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Selling Soccer Where National Popularity Is Fast-Growing: Alexa Costa, Manager Of Partnerships For Canadian Soccer Business

Alexa Costa | Manager, Partnership Marketing | Canadian Soccer Business (CSB)

It’s the chants that fill the stadium, the smile on a dad’s face as he brings his son to his first match, the kids who are aspiring to play on that field in years to come… that’s what we’re selling, and brands want to support that too.

Alexa Costa

Manager, Partnership Marketing

Canadian Soccer Business (CSB)

× The interview with Alexa Costa was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as Manager of Partnership Marketing for the Canadian Soccer Business. What does a typical day look like for you?

At the Canadian Soccer Business (CSB) we represent the commercial assets and inventory for marquee soccer properties in Canada. As the Manager of Partnership Marketing, I oversee and provide strategy for the national partner portfolio of the Canadian Premier League (CPL). One of the things I love most about my job is that every day is different! The sports industry is always moving, so depending on where we’re at in the year will determine what the day looks like.

Day-to-day, I work with the CPL’s roster of partners to bring brand activations to life through our social and digital platforms, as well as in-stadium during the season. This can be anything from a season-long digital program, like the Volkswagen Premier Performer activation last season. A program which involved CPL athletes playing for a brand new Jetta GLI. We tracked their performance throughout the season through an analytics partner, to be able to crown a winner and hand over keys to the CPL’s Premier Performer.

Activations can also be an in-stadium presence (pre-pandemic) that is executed across all 7 clubs. My role is to collaborate with the partner to conceptualize an activation and then ensure it’s executed on match day in each market through each Club’s staff. A lot of the role making sure the partners are happy and feeling the love!

Alexa Costa | Manager, Partnership Marketing | Canadian Soccer Business (CSB)

Another large part of my role is managing the signage and other collateral that surrounds the field of play. I work with a fantastic printing partner who has supported us immensely by bringing the CPL to life through signage on the field, the arches the clubs walk out of and the stand the ball is on pre-game. It’s my job to assess those smaller details on the operational side of sports because every detail is essential to brand success, even when they are things the general public wouldn’t think about.

Since working in the industry, I definitely consume sports very differently. I’m always checking out who is advertising, what innovative activations are happening, how every other brand and league is operating… It’s about staying current and understanding industry trends, as opposed to being reactive in your planning/execution.

What do you find the most rewarding about your role? On the flip side, what do you find the most challenging?

Throughout my career, I’ve typically worked for smaller organizations, and this has allowed me to wear many hats and has challenged me to continuously learn and grow. That in itself is rewarding because I’ve always loved learning — I am always reading or looking for a new course online to develop various skills, and just staying current in regard to news, strategies and industry insight.

Another really rewarding part about my job is seeing the blood, sweat and tears of my teammates and I, come to fruition through some pretty amazing events. Given that I have always been part of small teams, it’s always inspired me to see what can be accomplished by people with a purpose or a passion.

Alexa Costa | Manager, Partnership Marketing | Canadian Soccer Business (CSB)

My first real experience with large scale events was the 104th Grey Cup in Toronto. I was part of a small but mighty team at the Canadian Football League (CFL) head office during that time and after many months of sleepless nights, unexpected challenges and genuine hustle, being on the field during the fly-over after the national anthem was a feeling of satisfaction (and exhaustion) that I’ll never forget.

In the same breath, the CPL’s inaugural season began in April 2019 and our team brought Canada a soccer league that is truly Canadian. With overwhelming support from fans coast-to-coast, we’ve had the opportunity to bring matches to life in over 7 cities spanning from Halifax, NS to Victoria, BC. To be able to watch the league evolve from its very first kick-off to crowning its first-ever Champion is an experience that taught me what can be accomplished when you have a purposeful mission and a plan of action.

As for challenges, I think helping to establish a new league has been the greatest challenge of my professional career. Although it’s a great opportunity to learn and work with a blank slate, it comes with its tests. Being resourceful is our way to counteract that, and we also have a great roster of partners that have been supporting the league a ton. Like most things, there is a lot of trial and error, but we roll with the punches and make adjustments as we go.

Tell us how you and the Canadian Soccer Business are finding ways to connect with colleagues, partners and other stakeholders in new ways considering the COVID-19 pandemic. What have you found successful?

We have had to pivot with our league play being postponed back in March, due to the pandemic outbreak but staying transparent and in touch with our partners has been key. The reality is that a lot of business has been impacted and most of us have ever lived through a pandemic so communication has been important for us.

We’ve also had to be more innovative in the ways we’re providing value to our partners without the match play up to this point.

We’ve created a digital-focused strategy, to be able to create content and keep fans engaged through social media and other online outlets. Which have proven to be successful given the circumstances we’re all dealing with.

One thing I can say is that showing compassion and empathy to support partners and work together during trying times is important. We’re lucky to have that sort of support and understanding, however reciprocating that is equally as important. So ultimately, it’s just working together with our partners to find solutions around what we can control while maintaining an open mind.

You’ve held many roles in your career entailing marketing and sponsorship duties. Tell us about the importance of all stages of the sport marketing/sponsorship process from executing ideas to tracking data to knowing if an idea worked.

