How innovative were the National Hockey League Bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto last summer? It was a never-before-seen method of hosting a sporting event and proved to be a success.
It was strange not seeing sports broadcasted across our social media feeds and television screens, we felt it and we are sure that you felt it as well. Society realized just how important the sporting community is.
In the year since we have witnessed many events being postponed, such as the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, World Championships, Provincial Games and local sports, as well as the emergence of many different solutions for returning to competitive sport. There has yet to be a one-size-fits-all solution.
We caught up with 13 experts from the sporting world, from both the performance and business sectors, and asked them to provide their insight on the same question:
VP Marketing & Partnerships
Andrea has been a part of the Saskatchewan Rush organization since 2010. Her role consists of building strategic corporate partnerships, planning external marketing and game-day promotions and activation. Her favourite part of Rush game days is watching the staff and players come together to create an awesome experience for their amazing fans.
“Sports has a way of uniting a community, and in our case, from all across the province. We firmly believe the excitement will go to a whole new level once we’re able to resume our season, and that we’re likely to be playing to new fans as well, who are looking for a fresh experience and a way to get social within their community. We can’t wait for the new season to begin!”
2016 Olympic Bronze Medallist
Ashley Steacy began playing rugby in grade 10 and went on to graduate from Lethbridge Collegiate Institute in Lethbridge, Alberta. Steacy is well decorated when it comes to rugby accolades. A three-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion, she was also a two-time CIS Player of the Year after earning her undergrad at the University of Lethbridge. In 2007, Steacy received her first cap with both Canada’s Women’s Sevens and Fifteens Teams. Since then, she has performed on some of the biggest stages in rugby. In 2009, she was named to Canada’s team for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens. In 2010, she was with the 15s team participating in the Women’s Rugby World Cup and in 2013 she won a silver medal playing in her second Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens. After coming back from shoulder surgery in 2014, Steacy was named to the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens World Series Dream Team and was named Rugby Canada’s Women’s Sevens Player of the Year for 2014. Steacy went on to help Canada win gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto where she recorded two tries and nine of 13 conversion attempts for 28 points in the tournament. Steacy missed all of the 2015-16 Women’s Seven World Series season with a torn MCL, but despite this, her 172 career points scored in the WSWS ranks fifth all-time in Canadian history.
“This pandemic has hit sports hard, we all know that. But I think the most beautiful thing about sports is how resilient athletes can be. From little kids not being able to play with their friends during the summer of 2020, dancers not being able to get into their studios, team sports being cancelled at all age levels up to the Olympics, the biggest sporting stage in the world is cancelled.
We have seen athletes, clubs, teams, coaches and support staff side step and adapt to this new way of life we find ourselves in.
Even with all of the challenges the sporting community has faced, I believe it will continue to move forward as best it can. Cohort training groups have been the biggest thing I’ve seen work for team sports and I believe will continue. That goes for bubble training like we saw the NHL and NFL implement. The use of coaching tools has broadened which will also be beneficial moving forward for remote training. The digital world now more than ever has shown that sports can still go forward safely.
Hopefully, for the safety of the world, the pandemic will wind down and life will return to a safer state. But I believe we will see some of the effects that Covid-19 has had on sports last well into the future.”
Game Day and Events Manager
Caitlyn has been with the Saskatoon Blades organization since the 2018-19 season, moving from the role of Ticket Account Executive to the Game Day and Events Manager. Before working with the Blades, she was the Marketing and Office Manager for the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
“Of course many things will adapt and we will be forced to change many things within how we run our game days. So many things have already changed before we’ve even gotten back to playing. When things go back to our “new normal”, we will be fast-tracked into the world of digital promotions, e-tickets and online everything. Something that was already adapting and changing, but is now a part of our everyday operations.”
A Medicine Hat, Alberta native, Connor played U SPORTS football for the University of Calgary Dinos before being drafted in the first round, fourth overall in the 2017 CFL Draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He has been a part of the Calgary Stampeders organization since 2020.
