Owners and managers of commercial real estate don't usually do much brand-building. But as the retail landscape shifts, Cadillac Fairview is trying to become a household name. That marketing push now includes an Olympic sponsorship.
On Wednesday, the company will announce an 11-year deal with the Canadian Olympic Committee to become a "national partner," joining a sponsorship tier that includes Petro-Canada, Deloitte, SAS and Teck. It is the first time the COC has had a sponsor in the commercial real estate category.
"It's really important to build our corporate brand," said John Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of the company, which is owned by Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. "Historically, we've allowed intentionally the asset itself to be the brand – the Eaton Centre, for example. … What's happening now, particularly the retail space is evolving. Consumers have more choices."
In some cases, those choices are driving them away from malls. This year, e-commerce sales are expected to account for 7.3 per cent of the $38.7-billion retail market in Canada, according to research firm eMarketer; by 2020, its forecasts show online purchases accounting for 10 per cent of retail sales.
Canadian retail makes up roughly 60 per cent of Cadillac Fairview's portfolio, with another 26 per cent in Canadian office buildings. The company has been selling off properties in recent years to focus on higher-performing locations, Mr. Sullivan said. It has also retooled the merchandise mix in its malls, hosting most of the new Nordstrom and Saks stores as they've expanded to Canada.
Shoppers typically know what malls they prefer to go to, but don't give a second thought to who owns the place. Cadillac Fairview has been trying to change that: Since 2015, it has been placing its CF logo alongside the names of its malls.
The COC sponsorship is another step in that marketing plan: the company's malls have hosted Olympic viewing parties in the past, but it plans to advertise itself as the "home of Team Canada," and will expand the roster of events, yet to be announced, to draw people into its buildings.
To mark Wednesday's announcement, in front of a large screen at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre with a mountain backdrop, Canadian athletes will use trampolines to perform aerial tricks typical of the slopestyle, snowboard halfpipe and other events. The demonstrations will be repeated four times per day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The deal is the result of an effort by the COC to find more potential sponsors, in industries it may not have dealt with before. In January, it announced a deal with analytics software company SAS, and is eyeing other opportunities in sports technology industries.
"We're always exploring new categories and new ideas [for sponsorship]," COC chief executive Chris Overholt said.
Boosting sponsorships is a necessity: three-quarters of the COC's revenue comes from the private sector and its expenses are growing. The COC's sports funding investments rose from $55-million in the four years spanning 2008 to 2012 to $105-million in the following four years; and to $132-million in the current period until 2020.
Cadillac Fairview provides another kind of exposure for the COC brand as well: its 19 malls generate roughly 250 million visits per year, according to the company.
"We feel very strongly that there is going to be a place for malls in the future. I think, though, that the number of malls will likely not be what it is today," Mr. Sullivan said. "When someone comes to your mall, they want to experience a number of different things."