Reflecting on SponsorshipX 2024: the future of Sports Marketing conference

06:00 PM EST
min - read
Tom Sychterz
06:00 PM EST
min - read

I recently had the privilege of attending SponsorshipX, a gathering of professionals, experts, and enthusiasts in the ever evolving field of sports sponsorship & marketing. Hosted a couple of weeks ago, from January 31st to February 2nd 2024, the event promised to delve into the latest trends, innovations, and opportunities in the industry. I was eager to see how the whole thing would shape up, since SponsorshipX is the brainchild of  Mark “MH3” Harrisson, a notable Canadian sponsorship guru. Let’s dive in.

The conference was spread out across a few locations during the week, but we mostly hung out in a beautiful reception room at the North York Fairmount. The check-in was easy, the staff was welcoming and every attendee was well received. The audience seemed to consist of agencies, brands, non-profits, professional sports leagues & students. 

The who’s who of Canadian sports sponsors made a notable pit stop: Bell Media, BMO, Canada Life, Canadian Tire, CIBC, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Pepsi, Visa, Labatt, Pizza Pizza, RBC, Red Bull, Rogers TD, Molson & Tim Hortons.

The NHL, PWHL, Hockey Canada, Hockey Diversity Alliance, Hockey 4 Youth, Pride Tape, ESPN, CBC were seen roaming around. 

The content was well curated and its quality was commendable, striking a balance between theoretical frameworks and practical case studies. 

While most speakers delivered engaging and informative sessions, a few lacked depth and failed to provide actionable insights. Some sessions definitely felt like a “show-and-tell” pitch to promote brand initiatives.

I think there were opportunities to dive deeper into the nitty gritty of things given the quality of speakers and attendees, but the sponsorship industry as a whole usually keeps its card close to the chest, so I wouldn’t say I was overly surprised.

My “coup-de-coeur” sessions:

#1: Candy Funhouse chat: The story of how a small candy distributor was able to take over a whole industry using authenticity as its engine was fascinating.

#2: The Changemaker Scrum. I’m a big believer in letting the storydoing replace storytelling, which is what these folks were talking about.

#3: Unlocking Fanbase. This one got a bit quantitative but the panel provided some solid value on sponsorship decision making.

My “shrug-emoji” sessions : 

#1: Rogers saying that they spent truckloads of $ to paint the town red in the NHL All star activation. 

#2: Canadian Tire’s presentation of their social impact work. Felt very surface level. 

Nevertheless, the variety of topics ensured that attendees didn’t have their minds pigeonholed into one specific element. Everything from fan engagement tactics to sponsorship strategies to positive impact initiatives to advertising approaches were covered.

The whole conference was topped off with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman & NHLPA’s Marty Walsh chatting about NHL players in the upcoming Olympics.  I gotta say, for a somewhat intimate gathering, all things considered, that finale really showcased the legitimacy of the conference as a “can’t miss”. 

One of the highlights of my experience was the variety of mingling activities. These included end-of-day cocktails, the Hyundai Fan Fair & the PWHL 3v3 showcase. The organizers really went out of their way to put together a fun brochette of events that made you move around and explore. The only flip side: a lot of attendees seemed to know each other already, so if you weren’t an existing “insider” of the sponsorship or marketing world, you were somewhat left on the sidelines when it came to exchanging and networking. Using the concept of Braindates could have been an intriguing way to solve this ( the event app was underwhelming). 

My overall score for the 2024 edition: A-

If I had to summarize it in a tweet ( or an X?): Logistics were outstanding, the content intent and curation was top notch, but the speakers could have been challenged for depth (at times) and the networking opportunities could have been guided a little bit better.

The good news is that these little blemishes are easily addressable in the future, so in other words,  SponsorshipX is 100% recommended to anyone who is involved, interested or curious ( even remotely) about sports marketing.

I would even say that the value provided versus a C2MTL, for example, is easily 3-4X times better bang for your buck.

Many thanks to the SponsorshipX organizers for inviting me to the event.

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