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CAO’s Senior Lead Of Events & Partner Development Eric McLoughlin Displays Importance Of Sport In Society

Eric McLoughlin | Senior Lead, Events & Partner Development | Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO)

Canadians rank sport 2nd only to families, as having the most positive influence on a young person’s life. The opportunities are in front of us for governments, organizations and corporations to continue to invest in the health and well-being of our youth and society.

Eric McLoughlin

Senior Lead, Events & Partner Development

Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO)

× The interview with Eric McLoughlin 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 Senior Lead of Events & Partner Development for the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO). What does a typical day look like for you?

Typically, my day starts with a team recap meeting to ensure we all are prepped for the day and week ahead.

I would then say approximately 30% of my day is spent conversing with coaches directly. Navigating the NCCP, questions about safe sport, questions about our events, etc. This is something that is very near and dear to our organization, and that is delivering top-notch customer service. We know things in the system can sometimes be confusing, that is why also many of us come from the coaching world.

Being able to impart something specific to a swim coach for example (swimming was my sport) is asking, we can provide direct insight accordingly.

Additionally, this daily time I find helps keep me connected to what is most important, the coach experience. These conversations also make for great insights and takeaways that you never know could be used to drive an event in a certain direction.

The remaining 70% I divide between the planning of an event or executing on a current partnership or event. For example, in the planning stages, I source speakers and presenters, read research, strategize marketing/communication plans, research new partners etc.

In the execution part of my day, I review my critical path and execute deliverables on current partnership agreements, compile tracking and fulfillment reports, and regularly converse with partners on execution statues.

CAO runs over 700 events annually. From coaching workshops, to webinars, to conferences, we have a lot on the go to prioritize and plan appropriately, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How has your work changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began? Additionally, how are you and CAO finding ways to connect with stakeholders in new ways?

I don’t think our work from the standpoint of supporting coaches has changed since the pandemic. I will say the onset of the pandemic certainly highlighted some holes in the greater system and the need for more accessible and affordable learning. Fortunately, at CAO we were able to make quick transitions and move forward timetables on certain projects sooner, like our new free monthly Coach 2 Coach webinar series. Which I will add is going nowhere even after the pandemic.

I think at the onset of the pandemic, coaches had time to devote to more professional development. Not to say they don’t already, but being isolated at home certainly allowed us to captivate on an attentive audience willing to learn. We were selling out at 500 spots for our webinars, where before the pandemic we would average around 200.

I think it highlighted for us and the system that coaches want more accessible and affordable learning. I mean 75% of coaches in Ontario are volunteers, and asking them to do more out of their pockets, in a pandemic or not, is not okay in my books.

I think for many organizations, including CAO, the pandemic has brought an important opportunity; a chance to reimagine, reset and reprogram ourselves. The question is how will we as an organization and a system be better for it? We should all be asking these questions of our leaders and organizations because ultimately at stake is the future of not just sport, but our youth.

In your role, you manage one of Ontario’s largest multi-sport conferences, the Ontario Coaches Conference. What goes into the preparation for this event and how do you stay organized throughout the entire process?

As any event planner knows, preparation for an event of this size takes place LONG before the event. At the very least a solid 1 year out. I do however have a 1 year, 3 year and 5 year plan for the process.

Ultimately staying organized for me comes down to a well detailed critical path. Put everything, and I mean everything that needs to be done (emails to be sent, travel bookings, social posts, purchase orders, submission of food numbers etc.) in the path and always add in buffer time! Get as much done ahead of time as you can. That is what a well detailed critical path is for! For example speaker gifts and thank you cards can be ordered and created WELL ahead of the actual event. No reason to stress about something like this that can be dealt with in advance of the big day.

One of the other pieces of preparation I take great pride in is planning for the unexpected. For example, a speaker can’t present, an emergency throws your schedule out of whack, or a freak snowstorm disrupts travel. Making up plans on the fly is never a good thing, so it is important to be prepared for whatever COULD happen at your event so you can react accordingly. 

Lastly, your teammates are a vital piece to pulling off the event. I am super fortunate to work at an organization that has an amazing team and we are in sync every step of the way.

What makes a good leader for major sporting events like the Ontario Coaches Conference?

That is a good question. Can you ask my boss this?

Ultimately, I put myself in the consumers’ shoes. Why?

Firstly, I was one, and continue to be one. This perspective allows me to not lose sight of what is needed. If I am having fun, and enjoying it, we are on the right track.

Secondly, know what your audience actually wants. Don’t pretend to know! Let the data and information you collect guide your decision. This also includes collecting quantifiable data post-event to ensure you exceed your KPI’s. (And yes what are your measurable KPI’s before the event starts?)

