Own the Podium will receive an important injection of money from the Canadian Olympic Committee, bolstering the country’s effort to win more medals at the Summer and Winter Olympics with additional corporate cash.
Funding from the COC to the program has climbed in recent years, as the committee has signed on new corporate sponsors. For 2012-13, the committee put in the most direct funding it ever has, about $8-million.
An announcement is set for Thursday morning in Toronto. Based on recent trends, at least $30-million will flow into the OTP coffers.
While the additional corporate money bolsters the system, the bulk of money going through OTP – a not-for-profit organization launched in 2004 to ensure Canada’s top athletes had the training, coaching and technology needed to win Olympic medals – still comes from the federal government via Sport Canada. In 2012-13, Sport Canada provided almost 90 per cent of the direct funding OTP allocated among national sports organizations ($61.3-million of the $69.2-million total).
Still, the corporate money from the COC is far greater than in the past. The new annual figure is more than double the amount the Olympic committee supplied OTP in 2009-10 – $2.9-million, the fiscal year that included the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
The increased corporate funds is the result of redoubled efforts to draw sponsorships after the Vancouver Games, when COC president Marcel Aubut brought on Chris Overholt, a veteran of corporate marketing in the NFL and NHL. Overholt is chief executive of the organization and has helped sign on eight new backers, led by Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. and auto maker BMW.
The Olympic committee has sold companies on the “Canadian Olympic team” brand, what it bills as a “national sports property” that can intrigue major companies. Another push has to expand the brand beyond the burst of an Olympics, summer or winter, every two years. It has been about “stretching our marketing calendar,” said Overholt, and expanding efforts in all areas, such as additional events around the annual Hall of Fame gala.
“It’s never been harder to secure private-sector support,” Overholt said in an interview earlier this month. “There’s a lot more scrutiny. We’ve had to be creative.”
The COC strategy, as Overholt came on board in spring of 2010, was to centralize fundraising efforts, which has hurt some of the 52 organizations that represent various sports that are also hustling for corporate funding. However, on the whole, a more singular focus to attract the attention and money of corporate Canada is benefiting high-end sports in the country, sports executives say.
“The COC has done a phenomenal job,” said Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association who will become director of winter sport at Own the Podium after the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“They’ve raised money in a market that’s significantly tough economically and dealing with the sponsorship fatigue after 2010. It speaks volumes of their business plan.”
The money the COC will unveil Thursday comes out of a larger fund of close to $100-million announced 13 months ago. At the time, the committee said it would provide the money through 2016 to support high-performance sport, preparation for the Olympics and Pan American Games, supporting individual national sports groups, and cash directly for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
Issues remain in the funding of Olympic sports in Canada, especially at the development level in different sports from which future medal contenders emerge. The new COC money, however, will give sports groups additional leeway to plan over the next half-decade.
“Certainty is always a big part of the sport equation around funding,” Judge said.
A previous version of this story has been corrected to remove the years of OTP funding and to say that the amount of funding is in excess of the $30-million figure quoted