Early in my career, I started in the Business Development part of the sponsorship business, and something I learned there is that patience is essential to success. However, I’ve also realized that there is a fine line between being patient and wasting time. New deals take time typically, because building that trust with the prospect is important, but doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to recognize when a deal is not progressing and when to call it quits.

I pretty quickly realized that my strengths were more based in the servicing side of the business and I was given the opportunity to start managing partner accounts. Since then, a few things I’ve learned are that communication is key, it’s crucial to set mutually agreed-upon goals, have a well-thought-out action plan, and track results accordingly.

When I talk about communication, I think about building a relationship with the client I’m going to be working with. I want to know what they are looking to achieve through the partnership so that in turn, we can make a plan that meets those goals. Once you understand what is trying to be achieved, activations are conceptualized and proposed to the partner in order to align and move forward with the execution.

Alexa Costa | Manager, Partnership Marketing | Canadian Soccer Business (CSB)

In those proposals, goals are outlined in order to be tracked to measure success. Examples of this are impressions on social media, X amount of fans sign up for an insurance quote, etc…  As well, execution/communication plans are included in these documents to ensure all parties agree to what is being delivered.

Once all of this is through, execution begins and so does the tracking. This can be done in various ways, depending on the way the activation is being served (ie, in-stadium or online), but is always the element that will determine the success of the efforts. It gives you the ability (in most cases) to make adjustments as you progress if you see something isn’t quite going as you expected. It could be something like the timing of the social posts need to be adjusted because there is too much clutter when we’re posting.

Finally, once the activation is finished, record the “wins and losses”, understand where you were challenged and what the solutions are for that particular challenge. But also celebrate the successes and repeat those practices in future programs!

What are some reasons why a sporting image is an attractive one to partners? How do you ‘sell’ sport (in this case, soccer) to a brand?

One of the biggest elements we sell in partnerships is community and being able to unite people through sport. Having worked for two Canadian professional sports leagues has given me the opportunity to bring people together in really unique ways, and brands what to be part of that as well.

Events like the Grey Cup really bring to life how passionate people are about sports — the week leading up to the game in Toronto was the perfect example of how much Canadians love the CFL. Sure, they have their favourite teams, but if the Saskatchewan Roughriders aren’t playing in the cup, you bet there will still be Riders fans with watermelons on their heads in the stands.

The stadium is a mosaic of colours, and you can typically find at least one fan that represents each club in the league. I think it’s a great representation of Canadians in general and how accepting we are of others — we live in a cultural mosaic and it’s created some beautiful experiences in the way of bringing people and communities together.

I experience this in my current role as well with the CSB as the CPL is a league made for Canadians, by Canadians. Through this, we have brought professional sports to some amazing communities that have thrown themselves right into the soccer culture. Halifax, NS being one of those communities — the Wanderers FC saw a sold-out Home Opener in 2019, despite the pouring rain and unkind temperatures the community came out to cheer on their new squad. The energy was electric in the stadium as they finished the match with the Club’s first win under their belts.

It’s the chants that fill the stadium, the smile on a dad’s face as he brings his son to his first match, the kids who are aspiring to play on that field in years to come… that’s what we’re selling, and brands want to support that too.  

Are there any partnerships that you’ve been a part of that you’re most proud of? Tell us about those ventures and why they are special.

I’ve worked with a lot of great brands and properties in my career, but one program that stands out to me was a partnership I worked on during my time at New Era Cap. In partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays, we had the opportunity to bring dreams to life with a few SickKids patients back in 2018, by way of having them design their own caps that were then sold at retail in the Jays Shop at the Rogers Centre. A portion of the proceeds were donated back to SickKids to support all of the amazing work they do every day.

The final step was having one of the young designers meet their favourite Blue Jay (at the time) Marcus Stroman, on the Rogers Centre field just before the first pitch was thrown out. Her reaction was priceless, and she loved every second— she even got to keep a pair of Stroman’s cleats! I’m sure that was a moment she won’t soon forget and I’m grateful to have been part of her experience.

On top of this, I was a patient at SickKids as a child and I remember how wonderful the doctors and nurses that supported me were. I loved that we could create a memorable experience for our young designer and all while giving back to a hospital that helps so many children and families in profound ways.

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

While partnership marketing may primarily be about bringing brand activations to life, Alexa finds a way to sell community as an additional asset. How can a brand get in on uniting people? Sport! Sport is a tried-and-true way of bringing people together. In Alexa’s role, she’s selling soccer to brands that want to have a hand in uniting the community. I admire that throughout her hard-work, Alexa still regards marketing as her passion. She’s now a vet in the marketing game, but continues to improve her craft by selling soccer to what’s been dubbed one of the up and comers for the sport. Whether it’s connecting a brand with their community or visiting a sports game only to get distracted by their activations, Alexa’s constantly on top of her game making sure her marketing efforts don’t go unnoticed. While we wait for the Canadian Premier League to be back at play, we can’t help but be interested in the activations Alexa comes up with next!

Connect With Alexa Costa

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