“With the current climate we are in with COVID-19, I believe society has come to see the importance of exercise and its impact on our mental and physical health. Most importantly, COVID-19 has highlighted how sports impact our daily lives, especially for the youth. COVID-19 will inevitably create a healthier and more active society, emphasizing sports and youth participation, developing leadership, communication, and social interaction skills, crucial to youth development.”
Director of Rugby and Executive Director
Graeme is the Director of Rugby for Rugby Alberta, serving in this capacity since January 2014. He previously served as an Assistant Coach for the Rugby Canada National Teams from 2011-2018, Director of Rugby and Head Coach for the Prairie Wolf Pack, Director of Rugby for the Calgary Hornets Rugby Club, as well as numerous sport and fitness related positions in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“It inevitably has to change, innovation and collaboration will be key. The landscape of sport and society is changing and everyone's competing for people’s valuable time and $$. For us, it’s about developing a system that optimizes the experiences for all stakeholders.”
James Franklin came to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after a college football career at the University of Missouri, as well as a member of the Detroit Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts. His final college game saw him lead the Missouri Tigers to victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 Cotton Bowl.
“Sports has always been a place for people and players to go and “escape” from their day-to-day. To come together and try and win as players and cheer or both teams as fans. All differences aside. So I believe if that can be everyone’s mindset as we try to get back into it, then everything will fall back into place and it’ll work itself out. Sports has always been one of the best entertainments in times past. So the more we can focus on that, the less complicated everything will seem.”
Jordan Williams-Lambert was an All-MAC pick and selection at Ball State University before joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2018. He has also been a member of the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears practice squads.
“I hope to forecast a reality where sports stadiums will become more weather resistant, and leagues will focus more on expanding the lifespan of athletes careers by innovations in the rules of the game and medical equipment.”
Games Services and Communications Lead
Karen is an alumna of the University of Regina, holding a BBA in Marketing and MSc, KHs in Sport Management. Her role as a part of the Saskatchewan Games Council is leading the design and implementation of all marketing and communications strategies and activities, providing consultative services and training, and more.
“Although the numerous cancellations and postponements of various major events over the past year have been difficult – particularly for young athletes who miss being able to compete, and the communities that benefit from hosting these events – there have also been numerous upsides that will benefit the amateur sport sector once life comes back to normal.
This period has provided a very valuable opportunity for a lot of sports organizations to take a step back from busy day-to-day operations and be able to critically analyze and re-evaluate our traditional approaches to find ways in which we can make the Games experience better, safer, more innovative, and more inclusive for all participants.
This period will also bring out a new level of resilience among athletes, who have had many of their dreams interrupted and who have had to find new ways to stay motivated and focused on their goals amid continually moving goalposts. For some, the lack of normal competition has allowed them an uninterrupted time to train and build their fitness without needing to repeatedly peak for and recover from competition. For others, it has allowed them a rare pause to recalibrate and focus on passions outside of their sport before their regular competitive schedule resumes.
On the organizational side, a community of practice among various multi-sport games organizations across the country (which was previously limited to rare in-person meetings) has been able to flourish over the past year. This community has allowed for a new level of information-sharing and collaboration among different events (such as the Canada Games, North American Indigenous Games, the Saskatchewan Games, and more) as we all work to innovate and adapt to a post-COVID world.
Finally, given the nature of multi-sport games (where participants reside in athletes’ villages, dine communally, travel together, and gather at the opening and closing ceremonies), cold and flu viruses are always at risk of spreading like wildfire, despite the best efforts at prevention by organizers and participants. Funnily enough in retrospect, I remember many athletes jokingly complaining about the inconvenience of the mandatory hand sanitizer stations at every entrance to the Athletes’ Village during the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games – now, we all collectively understand the importance of hygiene and sanitation!”
Marketing and Communications Liasion
Kathy has been a part of the Lethbridge Hurricanes Hockey Club since 2011, where her role as an intern quickly expanded into a full-time office position. She has held numerous Director positions within Southern Alberta, ranging from hockey to soccer, as well as numerous roles within the Alberta Summer Games.
