‘5 to Watch’ winners set to take centre stage

On Thursday night, at George Brown’s Waterfront Campus in Toronto, some of the country’s most influential figures from the sports business community will gather to honour this year’s ‘5 to Watch’. The sold out gala, hosted by TSN’s Kate Beirness, shines a light on five of Canada’s best and brightest business professionals working in the world of sport, either locally, or abroad.

This year’s selection process was a difficult one for the committee which is comprised of over 100 industry leaders countrywide. Co-chair and event organizer Brendan Fyfe was quick to point out that “the quality on average of the entries increased significantly this year, and we had much more variety as far as the business sectors being represented.”

“We hit a record number of entries from Quebec, the western provinces, and from Canadians currently working internationally.”

– Brendan Fyfe

After the 2016 event had concluded, the organizers made it a top priority to put additional emphasis on growing the program nationally and it seems to have paid off. “We hit a record number of entries from Quebec, the western provinces, and from Canadians currently working internationally,” said Fyfe. But while the program continues to see growth in entries, there can still only be five honourees. After a two month deliberation process, the votes were tallied and the winners announced.

The inductees for the 2017 ‘5 to Watch’ program include:

Andrew Agro

Director of Corporate Sponsorship & Business Development
New York Jets
Atila Ozkaplan

Senior Director of Technical Logistics
NBC Sports Group
Catherine Gossin-Deprés

Executive Director
Canadian Paralympic Committee
Jordan Vader

Senior Director of Global Partnerships
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment
Lisa Ferkul

Director of Hockey Sponsorships

“It’s quite humbling to be recognized as part of such an esteemed group,” said Ozkaplan. “We’ve all taken such unique routes to get where we are today, and our areas are so varied within the sports business field.”

While being recognized as a ‘5 to Watch’ meant something different to each recipient, they all were quick to point out that the road here took years to build, and a lot of support along the way. “As a young professional entering the industry, I did whatever job I was asked – no job was too big or too small,” said Ferkul. “As much as it’s an individual award, it’s truly a reflection of the team, partners and leaders I work with day in and day out.”

“We’ve all taken such unique routes to get where we are today, and our areas are so varied within the sports business field.”

– Atila Ozkaplan

On Thursday night, as each recipient walks up to the stage and graciously accepts their award, they are already looking ahead to how they can become mentors to the next generation of winners, a trait that undoubtedly played a large role in getting them to where they are today. “If a career in sports is your ambition, stick with it – be patient in your internship search and if you can, your job search – don’t settle. Build or start your network – it will be one of the most valuable things you own,” said Vader when asked about advice he would give to up and coming young professionals in the sports industry.

For those in the industry, the ‘5 to Watch’ program is becoming a crown jewel. “It has tremendous importance for the past, present and the future of the sports business industry. For the past, it is a nod to the foundation that has been laid. For the present, it’s a great opportunity to grow our personal and professional networks. And, for the future, it opens the eyes of students and those in entry-level positions that there is so much to strive for,” explained Agro.

On Thursday night, as each recipient shares a special evening with family, friends, and colleagues, they will leave knowing that they’ve left the mark on the sports business community. What they might not know just yet, is they’ve graduated from being the mentees to becoming the mentors for other young professionals not only in sport, but beyond; a role they will each embrace with open arms.

Chris Dunne is Business Development Manager for Elemental, a full-service advertising agency based in Toronto. He’s also an active volunteer with AMA – Toronto, Young Adult Cancer Canada, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Conservation Corps of NL, and Big Brothers Big Sister. One of Marketing Magazine’s 2015 Top 30U30 and 2015 St. John’s Rotary Young Professional of the Year.

Sports Business Canada

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