on the 2012 Olympic Bid culminated in his being invited to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth.

HRH held a reception for the entire London 2012 Bid Committee and Dave got to chit-chat for while with HRH about the Games.

Read the story. (PDF)


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My Travels With Abdul

abdulThis story provides a unique view of a sponsorship salesman’s life on the road.

For the five years that Dave worked on raising the sponsorship dollars for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he flew from Vancouver to Toronto on an average of twice a month.

During that time, Dave formed a great professional relationship with a man named Abdul who became his trusted driver and reliable companion for all of those trips. This is their story. (PDF)

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Track Progress of Olympic Bids on is the place to track the progress of upcoming Olympic Bids.

The Gamesbids site provides an authoritative review of the Olympic Bid Business.

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  • Games are supposed to be fun and they are.

    I have had a ball and a lot of laughs during most of my career putting deals together, traveling to far away cities, and meeting interesting people. There are so many stories to tell. It is a good thing that I like to write!

    Here I let my hair down a bit and offer up some humorous non-fiction stories that all relate to my Olympic experiences. While reading them, you may learn something about selling sponsorships for the Olympics, you may be inspired by the power of the Rings, and hopefully you will get a bit of a chuckle out of them along the way.

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