Matt Bennett, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), helps to drive revenue through sponsorship efforts for several different teams and events. The teams under Matt’s watch include both the Ottawa REDBLACKS (Canadian Football League) and the Ottawa 67’s (Ontario Hockey League). Throughout his career, Matt has picked up an extensive amount of knowledge in sales. The most important concepts being solution-based selling and the ability to be a good teammate. While Matt’s job consists of selling sponsorship and premium-seating partnerships, his main goal is to sell a solution to business challenges. I have been lucky enough to be a mentee of Matt, learning new skills and gaining advice from his successes. While we talked about his role, he also managed to give advice for sports industry hopefuls. I hope the knowledge Matt has lent in this article will also help you!
The interview with Matthew Bennett 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 the Director of Corporate Partnerships of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG).
My primary role at OSEG is to drive revenue through new and existing sponsorship and premium seating partnerships. This role takes on many different forms given the time of year and where we are in one of the various cycles of our teams and events. Any given day, I am working on the strategic direction of our partnerships department, ensuring we are operating within our budget, as well as working with the other commercial functions at OSEG to ensure we are delivering the best fan experience in the industry.
In my role, I oversee both the sales side of our department and the account servicing team as well. Like me, our sales managers spend the majority of their time trying to drive organic revenue from existing partners while continually building new relationships in the market. Our account servicing team are committed to helping deliver the best value possible for our partners. They go above and beyond simple account fulfilment to deliver innovative, engaging and impactful programs for our partners.
A key piece of our business model at OSEG is strategic hosting of other professional teams and world-class events that keep our building and Lansdowne Park vibrant all year long. I work with these teams and 3rd party events in varying degrees to help build sponsorship programs and secure partnerships that will help with their success.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Like many in our industry, no two days are ever the same (well at least pre-COVID-19). My days are typically spent engaging with clients, researching new industry trends, industries and organizations’ internal cross-functional meetings and spending time with my team ensuring they have what they need to be successful and deliver value for our partners.
Similar to other revenue-generating roles, I am usually out of the office quite a bit meeting with prospective new partners, sitting down with current clients and always widening my network around the Ottawa region.
One of the best parts of my role is Game Day as we get to see all of our hard work come to life. Whether it is stopping by a suite to chat with clients or watching a partner activation come to life or welcoming a new partner to the stadium for the first time, I still get an adrenaline rush every event.
When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.
Great question! I’m not sure it was one moment but rather one role. My internship with the Senators, working at the Bell Senspelx managing their youth programs for 6 months was it. There was no job description and it was a very fluid role as the facility had just opened up and we were in very early days. Grinding alongside a small staff and build programs from scratch to see them come to life is still some of the most rewarding memories I have from my career. Working 16-hour days for 3 months straight and not ever second-guessing my choice, was a clear indication that I was doing something I was passionate about and knew I was in it for the long haul.
What are some tools that you and your team use to identify and develop new business opportunities for your organization?
Gum Gum Sports: In-depth sponsorship valuation tool that analyzes all of our REDBLACKS television broadcasts and social channels and provides us with key data points that help us shape the ROI conversation with partners.
Digideck: This has replaced PowerPoint as our presentation software for all pitch decks, partner recaps and post reports. The ability to seamlessly embed video as well as the way in which the imagery pops off the screen has made this cloud-based software a mainstay in our deliverables for partners. Having the ability to get analytics on what slides people are viewing throughout each presentation is also a key function for us.
Zoom Info: This is a great tool when prospecting new business as it provides an email address and phone numbers for key people in pretty much every organization.
What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your role?
The most rewarding part of my role is seeing the hard work of my team come to life through our partnerships. There is nothing better than seeing a sales manager using creativity and innovation to get a deal closed that they have been chasing for years or seeing a campaign come to life that our servicing team brought from ideation to development, to execution that goes beyond the expectation of a partner.
The most challenging part of my role, like everyone in our industry right now, is managing the impact of COVID-19 on our business. It’s too early to determine the magnitude of the impact this will have on our business, but I know that the challenges that will come will be the toughest sports business professionals have ever faced.
Prior to your role with OSEG, you worked in various roles with Senators Sports and Entertainment. What did you learn in these roles that you have applied to your current work?
I literally grew up professionally at the Senators having started as an intern out of grad school and left with one young one at home and another on the way.
I enjoyed everything about my time there. The chance to work with amazing teams and for incredible leaders is something that I carry with me every day in my current role.
Solution-Based Selling: This concept has always stuck with me, that I learned throughout my time in sales. We are not selling a simple product; we are selling a solution to a business challenge or objective that droves value for the organization. This still rings true in my role today.
Be A Good Teammate: Many times we are moving at a breakneck pace trying to put on events, hit targets and achieve our goals. Achieving these things only matters if you are being a good teammate along the way. Are you respectful? Are you offering your help to other departments? Are you showing up and being the best version of yourself every day? This is a concept that was explained to me in my very early days with the organization and still resonates today.
What would you say are the top 5 biggest moments or accomplishments in your sport management career?
Wow going deep here… I’m not sure so much about accomplishments, but here are five moments that stick out in my mind over the last 14 years….
July 4th, 2006 – Day #1 of my internship at the Senators. I’ll never forget this day and Brad Kinnaird, my first boss who welcomed me and served as my first mentor.
Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup – Just after I started full time, the Sens went on their ’07 Cup run and when we made the finals, the executives surprised all staff with a chance to fly to Anaheim for 24 hours to watch game 5. We lost the game and the series but needless to say, we made the most out of those 24-hours!
Bell Capital Cup – My second role at the Senators was General Manager of the Bell Capital Cup, the largest hockey festival in the world at the time with over 500 teams every year. This event and my Director Aaron Robinson taught me so many things that I still carry with me today. Watching kids travel from all over the world to play in this event and have the time of their lives made the extremely long hours over Christmas worth every minute.
Grey Cup 2016 – Sitting in the stands with 200 plus staff and partners watching your team win a championship (and the subsequent after-party) is something that is hard to describe. Waking up for an 8am pitch meeting for the next day (and getting the deal done) is also a great part of that weekend.
Grey Cup 2017 – Working alongside some of the most talented people in sport to deliver the best Grey Cup Festival to date (yes, I’m biased!) is something I will never forget.
Being a mentor to up-and-coming sports industry professionals, what advice would you give to those looking to work in sport at a similar level to yourself but just starting off in their career?
There is a difference between being interested and committed. Many people are interested in working in sport, but very few are committed to working in sport. Early on, there will be long days, weekends and evenings where you are not making a lot of money relative to the effort you are putting in. You need to commit to these times to learn as much as you can so that you can set yourself up for future success.
Show Up. How do you show up every day and be the best you? Are you on time? Are you dressed for success? Have you prepared for the day? How you show up every day ready to take on the tasks ahead is something you can control. With so many people trying to get into sports, it is a tough competition. Those that bring it every day are the ones who will have the most success breaking into the industry.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Matt has accumulated extensive experience throughout the 14 years he’s been in the sports industry. Yet, each new day is a surprise. His role as the Director of Corporate Partnerships for OSEG comes with different challenges and rewards but that’s what entices Matt to be his best self. Throughout this discussion, it became apparent to me how humble Matt is. Rather than discussing his achievements, he decided to look back on his career and describe individuals who have helped him along the way. Matt’s attitude is one we can all learn from; supporting others and celebrating the hard work of the ones who surround us.