HSBC Canada Sevens Part 2: Finding Commercial Success for A Relative Unknown

Bill Cooper, Managing Director & Chief Operating Partner

*For Part 1 of our collective HSBC Canada Sevens story with our sister agency TORQUE Strategies click here.

Standing before us was a massive opportunity.

It was, of course, delicately balanced with the risk and traditional market scepticism so uniquely reserved for first-time events, but the butterflies in our stomachs had taken flight when we thought about what this event could mean for Rugby Canada.

Rugby Canada had awarded us, together with our sister agency TORQUE, who would focus on brand management and marketing strategy, an agency of record partnership that would engage us in the business of optimizing the commercial success of the HSBC Canada Sevens.

You might say that ‘optimizing commercial success’ is simply fancy talk for selling sponsorship and corporate hospitality, and you’d be partially right. But because this was a new event for Canada, we needed to get our pricing and engagement opportunities just right and to do that, we needed to optimize every angle of the event’s commercial rights.

And so coming out of the gates, after much consideration, contemplation and imagination of what this property could be, we proceeded to get some of our pricing and engagement architecture ideas just right, but others dead wrong. I guess that is the nature of building from scratch. And while frankly I’d rather just talk about what we got right, I guess to be fair I should start with what we got wrong.

We neglected to adequately factor in new event jitters and scepticism when we priced the top-end of our proposed sponsorship/partnership architecture. Given the traditional exposure, hospitality and media-based assets we had to offer, and by comparison to other properties on the Canadian market, we knew our pricing was appropriate, but we didn’t sufficiently filter that bravado through the Canadian market hesitancy to try new (or not hockey!).

Our discovery of this miscalculation was drawn out over the first few forays into the market on the sales drive, and it was punctuated by some mildly comical feedback (at least comical in retrospect, as it certainly hurt on the day!). A recurrent reason given for decline was that certain prospects deemed a rugby sevens event in Vancouver to be outside of current strategy. You can imagine as an inaugural event it is difficult not to chuckle when you are told you are not in a brand’s current marketing or sponsorship strategy, because indeed how could you have been lest they had been soothsayers when having concocted their strategy! But levity aside when we got down to brass tacks, the root of their reason to decline was largely a hesitancy to invest in an unproven property and in those circumstances price tags take on an even higher relevance.

Fortunately, an effective commercial optimization strategy is not built on only one tier of a property’s engagement architecture. And our pricing and strategy at other levels of the architecture were concurrently performing at levels far beyond our expectations.

Perhaps most notably our corporate suites (of which there are 52 in BC Place) sold out in just 48 hours for the first edition of the tournament. This pace and exceptional level of corporate interest enabled us to have tremendous incremental success at marketing and selling corporate engagement products that are somewhat of a hybrid between hospitality and sponsorship, and are priced accordingly.

In the end, our 2016 men’s event campaign resulted in a family of three international partners, 16 domestic partners and 55 suite and/or platinum club holders, which for a first-year event constitutes tremendous engagement from corporate Canada.

From there we further tweaked our program to strengthen points of popularity and be responsive to areas where we were challenged to drive interest. That entailed some pricing adjustments, augmented and evolved assets and a sales cycle that highlighted evidence of year one being popular with consumers and corporate Canada alike. The result was an engaged market that was more responsive to our outreach, and good growth, both in terms of number of partners and in aggregate yield. In year two, we saw an increased number of partners interested in engaging with both the men’s and women’s events, notwithstanding the events being two months apart and staged in different host markets.

Our 2017 men’s event enjoyed four international partners, 19 domestic partners and 55 suite and/or platinum club holders, as well as a significantly expanded base of corporations that secured bulk ticket buys through a direct concierge-style sales channel.

With this level of partnership, this property now stands as an engine of growth for Rugby Canada and significantly expands and diversifies the sport’s engagement with corporate Canada. Their commercial rights have never been more optimized. With the wider and larger spectrum of consumers now soaking up Rugby Canada brand elements through ticket-buying, licensed merchandise sales, food and beverage consumption, viewership and social media interactivity, HSBC Canada Sevens brand love is at an all-time high.

And with both HSBC Canada Sevens events standing as annual fixtures on Canada’s entertainment calendar, the ongoing potential to launch still further from the already impressive foundation bodes well for the commercial sustainability and health of Rugby Canada.

Given that our corporate vision and aspiration here at TTG Partnerships is to elevate the potential of sport, culture and community, it is with no small amount of pride, excitement and gratitude for the partnership that we have started leaning in on the next edition, preparing to optimize still further.