Sponsors sign on with Toronto’s newest sports team

TekSavvy and Air Transat are among those joining the Wolfpack's rugby bandwagon.

A handful of sponsors have signed on with Toronto’s newest professional sports team, the Toronto Wolfpack.

The team’s launch has been relatively quiet in a city as sports-obsessed as Toronto. So far, all eight of its games have been played overseas (though it has gone undefeated). It’s Canada’s first professional rugby team, as well as its first transatlantic team.

Air Transat is on board as the airline partner and jersey sponsor for the team, with TekSavvy on as the telecom sponsor.

The team has also partnered with craft breweries like Henderson Brewing Company, Side Launch Brewing and Lost Craft to host a beer garden at home games. All deals were done directly with the team.

The transatlantic aspect of the team appealed to Air Transat, said a spokesperson for the airline. In addition to visibility on the team’s jerseys, Air Transat will be activating its sponsorship with a mix of activities that will include fan activations, in-flight promotions and social media contests.

Fraser McNaught, VP of marketing at TekSavvy, said the telco was sold on having a similar underdog market position to the Wolfpack and wants to grow with the team from the ground up.

The telco is the official sponsor of the team’s first home game, which has been named the TekSavvy Home Opener. It will also have visibility though on-field signage and be the partner for the TekSavvy Difference Maker in each game, which will be announced on social media after each match.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to put our brand in Toronto, which is our largest and most loyal customer base,” said McNaught. “It’s not big and shiny and polished like going to one of the other sports leagues in town. Feels more comfortable and like a U.K. sporting event.”

The Wolfpack were officially launched last year, with identity work on the uniforms and advertising done by McCann Canada. That work on the brand launch is on the shortlist for New Brand Launch in the Design category at the 2017 Marketing Awards.

Peter Cosentino, president with DEC Sports & Entertainment, said the team has already proven it can win, now it has to get noticed and draw the attention of the supportive rugby community in the Toronto area. The Wolfpack will play at the 9,600-seat Lamport Stadium in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood.

“The opportunities include playing in a stadium within vibrant Liberty Village where thousands of young professionals live and are looking for something fun to do on a Saturday, he said. “The real challenge is, will they get this younger demo to part with their money and buy tickets and become a viable business?

“There is a real opportunity for niche properties like the Wolfpack to come in and provide an alternative source of entertainment for Toronto fans. Getting an early hold on the market place will determine if this team can have long term success.”

The team has been promoting its home opener in much the same way the Toronto FC soccer franchise does, inviting fans to a tailgate party at Toronto’s Brazen Head Pub before marching over to Lamport Stadium for the start of the match.

Brian Cooper, president and CEO at MKTG Canada, thinks the lack of consistent home games and a transatlantic schedule is a big hurdle to overcome on the fan, sponsorship and athlete sides of the equation for the new team.

But he said the Toronto Wolfpack are ahead of the market in attempting to build a rugby following beyond hardcore fans in the city.

“On a global and North American basis, I think the sport has gained a more populous following,” he said. “Rugby Canada and the national teams have a good following. I think these guys are just way ahead of the curve. The hardcore fans will be there, but to gain casual fans I think they are way ahead of the market.”

With a modest budget in its first year, Salman Amin, director of marketing for the team, said brand awareness promotions for the team and Toronto games have been focused on grassroots partnerships, trucks with LED screens in the downtown area, elevator marketing and OOH posters.

In addition, the team has been focusing efforts on building its social media presence, with an emphasis on connecting with fans, said Amin. The team currently has 16,972 Facebook page likes, 14,400 followers on Twitter and 10,400 on Instagram.

“We take a lot of effort online to make sure we are engaging with fans and being as accessible as possible,” he said.

All of the Toronto Wolfpack’s 2017 games will be streamed online on CBC Sports.