Q&A: Susan Bundy, Director, Sponsorships, Bank of Montreal (BMO) Financial Group

Q&A is a bi-weekly feature where Sports Business Canada sits down with someone involved with the sports industry in Canada. This week, we chat with Susan Bundy, Director, Sponsorship with Bank of Montreal (BMO) Financial Group about their involvement in sports sponsorship in Canada.

Sports Business Canada: Tell us about your role with Bank of Montreal (BMO). How long have you been with the company? And how long have you been working in a sponsorship function?

Susan Bundy: I’ve been with the company for 12 years – always within sponsorship. We started as a group of three and now we are a group of 16 in North America. It just speaks to sponsorship as a marketing discipline. It has really been so fun to watch it over the years and be part of the growth of sponsorship. My current role is Director of North American Sponsorship. I have responsibility for our Canadian and U.S. profile.

SBC: You’ve been working in sponsorship with BMO for a significant amount of time. How has sports sponsorship evolved for the company during this time?

SB: When BMO first became involved with sponsorship, we had a major role for 13 years with Skate Canada, from the grassroots right through to the elite athletes. We’ve always been involved in sports but not as focused on strategy as we are now. 60 percent of spend in the sponsorship industry as a whole is in sports and we index at around 67 percent.

SBC: BMO has tied itself to soccer in Canada, partnering with Canada’s national teams, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact. What values does the company see in soccer that aligns with BMO’s brand?

SB: Soccer is ever growing. Soccer is in communities everywhere in Canada. The sport itself is accessible. It provides confidence and kids learn so much about life through sports and we believe in it. It’s very much a part of most communities.

SBC: What elements of the soccer partnerships make them more attractive to BMO compared to other sports?

SB: It’s really accessibility and participation rate. We know that 850,000 kids are registered soccer players in Canada. So, it really is welcoming to all Canadians and new Canadians. It’s just an easy, affordable sport.

SBC: Each of Canada’s Big Five Canadian banks seems to have found their niche in terms of sports sponsorship in Canada. Currently, BMO has soccer; TD has baseball and basketball; RBC has golf; and Scotiabank has hockey. Is this coincidence, or have you seen a lot of competition for particular sports in the sponsorship space?

SB: We all know each other. We are all being much more strategic in terms of focusing on spending our dollars. I’d like to see it as a coincidence but I think it’s really about the evolution of sponsorship. In fact, we initiated a syndicated study which other banks are also participating in and we are measuring that. So, what we do know is that BMO is clearly the bank of soccer. Scotiabank is clearly the bank of hockey. RBC is actually the bank of the Olympics, that’s how they test the highest. CIBC is cancer/cause. And TD is music. That’s where we see it netting out on a consistent basis.

SBC: And on that point, have you seen much competition between banks in terms of moving into other sports and would BMO consider moving towards another sport?

SB: No, we are committed to soccer and we have so many relationships within soccer; having the professional teams, being a sponsor of the Canadian Soccer Association, having local grassroots teams. And then we have this program called BMO Team of the Week which is a giveaway of $125,000 to revamp a pitch in your neighborhood.  Teams are entering based on their involvement in community and their passion for the game, not just the results on the field. So we are really involved in soccer right from grassroots through to professional.

SBC: Since 2011, BMO has been the Official Bank of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Considering the focus on soccer and the fact that Scotiabank is the Official Bank of the NHL, dubbing itself as “Canada’s Hockey Bank”, what was the reasoning for BMO to align itself with hockey?

SB: It’s completely a community initiative. We’re not trying to be the bank of hockey. We’ve had a 10-year relationship with the CHL with their infinity MasterCards – each team has a card and any purchases on that card, money goes back to the team and to the community. There was a real appetite for BMO to be involved so we had a really good look at the Canadian Hockey League and in those markets that are 3 hours away from an NHL team, the passion for their local teams was incredible. 9 million people go to CHL games per year in Canada so the numbers are huge. Our branches were so excited because we could connect them to their teams. We do hold an Ultimate Fan contest in 40 communities. These fans are huge, huge people in the community. So, it’s been a really nice thing to be able to do.

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SBC: Sponsoring individual athletes is something that BMO hasn’t done yet. Has this been examined to date? And do you think that it’s something that we could see happening in the future?

SB: We have never really sponsored individuals. It’s been a policy with us. We do have an athlete – Ian Millar – who has been a part of our sponsorships for years. But as a practice we don’t sponsor athletes.

SBC: And you don’t see that changing?

SB: No, I don’t.

SBC: BMO Field has been touted as one of the possible home venues for Canada’s national rugby team. Has rugby been considered as a future sponsorship play for BMO?

SB: You know what, we definitely keep our ear to the ground. It’s very exciting what’s happening to rugby in Canada – both women’s and men’s. We have not (explored rugby) to this date. I can’t really give you an answer where we would be in the future with rugby, but definitely there is some momentum there so we are fairly impressed.

SBC: Where do you see BMO headed in the future in terms of sports sponsorship? Is the company pleased with its current position or is BMO looking to expand their presence in the sports arena?

SB: Really, truly the answer is: we sponsor what matters to communities where we live and work. If that changes, we will change with it. We are happy with where we’re at right now. I can’t see any sort of a new sport coming our way anytime soon. But you never know.

SBC: To conclude, what’s your favorite part of your job? What would you recommend to anyone looking to get involved in the sponsorship field?  

SB: I think that the favorite part is the people and the communities. When you go to a community and you make a difference to what is happening in their community, you are making so many people happy. So that’s been a really rewarding part of the job; being able to be creative about how to support people in communities. And I would say the other favorite part right now is the way that the business can be measured now. The sponsorships in general, we can put some discipline around it. It’s great because it’s really now such an important tool in the marketing tool kit, so I’m pretty excited about that.

As for anyone looking to get into the sponsorship field, I really think that they just need to have a passion for one-on-one marketing and look for opportunity. I think that it’s only going to evolve and become even more important. It’s a very successful tool.

SBC: One final question. You just brought up an interesting point in terms of measurement. With analytics tools available in all sorts of marketing today, what types of tools does BMO use to measure sponsorship?

SB: A U.S. company called IEG sort of lead the sponsorship business forever. But we needed something that could measure a CHL against a soccer so we came up with a proprietary tool that measures the tangibles and intangibles, including the value of the contract as we see it. So we end up grading it, including the elements within it, and that really helps us make our decisions about where to invest, where to divest, or where to invest more. It’s really been a great tool. Then properties are providing research which is great. That didn’t happen years ago. And I mentioned the syndicated study that we initiated. Other banks are buying into it and that has really helped us establish our business in the market. The measurement part is a success and we make sure that we measure it through our research teams so that our ad measurements are consistent with what we are doing.

For more info on BMO’s sponsorship initiatives, visit http://www.bmo.com/home/about/banking/corporate-responsibility/community/sponsorships

Sports Business Canada

Covering the top stories at the intersection of sports and business in Canada.