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Every year leading up to a season presents its challenges but building a brand-new franchise was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Avery Light

Vice President, Marketing & Corporate Partnerships

Halifax Thunderbirds

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

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1Tell us about your role as Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Partnerships for the Halifax Thunderbirds. What does a typical day look like for you?

My “day-to-day” varies weekly and also depends where we are in-season or during the off-season. This variety is actually one of the reasons I really enjoy working in sport and love my role with our team!

Typically, during this time of the year in our off-season, my day would involve planning and executing 30-60-90-day marketing strategies, partnership discussions, renewal and new prospecting, game presentation, theme nights, conversations with the arena we play in (Scotiabank Centre) to discuss season logistics, merchandise and ticketing strategies – just to name a few!

Of course, my day-to-day has been affected due to the pandemic, so primarily, I have had to increase my typical season-long planning.

Meaning, I have had to look at each scenario (full capacity attendance, half capacity, quarter capacity, no fans, etc) and prep a plan or model for each so we can better adjust as we get closer to the season. I have had to shift a good portion of each week to research and actively learn from other professional leagues and models to see how they are navigating this unprecedented time and what we can pull from that.

2Previously, you interned for the Rochester Knighthawks and turned that into a full-time job shortly after – a great feat as a college student if you ask me! Why do you think the Knighthawks hired you on full-time as a Business Services Manager after your internship concluded? Is there any advice you can offer students looking to potentially accomplish the same?

This is a fantastic question! Just to give a quick background on my college experience and into the professional world – I entered my freshman year of college undecided what I was going to major in. Being actively involved in sports my whole life, pursuing a Sport Management degree seemed like a natural fit.

I was fortunate to have an advisor in my program who constantly pushed my classmates to volunteer, intern, and attend any and all sport-related events that we could throughout our years on campus. I took that advice and volunteered days or weeks at a time – my freshman and sophomore year with our football team, on-campus sports broadcast club, local 5-K and similar sport-related non-profit events.

My junior and senior year of school is when I completed two internships.

The first was my internship with local ABC affiliate – 13 WHAM Sports. At the time I had my sights set on getting into sports broadcasting. I gained a lot from this internship, and one of the most valuable things I learned to my surprise was that I did not want to continue to pursue broadcast as my career. I would have never known that unless I had this experience, which is why it is so important to pursue a variety of careers in sport.

My senior year is when I interned with the Knighthawks, little did I know it would lead to 6 years with the company!

I feel they hired me as a full-time employee because even though my intern title was “community relations intern” I went out of my way to stop by every department and see if they needed help. Even though I exceeded my 600-hour requirement for the internship, I continued to stay and assist each department as needed. Spending time in PR, marketing, partnerships, merchandise, etc. helped evolve my early professional career exponentially.

As for my advice, I will quote one of my idols (Amy Trask – former CEO of the Oakland Raiders) “Hard work really matters…There is something to be said for being the first in and the last out.

There is something to be said for doing everything one can think of, whether asked or not." I could not have said it better myself, and think anyone looking to get into this industry has to be willing to put in the hours.

3You continued working with the Rochester Knighthawks until their franchise relocation to Halifax. How was the transition moving from an American market to a Canadian market? Were there any differences you encountered between these two markets?

Not long after it was announced that ownership would be relocating to a Canadian market I was faced with the decision to stay and work for a different ownership group, or pick up my life and move with the team. I’m very lucky to have had the option to continue to work with the ownership group as I view this team as my family.

The transition was exciting and challenging. When I finally made the move, I had only roughly four months before our inaugural season started. Every year leading up to a season presents its challenges but building a brand-new franchise was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

I can’t speak highly enough about the Halifax market – there is something about that city that makes you understand what being a community truly means. The biggest difference is the local support that Halifax offered. The sense of local and Canadian pride was impressive and also intimidating as I was coming in as the “outsider” so-to-speak.

I had to quickly learn the market, what our fan base would look like and best approaches in engaging and converting them into fans without seeing the product. Once I became acquainted with the community, I was able to better adjust our marketing and partnership strategies.

