NEWS
11/16/2011 06:19 EST | Updated 01/16/2012 05:12 EST

OTP's Ken Read: Bold pursuit of sponsorship dollars needed post-2010

CALGARY - Canada's sliders aren't afraid to put themselves out there in pursuit of sponsorship money.

The Canadian luge team slapped "For Sale" signs on their helmets almost three years ago in a successful bid to raise corporate dollars.

Now, top skeleton racers Jon Montgomery and Mellisa Hollingsworth are launching a national billboard campaign Thursday in Toronto.

After almost 20 years of sponsoring Canada's bobsled and skeleton teams, VISA did not renew its contract.

Montgomery, an Olympic champion in 2010, and Hollingsworth, a bronze medallist in 2006 and former world champion, want to get noticed by Toronto's business community.

"Whatever tactics it takes to get attention," says Ken Read, head of winter sport for Own The Podium.

Some team sponsorships have expired since the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., and not all are getting renewed.

Read said there is usually a sponsorship dip at some point in the four-year cycle between Winter Games.

With a home Games, the drop off seems more pronounced because so many companies get on board the train in the build-up to the Olympics. When they get off, it feels like a mass exodus.

"It's a little more challenging when you are coming out of a home Games," Read said. "We knew that last year and this year was where a lot of these contracts were going to expire and we knew there would be a percentage of them that wouldn't renew.

"Quite a few (sports) have managed it reasonably well. You've got to save up in advance to manage when you have the drop off afterwards."

Alpine Canada lost major sponsor GMC after 2010, but Audi and the Montreal mining company Osisko have come on board since.

National sport organizations must pound the pavement and bang on doors to bridge looming gaps in corporate sponsorship, Read added.

"It's not something one can be passive about," he said. "You've got to be aggressive, really aggressive."

Own The Podium is the organization responsible for doling out money to sports organizations deemed to have athletes with Olympic medal potential.

The majority of that money comes from taxpayers in the form of Sport Canada funding, which Read points out the federal government has increased post-2010.

Read's budget for 2011-12 is $21 million is to be divided between 14 winter sports and four Paralympic sports. That money is earmarked for the elite athletes competing on the international stage.

Corporate sponsorship helps national sports federations prime the pump by paying for junior teams and domestic races, which in turn produce those elite athletes.

"We still do need the corporate sector to be an active participant in high-performance sport," Read said. "The more the national sports organization can find in terms of sponsorship, the more flexibility they have as far as how they manage their various funding streams.

"It's really critical in terms of the capacity to go and hire beyond your national team."

Money and Olympic athletes have been a recurring theme in recent weeks and not all sponsors are letting their interest in sport lapse.

The Canadian Olympic Committee recently announced extensions with both RBC and Hudson's Bay Co.

OTP oversees an athlete's competitive life between Olympic Games. The COC is responsible for preparing athletes for the Games environment and looking after their needs on the ground at Games.

OTP and the COC are holding a joint announcement Thursday in Montreal reinforcing their partnership. The COC said last winter it will commit $5 million annually to OTP's coffers.

The COC has also guaranteed its annual Gold Medal Plates events, which are corporate dinners held across Canada, will raise at least $1 million per year from now on. Those events were pulling in an average of $700,000 previously.

The committee's "Red Mitten" campaign is in its third year. The sale of those hand warmers, introduced just prior to the 2010 Winter Games, has raised almost $19 million.