Vancouver-based ski association loses major sponsor

Agent blasts Canadian sports organizations for failing to capitalize on Games exposure
Freestyle moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada's first Olympic gold medal on home snow at Cypress Mountain during the 2010 Olympics. Freestyle Canada lost title sponsor Canada Post after last winter and has not returned to the West Vancouver Olympic venue since the Games

The Vancouver-based Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA) has $1 million a year less in its envelope after Canada Post was unable to renew its sponsorship.

But chief executive Peter Judge said CFSA, which runs a $5 million annual budget, will still be able to meet its commitments to athletes for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

"We've gone from $1.6 million to $100,000 worth of revenue. It's a pretty significant hole to fill," Judge told Business in Vancouver. "Thankfully with the Own the Podium project, our high- performance program is relatively secure."

Freestyle Canada skiers were featured on XPresspost envelopes and Canada Post was the team's title sponsor since 2006. The 12-year relationship fell victim to Canada Post cutbacks after the federal Crown corporation lost $327 million in 2011. Mail volume has dropped 20% over the last five years, and Canada Post is transitioning to a future with more parcels and fewer letters, thanks to email and e-commerce.

"It was a long partnership we were both proud of," said Canada Post communications general manager Jon Hamilton. "Due to our financial situation, which is certainly of no surprise, we've had to refocus. We weren't looking for another sponsorship opportunity. We don't have the discretionary funds to be sponsoring anything to that level at this time."

"There's no hard feelings," Judge said. "It was a win-win, we were able to do some great things for them with creating affinity for their employees and clients and distinguishing their brands from being tried and true and immovable to being more fluid."

Judge said a replacement for Canada Post has not been found because winter sports are suffering a post-home Games sponsorship hangover. Bell and RBC are also no longer sponsors.

Los Angeles sports agent Brant Feldman, who represents Canadian Olympic hockey gold medallists Jennifer Botterill and Tessa Bonhomme, said Canadian sports organizations should have used Vancouver 2010 as leverage to make long-term deals through Sochi 2014.

"Those NSOs [national sports organizations] had the hammer for a once-every-35-year event, and I don't think everyone took advantage of it as they should've," said Feldman, who owns American Group Management. "It ain't so easy trying to get the money as we're heading to Russia as it was to Vancouver."

In 2011, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton lost title sponsor Visa, worth between $250,000 and $500,000 a year. General Motors ended its relationship with Alpine Canada, but Audi drove in with a commitment through Sochi 2014.

Feldman said the national sports organizations should form a united front and hire an outside ad agency to sign sponsors.

"They'd rather take 100% of nothing than give 20% to an ad agency," Feldman said. "They don't think of it in a greater manner."

Judge said he is conferring with CEOs of Alpine Canada, the Canadian Snowboard Federation and Cross-Country Canada to develop a strategy.

Instead of two full world cup stops in 2013, the CFSA will host two partial world cup events: aerials on January 12 in Val Saint Côme, Quebec, and moguls on January 26 at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

For the third consecutive winter, West Vancouver's Cypress Mountain is not on the list.

Judge said Freestyle Canada wants to return to the 2010 Winter Olympics venue but can't do so without substantial sponsor backing.

"We thought the venue there is a phenomenal venue and hopefully one we'd have access to as a legacy," he said. "There's certainly an appetite in Vancouver for world-class sport, there are very few venues in the world that have that kind of access to a city."

VANOC spent $17.455 million of taxpayers' funds on the freestyle and snowboarding tracks at Cypress.

"If you have an Olympic legacy you'd think you'd want to use that all the time," Feldman said. "Every other year you should be going back to Vancouver. There's enough big companies in B.C. that supported the Olympics."

The snowboarding halfpipe, where American superstar Shaun White won gold, was demolished in summer 2010 because Cypress parent Boyne Resorts did not want to pay for its upkeep. Only the Richmond Olympic Oval, Whistler Olympic Park and Whistler Sliding Centre were eligible for payouts from the $110 million Games Operating Trust. •

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