4Now that you’re VP of Marketing and Corporate Partnerships and working with sponsors, how important is it to prioritize, plan accordingly, and ultimately, focus on the client’s needs? What do you do within your role to ensure each client finds themselves fulfilled?

Each time I sit down to speak with a current, or potential partner I make a point to reassure them that we are looking for a true partnership. In my opinion, sponsorship should be a mutually beneficial agreement – the level and effort that a partner is willing to commit should only be dependent on what your team is also willing to commit (otherwise why spend with us right?!). Therefore, every single partner, size omitted, is of great value to us and I try to show that by prioritizing them as I would want to be prioritized. It sounds simple, but that is what builds great and long-lasting relationships.

I do my best to ensure our partners feel fulfilled by going over their needs and wants. Are they looking to increase their brand presence in the market? Or maybe they want to launch a new product and focus on that?

Perhaps they want to re-brand themselves and get fans thinking about their company or products in a new way.

Each clients wants and needs are different so I always view it as an opportunity to fully understand their marketing goals and then see how our organization can support and enhance those goals. 

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5A common label people working in marketing get is that they are creative (sometimes more creative than most people working in sports). Is this realistic? Beyond creativity, tell us about other skills and abilities required and/or often overlooked when working in sport marketing?

Another really great question!

Marketing encompasses so many elements that associating it with just one skill – creativity wouldn’t be accurate in my opinion so I am glad that you bring this up. Sometimes I would agree that I am pretty imaginative but other times I can really struggle to find that creative spark so I do my best to aggregate other skills and abilities to make me a more rounded marketing professional.

Honestly, one of the largest skills and abilities I feel is required for this type of position is project management. Coming up with fun ideas and concepts is great but that is one small piece of the puzzle. It is how you take those concepts and apply them to a well thought out systemic plan that others can follow.

The second skill or ability I place importance on is teamwork and communication. I often find myself going to other employees outside of the “marketing” department and asking for their opinions and views to get a fresh new perspective on things and a majority of the time, you end up seeing something you may have missed or never thought of!

6Lastly, what are 3-5 words you’d use to describe your career in sport?

Tough, exciting, rewarding, and supportive.

I think a lot of people get into the sports industry because they think it will be all play and little work. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, yes, it is fun, and you get a sense of pride and build a great connection to your team, but it is a very tough industry. There are times I am up until 4 a.m. the day before a game and then wake up at 8 a.m. for shootaround and then go straight into getting ready for a 16 hour day!

Other times, I have worked a full week and I have an event to attend on the weekend, or I am approached by a less than enthusiastic fan, or plain and simple our team doesn’t perform well on the floor and we end up with a loss and are out of the running for playoffs.

With all that being said – my job is very exciting, and it is rewarding.

In 2014, I watched our team win the Championship (3 times back to back mind you!) but that was my first and only championship.

Watching the confetti fall to the floor, seeing the fans storm the field, nothing will ever beat that feeling (besides another Championship – We got you Halifax!). It is rewarding, even in those non-cinematic like moments, when you get a thank you card from a season ticket member, or when you raise money for various charities and non-profits, the people you meet along the way, it makes all those hard moments worthwhile.

Lastly, I referenced the word supportive because as I stated before this team is like my family. I am so very fortunate to work with the people that I do, and even though we sometimes fight like a family I know they always have my back and I always have theirs!

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

Avery's path is quite unique. However, I think the most intriguing part of her career thus far has been the relocation of the Rochester Knighthawks that led to where she works today with the Halifax Thunderbirds. Although she had the opportunity to stay in the US and work for a different team, she decided to pack up and make the move. It's proof that sport brings people together. If it wasn't for the incredible culture and family-like atmosphere the ownership group created, Avery may not have been with the Thunderbirds, Sport IS community and Avery has experienced that first-hand. As cliché as it might sound, teamwork makes the dream work and Avery and the Thunderbirds are doing exactly that!

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