Thirdly, be in the know on the event industry trends. Read things like BizBash, attend other industry events outside of sport, join an event industry association like MPI or FEO, you will be amazed at what you find and can bring into events that make yours stand out! I also come from an experiential marketing background and having planned some very large, interactive events in the past, it always reminds me to think about the entire experience (and yes that means EVERY DETAIL gets scrutinized and nothing goes unnoticed). For example, in 2018 we were in London, ON and did you know they are the Forest City? Well, we partnered with a local company to give away tree seedlings for everyone to plant and enjoy!

And fourthly, be a visionary and take chances. I am a perfectionist and anyone that knows me knows I am never satisfied. Even when I see scores of 100% delegate satisfaction, I want to do more, to do better. Ultimately if I, or we as a system, and as a society stop believing and striving for things to be better than it was before, we stop making progress.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If I, or we, keep delivering the same kind of event over and over how can we expect our audience to want to keep coming? What fun is there in that?

Shifting to the Partner Development side of your role, would you say a sporting image is an attractive one to partners? How do you ‘sell’ sport to a brand?

I don’t look at it as “selling” per se. It is about working together towards a shared common goal. Just as the old adage says, it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it takes us all to move sport forward; government, corporate Canada, and individuals.

Sport is so powerful, and we know it has the power to transform lives, both positively and negatively. The skills that come from sport are transferable to so many situations outside of the playing field, be it family, school or the board room.

It isn’t about the next NHLer or Olympic Gold Medalist, but the fact that a positive sport experience is something that unites and binds us all. In Ontario, we know that 78% of 5-19-year-olds play sports. Think about that number for a second. We are talking millions of youth! And the opportunity to lay the foundation and build positive members of society is what I think influences a partner.

Another important angle is looking at sport and coaching from an employee engagement angle. We know that approximately 1 in 7 Canadians will coach at some point in their life. If you are a big company, that means hundreds if not thousands of your employees are coaching and invested in sport! How are you as a company, supporting your employees when now you know this information?

Canadians rank sport 2nd only to families, as having the most positive influence on a young person’s life. The opportunities are in front of us for governments, organizations and corporations to continue to invest in the health and well-being of our youth and society.

Lastly, I believe what helps “sell” sport and coaching is accurately defining and showcasing just how important sport is in our society. Knowing the data, linking it to personal experiences of the people you are “selling” to, and demonstrating how together you will make a difference.

In a role where you engage with sports organizations and various levels of government, how important is relationship-building? What is your approach to both developing and retaining relationships with stakeholders?

I know it is overused and said, but for me it’s passion. No matter who you talk to whether it’s via email, over the phone, or in person, people can sense your true passion and admiration. When someone you meet just oozes positive vibes it lightens up a room 100%. And I try to be that person.

For me, I absolutely live and breathe sport every second I can. I coach, volunteer on the board of the Ottawa Sport Council, have been honoured to be part of the Mission Staff with Team Ontario for two Canada Games, and I play in an adult rec league. My passion for sport is demonstrated in all of these things I take part in that not only keeps me connected to the industry but being able to bring these experiences to stakeholders I meet.

Another piece is knowing your stuff. Be the most informed person on the phone or in the room. It’s your job to do your homework on who you are meeting with, their goals and objectives, the industry, what other stakeholders are doing and saying. Be in the know and know what is happening in the industry.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly is two-way communication. A relationship, whether in business or in life, is not about what you can do for me, but what we can do for each other.

Sport isn’t an industry where we go to become millionaires. I and the great people I have met and continue to meet are all here because we share a common goal: sport is awesome!

Finally, what advice would you give to prospective sport management professionals looking to work in sport at a similar level to yourself but just starting off in their career?

Always one of my favourite questions because I used to be exactly in similar shoes!

When I was completing my post-grad in 2015/16, this was something I always searched for on blogs like SPMA Hub, on LinkedIn, thinking “how can I be one of them” “they are all so lucky” etc.

So cliché of me, but volunteer and put yourself out there. If you know of a few organizations or types of organizations you would like to work for or learn more about, search for what events, activities they have coming up. Send an email, better yet, pick up the phone and call. You would be surprised how many people will be willing to give you 15 minutes of their time to share their experiences with you for you to learn from, you just have to be willing to ask. Most things in life don’t generally come to you; you have to go to it.

I got my first taste of CAO when I volunteered for them at their conference. Four years later, here I am!

Hayley's Final Thoughts

In Eric McLoughlin’s role as Senior Lead of Events & Partner Development, he works to achieve a common goal. Whether that be executing a well-detailed event or creating worthy partnerships for potential stakeholders, Eric is constantly working with clients to move sport forward. The power of sport binds and unites all, which is why Eric promotes partnering with sports organizations, in particular the CAO, to businesses. The passion Eric exudes for sport is projected onto relevant stakeholders which, in turn, allows for them to see why investing in health and well-being has a positive effect on society. As Eric mentioned, he tries to be a sense of positivity for everyone he meets. After chatting with Eric, I can attest to his beaming positivity and his passion for sport!  

Connect With Eric McLoughlin