“I think so long as fans are not allowed or are at a reduced capacity, organizations will continuously think outside the box to make their games accessible to as many people as possible. Purely out of necessity, this has to be done. When I say necessity, I mean a necessity for all stakeholders involved, from the organization itself to the players, to the corporate partners, to the fans and community.
I’m sure you will see an increase in digital media content, improvements across online streaming services, more (and better) flexibility/adaptability by organizations. This has been a huge learning curve for everyone around the world and with technology nowadays there are a lot of opportunities to share best practices. The positive thing here is that typically, those who work in sports settings are positive, optimistic individuals, strong team members with an abundance of creativity and ideas to make almost anything happen.
Historically, sports bring people together - creating a community within a community. Something that so many people identify with, simply speaking - this can’t be lost. Sports is so much more than just a way for youth (or anyone for that matter) to be active, it’s more than just a social activity for friends to get together and watch athletes compete. It’s a career for many, it’s motor skills and social skills development for others, it’s networking opportunities, and so much more. I am confident those in the industry are thinking through every possible scenario and course of action to keep sports active, relevant, and accessible for people. “
Mark is a former professional hockey right winger who played nine seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Hartford Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Philadelphia Flyers. He is currently an amateur scout with the Flyers organization.
“I believe more sanitization habits will be promoted, as well as sanitation stations in practice and game facilities.”
Manager, Provincial Sport Development
Rob has been a part of Sask Sport since the late 1990s, serving as the Manager of High-Performance Sport and Manager of Provincial Sport Development. He holds a Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, both from the University of Saskatchewan.
“Sask Sport believes in the power of sport. Sport promotes healthy, active lifestyles and contributes to making Saskatchewan communities vibrant. Many dedicated and passionate staff and volunteers work tirelessly to keep sport healthy, safe and fun. We know this work will be as important as ever as we move forward as an amateur sport community.”
Susan has been working in the area of Sport Management since 2009, with prior experience as a school teacher and family counsellor. She has been a coach since her early teens and is an International Shooting Sport Federation B Coach Rifle. She has been a part of many Provincial, National and International sporting events in a multitude of capacities.
“A nationwide survey administered by Sport for Life showed that more than any other province in Canada, Saskatchewan has seen the impact of COVID-19 as an opportunity to redesign sport to adapt to this new reality in which we find ourselves.
More than ever sport needs to give our communities what they need - accessible, safe, and fun activity. The pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to slow down, take a step back, and notice our habits and patterns. The inequalities in youth sport have had increased attention. Let's engage our policymakers to prioritize the physical and mental well-being of all our children. Let's invest in physical activity and increase access to sports for all our children.”
Zac joined the Edmonton Stingers after a storybook five-year career at the University of Lethbridge. He graduated as the third leading scorer in program history and a Canada West First-Team All-Star. He spent a season playing pro basketball in Spain before returning to Canada. He was apart of the Stingers Championship team from the 2020 CEBL Summer Series.
“I think there’s gonna be a lot of changes. Firstly, all of the sanitation and hygiene practices that have been implemented over the past year will not go away anytime soon. There won’t be any legendary flu-games anymore. If you’re sick you’ll have to sit out.
Secondly, I think this has changed how people train and more importantly the importance of overall body health and functionality. Maintaining your body is as important as ever and you see that in athletes around the world at every level. Athletes are getting injured because they’ve been off for months with no access to gyms, weight rooms, etc. and then jumping back into it full blast as soon as they’re able. And on top of that, even in season, you can’t predict more than a week ahead. I’ve had various games get cancelled due to COVID. So how do you stay prepared both mentally and physically at all times so that you’re ready to perform at your highest level when that time comes? Those are some of the aspects that will have to change.”
It is evident from our experts that innovation in sport will continue to be a trend to ensure they can proceed successfully, and that the overall outlook is one of positivity!
Author Jordan Calladine